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Peduto to fill public safety jobs

| Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, 12:21 p.m.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto took steps on Wednesday toward putting a total of 900 police officers on city streets and adding firefighters, paramedics and building inspectors.

Peduto said the city will have as many as three training classes for new police officers this year, start a class of firefighters soon and hire five building inspectors as soon as possible. It will advertise to fill eight vacancies in Emergency Medical Services.

“We have an immediate need to add personnel within every Public Safety bureau,” he told reporters in a briefing at the Zone 3 police station in Arlington.

As a councilman, Peduto was among City Council members who criticized former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's administration for failing to maintain staffing levels provided for under Pittsburgh's budget. Peduto said his administration would increase staffing to levels set out in this year's $480 million budget.

The city employs 852 police officers, including 26 trainees. It has 614 firefighters, 169 paramedics and 76 Bureau of Building Inspection employees. The figures for police, firefighters and paramedics include top managers.

Public Safety Director Michael Huss said the police force is down by 40 officers, and the fire department by 53 officers.

“We can't speculate as to why that was allowed to happen; we can only undo that,” Peduto spokeswoman Sonya Toler said.

Peduto said he is considering starting a public safety training academy that could generate revenue by schooling suburban employees. He said he hopes to partner with Pittsburgh Public Schools on a program that would offer training and other incentives for high school students wishing to become city police officers or firefighters.

“The goal is to not only be able to recruit minority and female candidates for police and fire, but also to recruit Pittsburghers,” he said.

During his second day in office, Peduto released a letter to Gov. Tom Corbett that requests continued state oversight of city finances. He said city finances remain “precarious,” and he wants to work with fiscal overseers and council to set goals the city must meet before ending oversight. That might include such things as securing a long-term payment in lieu of taxes from tax-exempt institutions and funding for employee pensions.

Peduto, who forged a relationship with nonprofit groups during his campaign, said he would appeal to university presidents and CEOs of nonprofits to secure an agreement with tax-exempt entities. The city has a lawsuit pending against UPMC that challenges the health-care giant's tax-exempt status.

“I'm reaching out to the better angels instead of the law firms,” Peduto said, a reference to the court challenge.

The state in 2004 classified Pittsburgh as a financially distressed city and created two oversight panels — Act 47 coordinators and the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority — to help resolve chronic budget deficits, underfunded employee pension plans and a junk bond credit rating. The Act 47 team last year recommended Pittsburgh's release from oversight.

Peduto said he will meet weekly with council members about needs in their districts. He began on Wednesday with a luncheon meeting with Council President Bruce Kraus, who said that was a refreshing change from the administration of former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

“We would get our news relative to the mayor's office and the functions of the city from the media,” Kraus said.

Bob Bauder is a Trib Total Media staff writer.

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