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Allegheny County controller: Budget cut would hamper accountability

| Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012, 8:50 p.m.
Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner listens to county council discuss county Executive Rich Fitzgerald’s 2013 budget proposal at the county courthouse Tuesday, November 13, 2012. Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner said on Tuesday that she's very concerned about a 10 percent proposed cut to her office's budget for 2013 and plans to let County Council know the cuts would mean a drop in accountability for the county's finances.

Wagner spoke to council during her annual financial status report for the county, which came on the first day of budget hearings. She said she plans to address her office's budget in detail on Wednesday when officials from several departments are scheduled to speak.

“At a time when there's an increase in spending, there's going to be a decrease in accountability,” Wagner said after the hearing. “We haven't received any information substantially as to why.”

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald released his $799.4 million budget last month with no tax increase. He has said the cuts to Wagner's office will make it operate more efficiently. The two have clashed politically on several issues, battling over control of the Department of Weights and Measures.

Fitzgerald said the budget proposal for the controller's office will “not at all” affect its operations.

“That office is very much appropriately funded based on the number of audits coming out of there,” Fitzgerald said.

As part of her analysis of the county's finances, Wagner said the county is lagging behind in collecting state and federal funding for the Kane Regional Centers and has collected $12.8 million less through Aug. 31 than compared to the same time last year. She said she plans to audit the centers early next year.

“Billing is not being done in a timely manner,” Wagner said, noting that the county is three to four months behind in collecting receipts.

County Manager William McKain said the county is examining how to better collect state and federal receipts for the Kane centers, as well as staffing for them and how to better utilize their space.

Wagner said the county has not received any money from nonprofits so far this year, despite budgeting $4 million for voluntary contributions from them in the 2012 budget.

Fitzgerald said that hole would not put the county over budget but that he is in negotiations with nonprofits.

“We want to have something that has predictability to it and a reoccurring amount,” Fitzgerald said.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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