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Allegheny County Council members outspend expense accounts

Aaron Aupperlee
| Monday, Oct. 20, 2014, 10:48 p.m.

Allegheny County Councilman Michael Finnerty couldn't quite make his annual $3,000 council spending account last to the end of the year.

The Democrat from Scott expensed miles he drives in his district and the trips to and from meetings at the courthouse in Downtown. The account was empty by September, a shortfall at least one fellow council member wants to begin to address by increasing the size of the expense accounts.

“We're talking about 94,000 and 96,000 people. I have 16 municipalities I represent,” Finnerty said of his district that runs from Neville in the north to the county's southern border in South Fayette.

Councilman Bob Macey, D-West Mifflin, said he plans to introduce a bill at a meeting Tuesday to increase the expense accounts.

“I usually run out before the end of the year,” Macey said, noting he uses his expense account to pay for mileage and the cost of attending dinners.

The county's home-rule charter grants council members a stipend of as much as $9,000 a year and as much as $3,000 to spend on miles, equipment and supplies.

Councilwoman Heather Heidelbaugh, R-Mt. Lebanon, spent $391 in 2013 and no money in 2012. This year, she spent the full $3,000 on an independent, legal review of the lease between the county and Fort Worth-based Range Resources. The leases permit drilling for natural gas under Deer Lakes Park in West Deer and Frazer.

She does not reimburse herself for mileage out of the expense account and plans to vote against an increase.

“I view this job as public service,” Heidelbaugh said. “I just think there is enough money; $3,000 would be more than enough.”

The charter allows council to increase its stipends and spending limits by 5 percent every five years. Neither has changed since council started in 2000. Macey has not specified the size of the increase. He wants to discuss it. Under the charter, the 5 percent cap would limit the increase to $150.

Macey, Finnerty and Councilman Bill Robinson, D-Hill District, spent nearly $3,000 in each of the last five years, according to Controller Chelsa Wagner's yearly reviews of county finances. The reviews do not include lists of itemized expenses. County council staff could not provide itemized lists Monday.

Most members spent less than the maximum. During the past five years, council spent about half of the $45,000 allotted to the 15 members, typically about $22,500.

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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