Pittsburgh targets ending financial oversight

Officials will speak to state panel on exit from Act 47

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After eight years of austerity, the city of Pittsburgh today will argue before a state panel that it has clawed its way to financial recovery and needs fewer mentors looking over its shoulder.

A public hearing on ending the city's financially distressed status, and disbanding one of its oversight groups, begins at 4 p.m. in the city council chamber.

As of Friday, officials hadn't decided whether to televise the hearing.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and his team will have 20 minutes to argue that establishing a trust fund for retiree health care, improvements to the capital budget process and bond rating upgrades, among other factors, warrant the city's exit from Act 47, the law that imposes monitoring and financial restrictions on distressed municipalities.

The city has been under Act 47 oversight for more than eight years.

The Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, created by the Legislature as a second set of overseers, will have 20 minutes to explain why it supports the city's removal from Act 47 and how it will continue to monitor city finances on its own. There has been no move to eliminate the authority.

Other speakers, whether they're council members, union leaders, residents or civic leaders, will have five minutes each to address state officials. The panel, to be headed by Fred Reddig, executive director of the Governor's Center for Local Government Services, also will accept written testimony.

Not everyone is comfortable with the city's exit from Act 47. Controller Michael Lamb, a prospective mayoral challenger who last week criticized the city for wasting money on rental cars, has said that Mr. Ravenstahl needs as much oversight as possible.

The hearing "is not intended to be a public debate," department spokesman Steven Kratz said in email. Panel members may question witnesses, he said, but witnesses may not question each other.

The person who decides whether to remove the city from Act 47 oversight, C. Alan Walker, secretary of community and economic development, won't attend.

He'll read a hearing transcript and other documents before making a decision. He has no timetable for deciding, Mr. Kratz said.

Jim Roberts and Dean Kaplan, the state-appointed Act 47 coordinators, recommended Pittsburgh's exit from oversight in a letter to Mr. Walker this month. Exiting Act 47 would be a huge boost for Mr. Ravenstahl, who faces re-election next year.

Under Act 47, the city had to trim its budget; shed jobs, including 300 through attrition in the fire bureau alone; and cut services, including six neighborhood fire stations. At the low point, the city's bonds had junk status.

"These last eight years, it's been a struggle," said firefighters union president Joe King, who has been lobbying for an end to oversight and is among those planning to address the panel today.

The hearing may provide special insight into how individual employee groups helped the city keep afloat.

Mr. King said he'll testify to the $103 million in concessions his union made. To avoid 124 layoffs in the early days of oversight, Mr. King said, 843 firefighters contributed $90 a month for about 10 months. He said the payments ended when a spate of firefighter retirements spared the 124 jobs.


Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.


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