Feisty City Council rebuffs mayor on vehicles, animal control

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A week after three of its nine members were rejected by voters, a newly feisty Pittsburgh City Council put a leash yesterday on animal-control changes and slammed the brakes on a car-sharing proposal, two measures pushed by the mayor's office.

"I wish to remind the administration that council is to be included in any discussion of contracting," Council President Doug Shields said. "If you take this council for granted, you do so to the detriment of your own legislative agenda."

Council put off a final vote on an administration-backed plan to allow a shelter to euthanize unlicensed dogs and cats caught by the city Animal Control Division after a two-day wait, rather than three days. Members also questioned a new and more expensive animal holding contract.

That proposed three-year contract would hike the amount the city pays per animal it turns over to the Animal Rescue League from $38 per cat and $48 per dog, to $182 for each animal. A euthanasia fee, currently $27 per dog and $25 per cat, would be eliminated.

League Executive Director Charlotte Grimme said the hike was needed to reflect the cost of holding animals in the group's East Liberty shelter, and that it would "bring us close enough to breaking even" on city strays.

An extension to the old contract expires at month's end, and the proposed new contract has been signed by the administration. Acting City Controller Tony Pokora, though, said the "increase of almost four-fold ... definitely bears some looking into," and added that he wants the deal to go before council.

"We have to decide, one, are we going to pay that much, and two, if there are alternatives," said Mr. Shields.

Council also delayed a vote to pay $10,000 to join Flexcar. That car-sharing service allows member organizations to rent vehicles for $8 an hour. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's administration wants to join on a trial basis, to see whether it allows for less use of the city's motor pool.

"We have no info, nor data," said Councilwoman Twanda Carlisle of the plan. "We did not receive the legal opinion by today that was requested last week."

Councilman William Peduto called on the controller's office and the state-appointed Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority to review the city's entire 1,000-vehicle fleet and its take-home car policy. He wants the city and ICA to craft a five-year plan to reduce the fleet size and improve fuel efficiency.

The administration released a list of 55 take-home cars, slightly more than the 52 recommended in the city's Act 47 Recovery Plan. When the plan was written in 2004, there were 83 take-home cars. The plan says only officials who face four or more extra-hour call-outs per month should take home city cars.

Sixteen Police Bureau officials, as well as 14 from Public Works, eight from the Fire Bureau, six from Emergency Medical Services and four from Building Inspection have take-home vehicles. The mayor's office, controller's office and parks department have two take-home cars each, and the finance department has one.

Many other employees must use personal cars on city business and are reimbursed for mileage.

"It's imperative, actually, that we create a managed system and a five-year plan ... and that we begin the elimination, if we go to a ride-sharing plan, of our motor pool, and our take-home vehicles," said Mr. Peduto, on a day when council voted for a $7.3 million purchase of 89 new vehicles, mostly trucks. "What we're doing now is a haphazard purchase based on necessity."

Council's surliness came a week after Len Bodack, Jeff Koch and Ms. Carlisle lost Democratic primaries. Mr. Ravenstahl did not get very involved in their re-election bids, lending to the new tone on what had been a mayor-friendly council.

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


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