Controller says city departments spending too much

Though much of the discussion leading up to this week’s approval of Pittsburgh’‍s five-year financial recovery plan focused on ways to generate more revenue, City Controller Michael Lamb said at a news conference Wednesday that the city’s most pressing concern should be cutting spending.

Mr. Lamb said that though most tax revenue projections are “running ahead of where we were last year,” the pace of some city’s departments’ spending could result in budget overages by the end of the year.

“The more immediate problem is not a revenue problem,” he said.

Using numbers from May, with about 42 percent of the year gone, Mr. Lamb cited the city’s departments of animal control, innovation and performance, finance and police bureau as agencies that were outpacing their budgeted allotments for the year.

However, he acknowledged that in some cases the figures could be related to large, once-yearly expenditures, early-year outlays for equipment and other costs not necessarily indicative of higher year-round spending.

Mr. Lamb also applauded an executive order Mayor Bill Peduto issued Monday that will require the city’‍s Office of Management and Budget to pre-approve most departmental purchases.

Mr. Lamb provided reporters with an invoice for a $17,384 high-definition projector, speaker system, Blu-ray player and accessories for the Parks and Recreation Department’s conference room.

Mr. Lamb called the price tag “exorbitant,” adding that his office had purchased a similar system for about $1,000.

Tim McNulty, a spokesman for Mr. Peduto, said Mr. Lamb’‍s snapshot does not paint an accurate picture of most city departments.

“Our review shows that almost all departmental spending is on track to be on budget except police and fire,” Mr. McNulty said, adding that the mayor is committed to hiring more police officers and cutting overtime costs. “Reining in police and fire overtime is a long-term project, one that administrations across Pennsylvania have struggled with for decades.”

He said 20 percent of the mayor’s office spending this year, about $118,000, was related to the former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl administration’s salary and vacation payouts for departing officials.

The parks department’s projector system will be used for planning meetings on the Great Race, which brings 16,000 runners to the city in the fall, and other special events, Mr. McNulty added. It was paid for from the Great Race trust fund, though Mr. McNulty could not say where that money comes from or whether the system was put out for bid.

“The mayor is committed to keeping spendings within budget and making targeted investments within our departments that increase performance and efficiency,” he said.

Robert Zullo:, 412-263-3909 or on Twitter @rczullo.

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