RAD board to conduct hearings on transit aid

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The Allegheny Regional Asset District board may aid the cash-strapped Allegheny County Port Authority, but it wants to hear from the public before it approves the $3 million transit grant.

The RAD allocations committee presented a $88.5 million preliminary 2013 spending plan to the RAD board Thursday afternoon. If adopted, it will be the largest allocation in asset district's history and a 5.2 percent increase from the 2012 budget.

The Port Authority is asking RAD for help, asserting that transit is an asset -- not only a service -- that residents use to enjoy the many cultural attractions the district supports.

Testifying before the board, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said transit is vital to both the commuters and economic development here.

"I can't think of a bigger public asset that we have than transit," he said.

For now, the grant remains on a provisional basis until the board holds public hearings and further reviews the authority's request.

"While the committee is not making a recommendation on this request," said RAD allocations committee member Stanley Parker, "we are including it in the budget total so that the public can see how it could fit into the scope of the RAD program."

The $3 million was a small part of a funding announcement by Mr. Fitzgerald and state Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch last month. The state committed $35 million in additional funding and the county $4.5 million as part of a plan that headed off a scheduled 35 percent transit service cut that had been scheduled for Sept. 2.

The RAD would fund 85 organizations, three fewer than this year. The budget is supported mostly by about $85.5 million in sales tax revenues -- about the same as the board expects for this year, according to the allocations committee report.

Another $3 million in reserves would help fund the proposed spending plan.

Through August of this year, the sales tax grew at a rate double its historic average, although September saw the first revenue decline since July 2011.

Around $28 million was proposed for libraries, an increase of more than $900,000. That includes funds for an upgrade to make the county-wide library resources sharing network faster and more efficient.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh spokeswoman Suzanne Thinnes said RAD support would also help provide early literacy learning programs for children, job and career resources, community Internet access and activities for teens.

Regional parks, the second-largest funding category, would receive $24.6 million in operating funding and $2 million in capital grants. The proposed spending plan allocates $130,000 for a special needs playground at Boyce Mayview Regional Park in Upper Saint Clair and $50,000 toward the completion of Three Rivers Heritage Trail in Downtown.

Major attractions including Allegheny County and McKeesport parks, the Phipps Conservatory, the National Aviary and the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium would all see increases in operating funds in the 2013 proposed budget.

The Heinz History Center also got a $35,000 increase to $635,000 in the preliminary budget. The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust grant would increase $25,000 to $875,000.

All capital grants given preliminary approval last year would be funded in 2013, including $240,000 for repairs and renovations at the zoo and $200,000 each for the conservatory and Carnegie Museums. The latter capital grant would fund accessibility and safety repairs.

A public hearing will be held on the proposed budget at 3 p.m. Oct. 30 in the fourth floor Gold Room of the Allegheny County Courthouse, 436 Grant St.

region - Transportation

Molly Born: mborn@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1944.


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