RAD told it can use funds on transit

Special counsel says $3 million grant can go to Port Authority

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Neither state law nor its own grant-making guidelines would forbid the Allegheny Regional Asset District from giving the Port Authority $3 million next year.

That was the conclusion reached by special counsel John Vogel, who found that there was "no legal impediment" to RAD funding for the county's mass-transit agency. His report was released Friday.

Mr. Vogel, an attorney with the firm Tucker Arensburg, noted that he was not offering any judgment on the merits of the Post Authority's request for money.

"Please keep in mind we are not opining that the District is compelled or that it is advisable to fund the Port Authority," he wrote in his eight-page report. That remains a policy decision for the RAD board.

If approved by the RAD board, that first-ever allocation, along with $1.5 million from Allegheny County's hotel and drink tax, would free up $30 million more in state aid for the financially troubled transit agency.

Port Authority CEO Steve Bland has said that money, along with cost-cutting measures, would allow the agency to close a $64 million budget deficit and avoid a crippling 35 percent reduction in service. "We're obviously pleased and intend to continue working with the Allegheny Regional Asset District through this process," a Port Authority spokesman said Friday in response to Mr. Vogel's report.

RAD funds represent half of the proceeds from a 1 percent county sales tax that supports a variety of cultural, sports and recreational programs and facilities. This year the agency will distribute more than $80 million in grants.

The RAD board will meet at 3 p.m. Thursday in the county courthouse to release a preliminary budget for 2013. That proposed spending plan will be the subject of a public hearing at 3 p.m. Oct. 30. Action on the final version of the grant budget is scheduled for Nov. 27. Locations will be announced later for the public hearing and final vote.

Port Authority and county officials made an almost two-hour presentation to the RAD board Sept. 6, describing the transit agency's finances and cost-cutting efforts. After that Downtown meeting at the August Wilson Center, the chairman of the RAD board said he was persuaded. "It would be a good use of tax money ... for a service that is vital to the region," Dan Griffin said of the Port Authority's request.

Six of seven board members would have to approve an allocation for the Port Authority, which provides bus and light-rail service for about 225,000 riders each weekday.

The RAD board hired Mr. Vogel because its regular senior counsel, James Norris, is a partner in the law firm Eckert Seamans, which also provides legal services to the Port Authority.

The RAD board's allocation committee is required to provide a preliminary budget showing proposed funding at least 90 days before the end of the year. A final budget has to be passed by Dec. 1.

While the Port Authority had filed an application for one-year RAD funding, county Executive Rich Fitzgerald has said keeping the Port Authority in the black would require a 10-year commitment from the state and the county.

Like most of the other institutions receiving RAD funding, the Port Authority would return each year to seek an allocation for the following year, Jennifer Liptak, Mr. Fitzgerald's chief of staff, told RAD board members.

region - Transportation

Len Barcousky: lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1159.


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