Ravenstahl's proposed budget has no cuts in taxes, services

Document has several items Peduto favors

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Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl on Tuesday unveiled a $479 million operating budget for 2014, a fairly vanilla proposal that includes modest increases across departments but also bore the imprint of city Councilman Bill Peduto, the Democratic nominee for mayor who's favored to succeed Mr. Ravenstahl in January.

The budget includes no tax hikes and no cuts to city services. But it also includes a section titled "Proposed Positions by Democratic Nominee," a laundry list of new positions that Mr. Peduto hopes to make a starting point for overhauling the city. The positions are listed "as needed" and include no funding, giving whomever occupies the mayor's office in January the flexibility to create them if they desire.

Mr. Peduto said he plans to eliminate some positions and adjust salaries in others to create room in the budget for the 36 new positions. He's also proposing the creation of a new department that will focus on community development.

"We need a strong structure to see reform happen," Mr. Peduto said.

Josh Wander, the Republican nominee for mayor, did not respond to a request for comment.

Tuesday's release of the budget corresponded with a presentation of the 342-page document to a state-appointed oversight board that must approve the budget. Mr. Ravenstahl, who did not respond to a request for comment through his spokeswoman, did not appear at the meeting of the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority and instead sent city finance director Scott Kunka, as he has done in years past. The ICA will meet next month to vote on approval of the city's budget.

The budget "shows Pittsburgh's strong financial position," Mr. Kunka said in his presentation. "Our major taxes are robust, growing and they're very healthy."

The $479 million budget represents an increase of about $9 million over this year's budget and forecasts a corresponding rise in revenue.

Mr. Peduto said that if he becomes mayor, he has no plans to reopen the budget and said he plans to stay within its confines, though he did not detail which positions he proposed to eliminate. He said he believed some positions, though, were redundant.

And as long as the changes he proposes do not shift the budget more than 1 percent for any department, he will not have to seek the approval of the ICA. The positions he proposes changing are all "at-will," he said, and would not implicate collective bargaining or civil service laws.

His proposal includes the creation of an entirely new department -- the Bureau of Special Projects -- which would be staffed with a half-dozen city employees but would be funded halfway by foundations. He said he's currently in talks with foundations to fund the bureau, which would include hiring a point person on education and training and a "technology, innovation and development coordinator" who would leverage technology to develop neighborhoods. In city planning, he proposes adding nine staffers, including a sustainability manager, a blight remediation and open space specialist, an arts and culture specialist, and six community liaisons. All are part of his plan to create more neighborhood-based development.

Mr. Peduto also envisions a complete restructuring of the mayor's office, saying he wants to office to be primarily focused on "accountability." To that end, he's proposed the creation of seven new positions, including a "chief performance officer."

"Their job is basically to make sure that city government is operating at its highest efficiency and look at revenues to go after waste, fraud and abuse," he said. "You're creating an entire mayor's office that is focused strictly on accountability."

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Moriah Balingit: mbalingit@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee. First Published September 24, 2013 3:30 PM


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