Fitzgerald proposes $817.3 million county budget for Allegheny County
By Aaron Aupperlee
Published: Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, 6:03 p.m.
Allegheny County residents won't be hit with a property tax increase and few county departments will get a drop in funding next year under county Executive Rich Fitzgerald's proposed 2014 budget.
Fitzgerald presented an $817.3 million operating budget to County Council on Tuesday. He attributed the roughly 2.2 percent increase over the 2013 budget to higher wages, inflation and increased supply, health care and benefit costs.
“We've been taking some very proactive steps to try to find savings and efficiency to not have to increase the property tax,” Fitzgerald said.
He said an audit of the county's health insurance saved more than $1 million by cutting ineligible dependents, an audit of the homestead tax exemption returned about $300,000 to the tax rolls, and examining the tax-exempt status of properties owned by nonprofits could bring in more revenue. The county has raised fees to generate new revenue.
“A couple thousand here, 500 thousand there, it all adds up,” Fitzgerald said in answering a question from Councilwoman Barbara Daly Danko, D-Regent Square.
This is Fitzgerald's second budget proposal as county executive. If passed, the budget would be the 12th in 13 years to not increase the millage, now 4.73. The last millage increase was passed in 2011 and took effect in 2012.
Councilman Bill Robinson, D-Hill District, chairman of the budget and finance committee, had said he would support a millage increase to add $50 million in revenue. Robinson, who anticipated a fight over the 2014 budget, did not question Fitzgerald following his presentation.
Only the Department of Juvenile Court Placements would experience a drop of more than 5 percent in its budget. The department, which handles juvenile offenders, would lose about $2.7 million, nearly 8 percent. The drop, according to the budget, reflects a decrease in juveniles in group homes and other facilities.
The real estate department and the Shuman Center would have their budgets cut by about 4 percent.
The county will spend about $8.6 million less on debt payments in 2014 than it did in 2013.
The emergency services department, which operates the county's 911 center, had nearly a 74 percent jump in funding, to $8.8 million.
“That doesn't mean they are spending 73 percent more money. It means we don't have the offsetting revenue that we had before with land lines and cellphone lines, so we have to take more money from the general operating budget to fund the 911 center,” Fitzgerald said.
He warned state lawmakers of a funding crisis in the county's 911 system because of an outdated fee structure.
Fitzgerald proposed a $50.43 million capital budget with $6.2 million going to fix bridges and $18.1 million toward roads. It included spending $1 million to study building a bus rapid transit system between Oakland and Downtown.
Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-320-7986 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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