Allegheny County wants to borrow millions to repair roads

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Allegheny County just paid down a chunk of its debt, but administration officials have presented a proposal to borrow millions more for road improvements.

The county's budget office is asking county council for permission to borrow up to $49.8 million in new bonds as well as refinance existing debt at a lower interest rate.

Though they're asking for more in their proposal to build some cushion, officials are actually hoping to borrow $31 million or so, about the same amount the county paid off this year.

"We want to minimize new debt," said Greg Casciato, senior deputy director of budget and finance. "We don't want to issue more debt than we're getting."

The new money will go to infrastructure improvements, primarily roads, Mr. Casciato said. While some on council may prefer to pay down the county's "credit card," there are simply too many projects on the list to ignore, he said.

The administration is also proud of its plan to refinance $156 million in existing county debt, settling on a lower interest rate that could save the county $10 million over 10 years.

Jennifer Liptak, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald's chief of staff, said those savings could be earmarked to pad the county's fund balance.

County council will address the proposal at Tuesday's meeting. But on Thursday, council members got a sneak peek, courtesy of county Controller Chelsa Wagner, who included the unapproved bond issue in a presentation to council on the county's finances.

Bewildered, some council members asked if they had missed the meeting where the new debt was approved. Umbrage was taken.

Ms. Wagner's office said she didn't mean to jump the gun and only intended to give her colleagues a fuller understanding of the county's position. William Robinson, D-Hill District, who heads council's budget and finance committee, said he'd heard of the bond proposal but had never seen the paperwork.

He's hoping his fellow council members understand that, yes, they are still in charge of approving county debt.

"It was somewhat embarrassing, not for me, but for the committee," he said of Ms. Wagner's disclosure. "We run the risk of alienating members who feel they've been played."

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Andrew McGill: or 412-263-1497.


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