Mayor wants to borrow $80 million for various city repairs
The ornate top on Pittsburgh’s landmark City-County Building is ready to tumble onto Grant Street.
More than half of city streets are bumpier than goat paths.
Playground equipment is junk. Police radios don’t work. Ballfield light poles have collapsed.
To listen to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and his department heads, the city is practically coming apart at the seams. Ravenstahl said he wants to borrow $80 million next year for capital improvements but needs approval from City Council to borrow the money. Some people on council contend the amount is excessive.
“If council decides not to do it, that is certainly their right, but if they make that decision, we’re not going to fix the roof on (the City-County Building),” Ravenstahl said. “We’re not going to buy police cars. We’re not going to pave streets. We’re not going to address numerous issues throughout the city.”
Bill Peduto of Point Breeze, who chairs council’s Finance Committee, previously said he will oppose new borrowing until the city approves legislation to regulate how money is borrowed and for what purpose. Peduto recently introduced a debt policy bill, and Ravenstahl’s office offered amendments. The Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, a state agency overseeing Pittsburgh`s finances, called a meeting for Friday to discuss the policy with Ravenstahl’s office.
Peduto issued a written statement saying that he advised members of the two state committees overseeing Pittsburgh’s finances that he could not attend. Instead, he sent Matt Barron, a member of his staff.
The meeting generated compromise legislation that council expects to consider on Wednesday.
Ravenstahl said the city has pushed off critical maintenance for years. With interest rates at record lows, he said, now is the time to borrow. His budget calls for $72 million in capital spending next year, paid for with about $42.5 million in bond money and $29.5 million in state and federal funding.
City officials reported this summer that the top of the City-County Building had problems. An investigation by a masonry contractor concluded that deterioration was far worse than anticipated, and the city closed a sidewalk on Grant Street. The repair estimate is $50 million, which includes fixing the roof cap and steel structural beams that support it and repairing masonry joints outside the entire building, Public Works Director Rob Kaczorowski said.
Neither the city nor Allegheny County, which share ownership of the building and repair costs, has money to pay for the work. Ravenstahl set aside $1 million in his capital budget next year.
Joseph A. Olczak, director of county public works, said the county earmarked money for repairs. He was not in the office yesterday and could not immediately come up with the exact figure, but he said it “wasn’t anywhere near $50 million.”
Both sides are awaiting a written report from the contractor before deciding their next step.
“It’s probably something that’s going to have to be phased in,” Olczak said.
Kaczorowski said about 800 miles, or 67 percent, of city streets need to be paved immediately. Ravenstahl’s capital budget sets aside $12 million for repaving, but that will pave only about 35 miles. Kaczorowski estimated he needs $25 million annually for paving.
He said he is seriously considering proposing that the city make its asphalt and pave streets in-house, as it did until about 10 years ago.
“If I do that, I can probably do double the miles of paving we do each year,” he said.
City officials said rubber safety surfaces and equipment at nearly all of the 129 playgrounds need to be replaced. Doing so would cost about $25 million, but the capital budget calls only for $1 million, Citiparks Director Michael T. Radley said.
Light poles dating to World War II at three city ballfields are ready to fall down, he said.
The city budgeted $750,000 for emergency pole repairs next year.
Ravenstahl set aside $3 million next year for police radios, but the money won’t cover the entire need. The South Side Market House, a 100-year-old building that serves as a senior and recreation center at 12th and East Carson streets, has been closed for a year. Plans are to have it open by June upon completion of $750,000 in repairs.
“It just goes on and on and on,” said Duane Ashley, Pittsburgh’s director of operations. “We’re keeping everything together right now with a Band-Aid.”