Is city of Pittsburgh running out of cash for vehicle repairs?

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Pittsburgh's top officials disagreed yesterday on whether there is enough money allocated to pay for repairs to the city's fleet of 1,000 vehicles.

Acting Controller Tony Pokora said a contract with Cincinnati-based First Vehicle Services and 2004 legislation allowing the city to privatize its Strip District repair shop allow for only $11.7 million in spending over three years. He said the city has already spent $10.5 million, leaving only enough to get through next month.

"They're going to be out of money, and we're not going to pay any bill," Mr. Pokora said. He said that if the administration wants to keep the checks flowing to First Vehicle, it has to submit legislation increasing the threshold.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said there's "a difference in interpretation" of the repair contract and legislation.

"The money's there," he said, and he doesn't have to put forward new legislation.

The city's contract with First Vehicle expires at the end of February. Mr. Pokora said that the city is on pace to pay the firm $16 million by then.

He said First Vehicle was honest with the city, then led by Mayor Tom Murphy, about the costs of servicing the fleet. But that administration sent a low-ball estimate to City Council, which was then enshrined into law.

Mr. Ravenstahl said his public works, law and budget aides are studying whether to continue the privatization effort, or reverse it.

"I voiced my concerns with the privatization from the very beginning," he said, but there could be costs associated with bringing the work back in-house.

An audit released by Mr. Pokora in September indicated that the firm wasn't meeting target deadlines for performing scheduled maintenance and getting vehicles back on the road. He said experience with his city vehicle, a Chevrolet TrailBlazer, suggests that's still the case.

He said it has taken weeks of complaints to get his vehicle's oil changed, and a cracked windshield, nonfunctioning rear windshield wiper and burned out brake light repaired. The repairs are scheduled to be done today, he said.


Rich Lord can be reached at rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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