The City of Pittsburgh hired more employees than it lost in 2022, reversing a recent trend and marking a new phase in pandemic recovery. 

The city employed 3,462 full-time employees last year, according to pay data that PublicSource obtains and examines annually. There were 369 new hires and 350 people left city jobs during the year. 

“We continue to push to have all staffing levels in the administration properly filled,” said city press secretary Olga George. “We hope that the data is a proper indicator of stabilization of the workforce in the city.”

Michael Lamb, who has been the city controller through financial downturn, state oversight and the COVID pandemic, said the fact that the city hired more workers than it lost “is a step in the right direction.”

Mayor Ed Gainey made public works a special focus during his first year in office, a move that is reflected in the hiring data: The Department of Public Works hired 109 people in 2022, offsetting 78 departures. 

The city’s budget, meanwhile, is partially kept afloat by federal pandemic relief funds — including tens of millions annually for personnel. That pool of money will be gone after 2024.

The one glaring outlier was the Bureau of Police. Recruitment was paused under former Mayor Bill Peduto in 2020, a move that is still felt today, with virtually no uniformed officers joining the force in 2022 (10 administrative hires were made). Ninety employees left the bureau last year, mostly uniformed officers, as union officials and city councilors sounded the alarm over depleted police numbers. 

18 departments grew, 7 shrank

The onset of the pandemic in 2020 triggered a citywide hiring freeze, leading to a few years of decreasing numbers in numerous departments. The city lost a net of 578 workers in 2020 as some departments shifted to remote work and others toiled in person through the pandemic to keep the city functioning. In 2021, as offices reopened and federal American Rescue Plan Act [ARPA] money fended off possible budget cuts, the city still struggled to fill its staff as the work world continued to evolve in the COVID era. The city lost 237 more workers than it hired that year.

2022’s numbers are a reversal, which city leaders hope spells more stable days ahead. Most departments remained relatively stable in 2022, with gains or losses in the single digits. The Department of Permits, License and Inspections saw a net increase of 12 employees and the Bureau of Fire gained one.

The healthy hiring coincided with a positive year for the city’s revenue streams, at least relative to the downturn brought by COVID-19. The pandemic shutdowns of 2020 and the behavioral changes that came with them had slashed the city’s intake from parking fees and the entertainment tax. Those are on the rebound, and Lamb said in April that growth in real estate and income tax revenues is further signal that the city is moving toward calm financial waters.

“I think everybody, whether it’s the private or public sector, is finally getting back to normal levels,” Lamb said, though he cautioned that the city still has many vacancies. “We still need to have more employees.”

The mayor’s office estimated that there are now 371 vacancies in the city government, mostly in public works and the police.

There’s a speed bump ahead that could threaten the city’s finances and hiring: The city’s $335 million pot of COVID-19 relief money from the federal government is set to run out by the end of 2024. While some of the ARPA funding has been used on discretionary projects, the city has allocated more than $30 million per year in 2021, 2022 and 2023 to support operations including payroll. 

City leaders are banking on revenues continuing to rise to offset the end of that pool of money, but a possible decline in property tax revenue due to a recent wave of appeals could undermine that projection.

George said the city expects to overcome those challenges. “The city has conducted a five-year financial forecast and has factored in the positions funded by ARPA into our budget plans and will be able to fully maintain the positions created,” she said.

Police roster dropped to 871

The Bureau of Police had, as usual, the largest payroll in the city last year at $102 million, including bonuses and overtime. That number is almost even with 2021, as declining officer counts resulting in lower salary payouts were offset in part by an increase in overtime pay from $7.9 million to $9.3 million. 

Police pay is expected to rise in 2023 and beyond, though, as the city recently entered into a new contract with the officers’ union that gives officers, particularly newer ones, big raises in a bid to improve recruitment and retention.

Base pay for first-year officers under the new contract, for example, will start at $65,000, up from just under $50,000 in the 2022 budget. 

The new contract prompted City Council to increase the police budget by $6 million — not a city-shattering sum, but enough to make any future budget strain more difficult.

With no infusion of recruits last year, the department’s longtime diversity issues remained: 84% of its employees were white, overrepresenting the city’s 64% white population, and 82% of police employees were men. 

City paid $18.4 million for overtime

Public Safety Director Lee Schmidt earned the highest base salary of all city employees ($144,869) after being promoted to that role early in the year. Ten employees earned higher base salaries than Mayor Ed Gainey, who earned $124,657. 

The city’s new police chief, Larry Scirotto, will far surpass those figures with a $180,000 base salary.

In all, 141 employees earned base pay of $100,000 or more. The city had a bit more gender parity among highly paid workers than its workforce overall. Women accounted for 21% of city workers but 31% of those making six figures. 

As in past years, numerous first responders logged tens of thousands of dollars in overtime pay. Jerome Wasek, an EMS crew chief since 1997, topped the list with $180,085 in overtime pay, which was more than double his base salary. The city’s total overtime costs last year were not far off from recent totals of $20 million in 2020 and $16 million in 2021.

Scott Schubert, the city’s former police chief who left that job last year, took home $100,000 more than his annual base salary in 2022 despite working just half the year — for a total of $244,000. George said the increased payout was for vacation time and personal time Schubert earned during his 30 years in the police bureau. 

The racial breakdown of the city’s employees is not much different from the city’s population overall — although white residents are a bit overrepresented. But median salaries are another story. Black employees earned a median salary of $52,383 last year, fully $20,000 below the overall median salary. 

This imbalance can be traced to the Bureau of Police, a large, overwhelmingly white department that also pays better than any department other than the Office of the Mayor. The Department of Public Works, which has the city’s highest concentration of Black employees at 42%, has a median salary of $45,701.

Charlie Wolfson is PublicSource’s local government reporter and a Report for America corps member. He can be reached at charlie@publicsource.org.

This story was fact-checked by Lucas Dufalla.

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Charlie Wolfson is an enterprise reporter for PublicSource, focusing on local government accountability in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. He is also a Report for America corps member. Charlie aims to...