Update (Dec. 4, 2019): The Allegheny County Council on Dec. 3 approved the 2020 operating budget as proposed and amended the capital budget by adding $30,000 to a Conservation District study and subtracting the same amount from lateral support road projects.
Allegheny County Council is slated to vote Dec. 3 on a proposed $959.8 million operating budget for 2020, representing a 2.9% increase over this year.
The increase closely mirrors the county’s average annual budget growth since County Executive Rich Fitzgerald assumed office in 2012.
PublicSource compiled a sampling of notable trends in department allocations over the eight years of Fitzgerald’s tenure.
According to the analysis:
If the 2020 budget proposal is approved as is, annual spending will have grown 22.4% under Fitzgerald, with an average increase of 2.6% each year.
Not all departments, though, have seen equal funding growth. Of the roughly 30 departments and agencies PublicSource reviewed:
- Seven departments’ budgets have grown slower than the annual county pace between 2012 and 2019, including the Health Department and the Shuman Juvenile Detention Center. Shuman, according to the county, has seen a nearly 40% decline in youth placement since 2012.
- Three department budgets (the Court of Common Pleas, County Treasurer and District Attorney) have seen increases greater than the county average since 2012.
In releasing his proposed 2020 operating budget last month, Fitzgerald touted new construction for holding down the property tax rate, which has remained unchanged for nearly two decades.
Real estate valuations have grown from $58.7 billion in 2010 to $80.2 billion this year. Roughly 70% of the growth in real estate valuations has been residential, county spokeswoman Amie Downs said.
PublicSource took a closer look at the following allocations between 2012 and 2019:
Allocations to departments in the realm of law enforcement have significantly outpaced the 18.9% growth in county spending from 2012 to 2019 budgets. Despite a 5% decrease in inmate population since 2012, according to county data, spending at the county jail has increased 53.6%. The jail assumed management of correctional health care in 2013, but the budget does not specify how much of the increase that year is directly related to the healthcare costs.
Law enforcement funding changes for Allegheny County, 2012 to 2020*
Downs did not make department heads available for comment and she did not provide answers to PublicSource’s inquiry about the correctional healthcare costs.
Other notable law enforcement-related budget increases over Fitzgerald’s time in office include the Allegheny County Police Department, Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney’s Office and Public Defender.
The jail, police and district attorney have not had budget cuts under Fitzgerald.
The health department has seen its budget shrink by roughly a third from $27.8 million in 2012 to $18.5 million this year. The decrease occurred in 2013 when $10.9 million evaporated from the health department’s budget as the responsibilities for correctional health care transferred to the county jail. It's unclear how much of the $10.9 million decrease in the health department budget is attributable to the jail taking on those duties.
Downs also noted that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection now handles a water program previously handled by the county health department. According to Downs, some department functions paid for with grant money are not reflected in the operating budget.
Fitzgerald has proposed a 1.4% increase in 2020 for the Kane Regional Centers, the county-owned nursing homes where staffing, long hours and low pay has long been a concern. The bulk of the growth would be going to personnel expenditures, which, if approved, represents a 3.2% increase in employee costs over this year.
The budget for the Kane Regional Centers grew from $96 million in 2012 to $110.2 million in 2019, a 14.7% increase. While the number of beds has increased in that time, occupancy has declined about 4.6%, according to county data.
Staffing is universally recognized as critical for providing good care. According to the 2020 budget, nursing and nursing assistants “continue to be challenging positions to recruit and hire for.” The budget notes that registered nurses are estimated to be in short supply “for the next 20 years” and that the county is making staff retention a focus in 2020.
Downs said the “current funding is sufficient to address staffing needs.”
The Parks Department has seen its budget dramatically rise from $7.9 million in 2012 to $18.2 million in 2019. Fitzgerald has proposed a 5.2% increase that would raise the budget to $19.2 million in 2020.
The county’s park system, which includes Hartwood Acres, North Park and Settlers Cabin, has nine parks that offer year-round recreational activities.
The topic of parks funding has been a notable local issue. In the City of Pittsburgh, voters approved a real estate tax increase to provide $10 million in annual funding for the city’s parks system.
Nicole C. Brambila is the local government reporter for PublicSource. She can be reached at 412-515-0072 or firstname.lastname@example.org.