Controller says 7 city departments on course to overspend
Pittsburgh Controller Michael Lamb called on the mayor's office to rein in spending, saying seven departments are over budget because of purchases such as a $17,000 audio visual system for a conference room, but Mayor Bill Peduto's office quickly defended its budget performance.
Lamb said the departments in question — Peduto's office, the police and fire bureaus and the departments of innovation and performance, finance and personnel — are heading for year-end deficits as of May if expenses are not contained.
Peduto spokesman Tim McNulty disagreed, saying administration calculations show all departments except police and fire are due to finish the year within budget. He attributed overspending in the police and fire departments to overtime compensation.
“Reining in police and fire overtime is a long-term project and one that administrations across Pennsylvania have struggled with for decades,” McNulty said.
Lamb said part of the problem is expenses such as the $17,384 projector for the Parks and Recreation Department.
“Seventeen thousand dollars for this kind of equipment seems to be a bit exorbitant,” he said, adding that the projector for his conference room cost less than $1,000. “We're talking about a dire budget situation here.”
McNulty said the system was needed because the department moved its offices to another part of the building and left for the Public Safety Department a $10,000 audio system purchased in 2007. Money for the new system is coming from cash generated by the city's annual Great Race, which the department manages, McNulty said.
A review of invoices in Lamb's office also shows spending on such things as 100 lapel pins for the mayor's office and office furniture for the Department of Innovation and Performance.
The $597.25 pins feature the city's logo with “City of Pittsburgh Office of the Mayor” printed around it. The furniture cost $8,414, according to the receipts.
McNulty said the pins are among efforts to instill professionalism and make staffers more visible in the community. He said new furniture was needed to increase performance and efficiency.
“In order to improve an organization, you have to invest in it, and we are going to continue to do so,” he said.
The worst department is the Bureau of Animal Control, which has spent 66 percent of its budget, Lamb said, adding that it could be because of a lump-sum payment to the Animal Rescue League early this year. He said over-expenditures in other departments could be because of the same thing.
The finance department, for example, made large pension and debt payments this year, he said.
Lamb said tax revenue so far is exceeding projections.
“This is an issue of budget control. Revenue isn't the problem,” he said. “We have some departments that are significantly over budget and will end the year over budget without corrective action.”
On Monday, Peduto's Chief of Staff Kevin Acklin said the mayor ordered Finance Director Paul Leger to oversee all department expenditures because of the purchase of an $1,800 coffee maker that the Department of Innovation and Performance ordered, then sent back as the Tribune-Review questioned the purchase.
Lamb lauded Peduto for increasing oversight but said more must be done to contain costs.
Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.