This morning Mayor Bill Peduto delivered his State of the City Address
, touting several accomplishments that have been occurred since he took office in January — grants, 311 Twitter communication, an education task force (more coverage from City Paper’s Rebecca Nutall his week), and the fact that for the first time in history, the Bureau of Building Inspection
workers now have new-fangled laptops and access to email.
Peduto used the occasion to unveil his proposed $516 million 2015 operating budget
and said that the city will prove to those that “left us for dead only 20 years ago” that Pittsburgh is back and more alive than ever. This year’s budget is estimated at $486 million with expenditures landing around $478 million.
“This budget brings honesty, transparency, and best practices to the city’s finances. It reduces the city’s debt burden, increases payments to pension funds, maintains the city’s fund balance, and makes critical investments in our long-ignored infrastructure,” Peduto said.
Peduto’s overarching themes in his speech included creating more efficient systems for residents and implementing modern technology.
Peduto particularly emphasized transparency as a way to modernize city government. He outlined plans for a 311 mobile app, body-mounted police cameras, and a capital budget
featuring more straight-forward language and visuals so that “reading our budget is no longer like reading Sanskrit.”
“Before it didn’t work like this,” Pittsburgh City Councilor Natalia Rudiak says. “Now you can see the deliverables, project location, project justification and what the capital improvement budget is slated to be over the next six years.”
Rudiak says she’s excited to see an idea for transparency she proposed in 2010 after “Snowmaggedon” finally come to fruition – the roll-out of GPS-equipped snowplows. “Residents will be able to see in real-time where the trucks are located.”
Peduto is also planning to update the city’s antiquated building inspection system to make services like applying for permits easier. In an effort to be more “customer-friendly” city residents who say, want to build a deck, will no longer have to bounce from office to office filling out countless forms.
The agency will be separated from the city’s Public Safety department and will soon become known as the Department of Permits, Licensing and Inspections. Workers will go from not even having access to email to sharing one streamlined software.
Also, Kevin Acklin, the mayor’s chief of staff, says, the city is “looking to break down silos” by cross-training workers and put everyone on the same software system. So, instead of having several inspectors visit a resident’s house to check up on the new deck plans, the goal is to only send one.
“The city’s planning, zoning, historic review, art commission and demolition applications will be revamped to become more customer-friendly,” Peduto said. “Permits and applications will be able to be filed, paid for, and tracked online. Eventually the department will start absorbing other city permitting functions — from block party permits to applications for sidewalk cafes — making these processes easier for residents, businesses and community leaders.”
The new department will be expected to work with City Planning, Zoning, the URA and the housing authority in a new initiative announced by the mayor today called the Neighborhood Reinvestment Alliance (unfortunately abbreviated as the NRA). The goal is to “provide the needed capacity for a city that no longer is managing decline, but one that is growing,” Peduto said.
Redevelopment of housing stock, investment in business districts and better management of blighted properties are on the agenda for the new alliance, and the mayor says it will allow the city to keep an eye on whether privately –owned rental properties are adhering to codes.
Another budgetary flashpoint Peduto addressed is the city’s relationship to its nonprofit-driven economy.
“Together UPMC, Highmark, Pitt and Carnegie Mellon make up over 80 percent of the nonprofit payroll in the city. We are working on a long-range plan that will ensure financial stability, economic opportunity and neighborhood sustainability we can all share,” Peduto said in his address.
In his media briefing Acklin said the city is now in “robust” talks with the nonprofits and rather than pursuing taxes or a cash payment in lieu of taxes, as the situation began, the emphasis is now on collaboration on specific capital projects that could range from city parks and pools to a revolving loan fund for low-income neighborhoods.
The city will also lean on parking for revenue for the general fund. Peduto’s budget counts on $10 million more than the 2013 contribution from the Parking Authority. This could result in increased meter rates and an increased number of meters. Acklin says the mayor is not on board for night-time parking enforcement but would not be clear on whether that option was completely off the table.
City Council has until Dec. 31 to pass the budget.