Onorato's 2011 county spending proposal $5.8M below this year's

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Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato has proposed what he called a "no-frills" spending plan for 2011 that trims expenses slightly and maintains the current property tax rate.

He presented his comprehensive fiscal plan Tuesday to County Council, which has the final word on county finances.

His proposed budget totals $768 million, which is $5.8 million below spending this year. The reduction results from a decrease in state and federal funding for the county's Department of Human Services, Shuman Juvenile Detention Center and Juvenile Court Placement programs.

His plan for balancing next year's budget depends on receiving $4 million in lieu of property taxes from nonprofit institutions, such as hospitals and universities.

No deal has been reached to provide those funds, but Mr. Onorato pledged that an agreement would be signed by year's end and the money would be available for 2011. He declined to identify any of the nonprofits with whom his administration is talking.

The proposed spending plan reflected the tough economic times, he said. "We understand that the country is in the worst recession since the Great Depression ... and the county has to do what we are asking our families to do," he said.

Councilman Vince Gastgeb, R-Bethel Park, said he agreed that Mr. Onorato had presented what appeared to be a tight budget, but he said he wanted to look at the details before making a final judgment.

The county has sought to get contributions from nonprofits in the past without success, Mr. Gastgeb said. He said he hoped that the $4 million to be included in the 2011 proposed budget would not turn out to be "phantom revenue."

He also said he was concerned by the size of the proposed capital budget, which would finance major improvements. Balancing the $113 million capital budget will require borrowing $68 million through a bond issue.

Work to be paid for from the capital budget includes $14 million to $15 million for highway projects, $9 million to convert the former morgue on Fourth Avenue into office space and $9 million promised the Port Authority in county matching funds for major purchases.

It also provides $4 million to $5 million for bridge projects. Gregory Casciato, deputy finance director for capital projects, said the county would be able to leverage that money to bring home about $40 million in state and federal money for bridge repairs.

Mr. Onorato's proposed spending plan is the eighth in a row to avoid a property tax increase. The rate would remain at 4.69 mills.

Republican members of council noted, however, that Mr. Onorato asked for and got approval of taxes on alcoholic drinks and rental cars.

If council approves his fiscal plan, the owner of a home assessed at $100,000 would continue to pay $469 in county property tax.

Mr. Onorato's spending proposals have been sent to council's budget and finance committee. Committee Chairman William Robinson, D-Hill District, said budget hearings would begin next month. The committee will recommend spending and taxing measures in November with a final vote by the full council likely on Dec. 7.

Correction/Clarification: (Published September 23, 2010) Allegheny County Councilman Vince Gastgeb represents the Bethel Park area. A story Wednesday on the proposed 2011 county budget incorrectly reported the area he represents.

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


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