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Allegheny County Controller Wagner may shop for heat if audit bid nixed

Aaron Aupperlee
| Monday, Sept. 8, 2014, 10:57 p.m.
The Pittsburgh Allegheny County Thermal building.
Sidney Davis | Trib Total Media
The Pittsburgh Allegheny County Thermal building.

The Allegheny County Controller's Office could recommend the county find a new way to heat its Downtown buildings if a legal challenge to its authority to audit the steam supplier continues, Controller Chelsa Wagner said on Monday.

Pittsburgh Allegheny County Thermal, a nonprofit that supplies steam to more than 50 buildings Downtown, sued to stop Wagner's office from performing a follow-up audit it claims meddles too much in its affairs.

“They don't have the legal right to audit a private organization in the sense that they want to audit the whole company,” PACT President Robert Fazio said. “They are perfectly welcome to audit the amount of money that they pay us for the services that we provide them, and that's where it stops.”

The county pays PACT about $2.4 million a year to heat and cool the courthouse, jail, former morgue and county office buildings. The county is the largest of its 56 customers, Fazio said. PACT heats and cools buildings for the city, the Sports and Exhibition Authority and private companies Downtown.

Wagner released an audit in February 2013 that claimed PACT overcharged taxpayers and wasted money on contracts. The audit questioned the nonprofit's governance, its auditor and why its customer base slipped from 102 in 1992 to 56 today.

The controller's attempt to perform a follow-up audit this year prompted PACT to sue the county on May 8.

“I think that's very telling,” Wagner said. “I think it's very telling of mismanagement and waste.”

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Terrence W. O'Brien on Aug. 6 threw out the county's request to get the lawsuit dismissed.

PACT wants a judge to remove it from the county administrative code as a county-sponsored or county-supported nonprofit that is subject to a comprehensive audit, such as the Carnegie Library Board and the Allegheny League of Municipalities. Fazio said PACT provides the county with annual financial statements.

The county has argued that the administrative code and the company's own bylaws allow the audit. Fazio said PACT has complied with some of Wagner's suggestions but did not go into detail.

Wagner did not recommend the county drop PACT as its heat source after the 2013 audit. She said she plans, however, to recommend soon the county pursue alternative ways of heating buildings.

Fazio said that would cost the county significant money in upgrade costs and could raise other customers' rates.

Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com.

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