Allegheny County should fix up the buildings and bridges it already owns before buying any additional real estate, Controller Chelsa Wagner said Thursday.
Ms. Wagner made that recommendation in her audit of the county's Fourth Avenue Garage. She said the county's long-term failure to do routine maintenance on the deteriorating 82-year-old building has resulted in additional costs to taxpayers.
Upper floors of the garage were closed to parking in 2011, and the rest of the building has been shut down since February. Since that time, the county has been leasing space for part of its vehicle fleet and employee parking on a nearby lot for $6,000 per month.
The poor condition of the garage has "put the county's own employees and the public in serious danger," Ms. Wagner said in a statement. "We must be willing to learn from past mistakes and take immediate steps to correct our course and create a long-term plan for monitoring and maintaining buildings and other assets."
County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said it was his administration that closed the garage shortly after he took office in January. "At that point, maintenance hadn't been done for many years," he said.
Ms. Wagner also urged the Fitzgerald administration to review the condition of all county-owned assets and develop maintenance priorities before buying additional real estate. She specifically advised against acquiring several buildings on Lexington Avenue in East Liberty. Those structures -- which house county police, emergency services, assessment and human services offices -- are owned by the city Urban Redevelopment Authority.
"With the county's own roof caving in, it is absurd to consider purchasing a troubled asset on a credit card," Ms. Wagner said. The "credit card" refers to the possibility of buying the Lexington Avenue facilities with some of the proceeds from the county's recent sale of $190 million worth of bonds.
Mr. Fitzgerald said he agreed that the county needed to review maintenance schedules for all large county-owned assets. "But that will not forestall us from looking at other facilities and reviewing whether it would be a better deal for the county to lease or own," he said.
The county has owned the Fourth Avenue Garage since 1989. In a letter to the controller, public works director Joseph Olczak said the county had sought multiple times to secure funding for garage repairs.
Len Barcousky: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1159.