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RAD budget includes $3 million for Port Authority for one year

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By Bill Zlatos
Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012, 3:48 p.m.

Port Authority of Allegheny County got a one-year pass worth $3 million from the Allegheny Regional Asset District, but not the 10-year guarantee that County Executive Rich Fitzgerald requested.

The RAD board on Tuesday approved an $89.7 million budget for next year, giving the transit agency short-term help for its financial problems for the first time.

“This year, we can do Port Authority. There's no guarantee we'll have the money next year,” said Dan Griffin, RAD chairman.

The board approved the 2013 budget for 89 groups, including Port Authority, by a 6-0 vote, despite objections by some arts leaders during a public hearing in October. Board member Stan Parker was absent from Tuesday's meeting.

The biggest recipient is Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, with $19.1 million for daily operations and $2.7 million for digital infrastructure used by all libraries in the county.

Griffin noted the board had to address the wisdom of giving money to the financially unsound Port Authority.

“If we only funded organizations that were financially solvent and didn't have problems, we would have 30 organizations that wouldn't get funding every year,” he said.

RAD supports libraries, parks, stadiums and cultural groups with half the proceeds from the county's additional 1 percent sales tax. Sales tax growth slowed in the second half of the year, but officials expect a net increase of 3 to 4 percent for the year, which is above average, said board member Daniel Rosen of the allocations committee.

“Since this may not be the case next year, we urge state and county leaders to continue their efforts to find alternate, reliable transit funding sources,” Rosen said.

State law requires local leaders to match 15 percent of what the state doles out for transit. To secure the state's $30 million bailout, county leaders came up with $4.5 million, using the RAD money and $1.5 million from the county's tax on alcoholic drinks.

“The drink tax and property taxes are our only options” besides tapping RAD, Fitzgerald said.

Port Authority slashed personnel costs by $25 million a year and raised fares to close a $64 million deficit that would have forced it to eliminate 35 percent of its service and lay off 560 workers.

Mitch Swain, CEO of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, raised concern about setting a precedent and the implications of giving the agency money for the long term, but praised RAD's compromise. His council gets $60,000 from RAD and represents many of its recipients.

“The RAD board was very sensitive to all sides in this matter,” Swain said.

The RAD budget grew by $1.2 million since the board released its preliminary budget in September. It is 7 percent higher than this year's budget of $84.1 million, and represents the largest spending plan in RAD's 19-year history.

The budget includes $4 million for building repairs, maintenance and equipment in 2013 and preliminary approval for $1.1 million for similar projects in 2014.

The building and equipment money includes roof projects at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Oakland and the Senator John Heinz History Center in the Strip District, safety upgrades to Heinz Hall, Downtown, and accessible trails at the new Pittsburgh Botanic Garden near Settler's Cabin County Park in Collier.

Staff writer Tom Fontaine contributed to this report. Bill Zlatos is a reporter for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828.

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