$80M bond to benefit low-income neighborhoods

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In the broadest sense, Pittsburgh Council’s priorities for 2012 are the same as always: seeing that city services and infrastructure are maintained for the benefit of city residents and businesses.

This year, however, the first priority involved seeing how those infrastructure improvements and services are paid for. After weeks of meetings and amendments, council was scheduled Jan. 31 to approve an $80 million bond sale that was finalized the day before. The city will use the proceeds to fund capital improvements in 2012 and 2013.

Burgess
REV. RICKY BURGESS

In a joint statement following the sale, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, Council Finance Chair Rev. Rickey Burgess, and Council President Darlene Harris said they worked together to improve the city’s financial rating, making the sale possible.

“We will now turn our efforts toward responsible capital investment that revitalizes our neighborhoods, paves more street, and ultimately makes Pittsburgh a more livable city,” council said.

The sale was delayed for several months when the state Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, which oversees the city’s finances under Act 47, refused to approve the 2012 budget. Approval finally came last week after council approved legislation establishing a trust fund for police and fire retiree health costs, and a more detailed capital expenditure monitoring process.

R.DanielleLavelle
R. DANIEL LAVELLE

Councilman Rev. Rickey Burgess said he would amend legislation he introduced last year to further prioritize capital projects based on several criteria, including state or federal mandates, public safety and neighborhood needs, and adherence to the city’s comprehensive plan.

What this means, said Rev. Burgess, is that low- and moderate-income neighborhoods will not be left out when it comes to capital improvements.

“Council, the Mayor’s office and the ICA have done a lot of work to get this done. We codified a debt management policy and, augmenting legislation of mine, opened up the capital budget process,” he said. “This is the beginning of ensuring that low- and moderate income communities get their fair share of resources. It’s my expectation that we’ll see much greater investment in my district than we’ve seen in years.”

Reverend Burgess also said he believes the new spending should lead to contractors hiring more personnel to work on various projects. To that end, he said he is working with Community Empowerment Association founder Rashad Byrdsong on preparing folks for those jobs.

“In my community we need more lots maintained, buildings demolished, sidewalks repaired and streets paved,” he said. “We need to building on the success of Bakery Square and Target and move the neighborhood improvement east.”

Approval of the bond sale and the Council’s vote last week to refinance $45 million in debt, which will save $5 million, should lead to a wave of spending on building renovations, lot improvements neighborhood beautification and street paving projects that have been held back for two years as the city focused on debt reduction.

Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle, who represents the Hill District and North Side, said he too expects the new capital project criteria to benefit residents in his district.

“It will make a huge difference,” he said. “We’ll be able to pave streets, invest in preserving some of our structures, rehabbing and demolishing abandoned buildings, improve recreational fields, and while most of the work will be done by city employees, there are potential employment opportunities.”

Lavelle said in the coming year, he would be focusing more on land use issues throughout the district, paying particular attention to the 28 acres in the lower Hill, new housing in Manchester and the rebuilding of Centre Avenue as a commercial corridor.

Other issues scheduled to be addressed by Council before final bond sale approval included quality control and contract monitoring issues raised by Controller Michael Lamb concerning the quality of work and materials used—especially in street paving, because several recently completed asphalt jobs are already deteriorating.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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