Peduto pushes need for oversight in Pittsburgh

In letter to Corbett, mayor says city still facing fiscal hurdles


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In his first official correspondence, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto wrote to Gov. Tom Corbett on Tuesday imploring him to keep the city under state financial oversight, calling the city's situation "precarious."

The city entered financial oversight under the state Act 47 law a decade ago, when it was "teetering on the edge of bankruptcy," Mr. Peduto wrote in the letter released Wednesday. The state appointed a team of overseers who helped it craft two financial recovery plans -- blueprints to get the city out of financial distress.

While the city has made strides since that time -- dramatically reducing its debt burden and seeing its credit ratings rise -- Mr. Peduto argued the city is not ready to be out of state oversight.

"I write to you today to respectfully request that the city of Pittsburgh remain under Act 47 state oversight to allow my new administration to work with the Act 47 Coordinators and Pittsburgh's [Intergovernmental] Cooperation Authority to craft one final recovery plan -- an exit plan from Act 47 that will leave our city truly fiscally sound," he wrote.

He also authorized Wednesday hiring and training classes to bolster staffing in public safety departments.

In 2012, then-Mayor Luke Ravenstahl petitioned to get the city out of financial distress, saying it was ready to operate without a fiscal watch dog. The city's appointed overseers agreed with Mr. Ravenstahl, saying they believed the city was ready to graduate from the program.

That decision ultimately lies with Secretary C. Alan Walker of the state Department of Community & Economic Development, and it's still pending.

Mr. Peduto laid out a number of reasons that the city still needs Act 47. Standing in the Zone 3 police station in Allentown, he said the city needs a stronger long-term debt policy that would lay out exactly how much money the city could borrow in the next half-dozen years or so, and a better solution for its pension problems.

He also believes the city can use Act 47 to negotiate voluntary payments from nonprofits, who own a significant amount of land in the city but pay little to no taxes. He also said he believes solutions to the state's pension problems lie in Harrisburg, and urged the governor to examine state law.

Separately, the mayor Wednesday also detailed plans for hiring in four of the city's public safety bureaus -- fire, police, emergency medical services and building inspection.

All four departments have positions that have been budgeted for but not filled, so the move will not cost the city any additional money, Mr. Peduto said. The police bureau, for example, currently has 826 uniformed officers and another 26 cadets in field training for a total of 852 officers. The bureau, though, is budgeted for 892 officers.

The mayor said he'll authorize an additional class of up to 40 recruits in the fall. One already was slated to start in March.

He also plans to authorize a new class of firefighters "as soon as possible." That bureau has been criticized for spending too much on overtime, which could be addressed with the help of additional manpower.

In EMS, he authorized the hiring of eight paramedics. In building inspection, which he said is so shorthanded it is delaying development by not issuing building permits as quickly as possible, five inspectors will be hired.


Moriah Balingit: mbalingit@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee.

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