Fitzgerald proposes '13 Allegheny County budget

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Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald on Tuesday night proposed an operating budget for 2013 that increases spending slightly but calls for no overall change in property tax rates.

His preliminary spending plan totals $799 million, an increase of $15 million, about 2 percent, more than this year's $784 million.

Mr. Fitzgerald presented his proposed budget to county council, which has the final word on both spending and tax rates.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Senior Judge R. Stanton Wettick Jr. has ordered that new assessments for all real estate take effect in 2013, which will require recalculation of the county's millage rate. Although Mr. Fitzgerald's plan is for the new rate to be revenue neutral, some homeowners are likely to see changes in how much they pay in property taxes. Their 2013 county tax bills will depend on how their new assessments compare to the average for the county overall.

Mr. Fitzgerald told council it would be three or four weeks before his administration would be able to calculate that new millage rate. The current rate is 5.69 mills.

The biggest structural change in his proposed budget is the creation of a new department of facilities management. Its employees would be responsible for doing major maintenance and upgrading of county facilities like the jail, Kane nursing homes, park amenities and other buildings.

Mr. Fitzgerald proposed a 2013 budget of about $21 million for the new department. Its staff of 260 would be taken primarily from existing county employees in the parks, public works and administrative services departments. Those departments would see reductions in their budgets.

The biggest source of new revenues in the preliminary spending plan is an additional $10 million in filing fees collected by the department of real estate. That money will help to offset an expected loss of more than $4.5 million in federal and state aid.

Council President Charles Martoni said the county faced a tough year ahead and described Mr. Fitzgerald's proposed spending plan as reasonable.

Councilman William Robinson, chairman of council's Budget and Finance Committee, said the county executive's recommendation to trim funding for Community College of Allegheny County was "ill-advised." The community college should instead get a 2 percent increase in funding from the county, Mr. Robinson said.

Mr. Fitzgerald's budget proposes a 10 percent decrease in funding for county Controller Chelsa Wagner's office. Her spending for 2013 would be cut by $647,000, from $6.3 million this year to $5.7 million next year. Some of that amount represents the transfer of weights-and-measures employees out of the controller's office.

Council will hold public hearings on the proposed budget next month and will take final action on spending and taxes in early December.

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Len Barcousky: or 412-263-1159.


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