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RAD board includes $3 million in budget for Port Authority

| Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012, 4:36 p.m.

The Allegheny Regional Asset District is saving a place for Port Authority of Allegheny County in its budget, but it may have to dip into reserves to do it.

RAD's board on Thursday submitted a preliminary budget of $88.5 million for 2013, including a controversial $3 million for the financially distressed mass transit system. But the future of money RAD gets from sales taxes remains foggy and might not meet projections some used to propose the transit funding.

The uncertainty occurs as RAD's collections reported to this point for September are 1.5 percent below what was reported this time last year.

“We will need to see revenue in the last quarter of the year before we can determine if this is a one-month aberration or the start of a new trend,” said Dusty Elias Kirk, treasurer of the board.

RAD helps pay for libraries, parks, stadiums and cultural groups with half of the proceeds of a 1 percent sales tax in Allegheny County.

Stanley Parker, a member of RAD's Allocation Committee, called the $3 million for Port Authority a “provisional grant.”

“While the committee is not making a recommendation on this grant, we are including it in the budget total so that the public can see how it would fit into the scope of the RAD program,” he said.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald last month projected RAD would end the year with a $5 million surplus — enough to cover Port Authority's request and boost funding to other groups.

However, the Allocations Committee projects 2013 tax revenue at $85.5 million — the same amount as this year and $3 million less than it projected in its preliminary budget for next year.

RAD Executive Director David Donahoe said the district would dip into its $18 million in reserves to cover its commitments if revenue is less than what it grants.

A legal opinion RAD obtained said the district is within its rights to dole out money to the transit agency.

“I can't think of a bigger public asset than (mass) transit,” Fitzgerald said in a public hearing at the start of the meeting.

He was among seven speakers supporting the grant. Two opposed it.

John L. Tague of Greenfield, an advocate for people with disabilities, rode a motorized wheelchair to the podium to support Port Authority's request.

“I am here today to ask you to include RAD funding for the Port Authority budget,” he said. “I, like many people with disabilities, am transit dependent.”

Former RAD board member Herman Jones urged the board to reject the request.

“It is a service, not a cultural asset,” he said.

Port Authority requested $3 million from RAD as part of a plan to prevent a 35 percent cut in service and 560 layoffs. That money, combined with $1.5 million from the county's drink tax, would help leverage an added $30 million from the state. Workers agreed to $25 million in concessions to close a huge budget deficit.

The board will hold a public hearing on the budget proposal at 3 p.m. Oct. 30 in the Gold Room of the Allegheny County Courthouse. The board will vote to adopt a final budget on Nov. 27 in Conference Room 1 of the courthouse.

The preliminary budget is 5.2 percent higher than this year's $84.1 million. That's the highest increase in RAD's history. The proposed budget includes increases for 57 groups and more than $2.8 million for long-term building improvements and equipment such as a planned World War II Memorial on the North Shore.

RAD is suggesting its biggest recipient, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, get $21.9 million for daily operations and its countywide digital network. That's a 3.5 percent increase.

“We are encouraged by RAD's ongoing commitment to libraries,” said Suzanne Thinnes, spokeswoman for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

Bill Zlatos and Tom Fontaine are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Zlatos can be reached at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com. Fontaine can be reached at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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