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Going Through the Motions 

The phrase "screwing the pooch" may have taken on a whole new meaning.

Last week, Pittsburgh City Council voted against a proposal to shorten the period of time a stray pet must be impounded before it can be put to sleep. The Animal Rescue League -- which has served as the city's de facto pound for years -- had sought to reduce the waiting period for three days to two. But after council voted against the plan, the ARL decided to terminate its services with the city instead.

As it turns out, stray pets weren't the only things whose time had run out. The 72-hour rule was only part of the problem: The ARL contract was set to expire June 7. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's administration had negotiated a new deal with the ARL, but because the new contract would quadruple ARL's $48-per-animal fee, acting controller Tony Pokora refused to sign off on it unless council approved it.

After the ARL pulled out, Ravenstahl issued a catty press release blaming Pokora and council for the problem and concluding: "I hope that the politics of the few don't get in the way of the needs of the people of Pittsburgh."

"Our decision is not based on politics," council President Doug Shields said following council's May 29 meeting. "It was a bad process. We had no idea the contract was about to expire."

Bill 2007-1427: By a 6-3 vote, council approved an administration-backed car-sharing program at a cost of $10,000. As mentioned in this space last week, the pilot program retains the services of Flexcar, which offers a pool of vehicles for use by its members ... and which got the contract without having to face competitive bids. Some councilors groused that the city could have gotten a better deal than the $8 per hour Flexcar charges for use of its vehicles. "One car for 10 hours is $80 a day," Shields said. "I can rent three cars for $80."

Bill 2007-1285 & 1286: Council planned to take final action June 5 on a program to give residential tax abatements for housing built in Downtown and 26 struggling neighborhoods. Councilor Tonya Payne wanted to know why all 88 neighborhoods weren't involved; city finance director Scott Kunka said that including every neighborhood would cost the city $75 million a year in lost tax revenue ... and wouldn't necessarily jump-start development in neighborhoods that need help most.

Bill 2007-1465: In 2005, former mayor Tom Murphy pitched the idea of privatizing the city's vehicle maintenance, as a cost-saving mechanism. The contract, which expires next February, was estimated to cost around $11.7 million, saving the city about $1.8 million. But like many Murphy initiatives, it didn't work out as advertised: Pokora predicts that by the time the contract expires, it will have cost $16 million -- $4.3 million more than originally estimated. In fact, not only will it not operate at a cost savings, Pokora estimates it will end up costing more than a proposal submitted at the time by the unions to keep the garage operating by the city. How sure was the Murphy administration that the contract would cost way more than $11.7 million? The controller's office says the extra money was allocated into the general services fund to cover the expenses. The money council originally budgeted for the contract was set to run out last week; to prevent that from happening, council took a preliminary vote to allocate more money for vehicle repair. Councilor Darlene Harris amended the bill to create a committee for handling vehicle maintenance down the road. Maybe Flexcar has a police-car sharing program?

Quote of the week: "In the past, when people would ask me what council was working on, I'd joke and say, 'Putting cats on leashes.' Well, I guess now we really are."

-- Councilor Bill Peduto responding to reporter questions about proposed legislation to require cats to be licensed.

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