Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Capital Cash Might be Hiding

Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb went before City Council Tuesday to talk about the 2011 budget and wound up giving the members a lesson in how the city could find millions of dollars hiding in old accounts. It was the first of three post agenda meetings focused on city finances sponsored by City Councilman Bill Peduto.

The city has been using old bond money and end-of-year balances to fund capital projects since a pay-as-you-go system was adopted in 2006. It was an effort to bring down the city’s debt load. The 2011 budget calls for $25 million in capital spending but Controller Lamb says there is only about $13 million in the account. However, he says there could be a few million floating around from projects that came in under budget or were never started. “We are not diligent enough, our departments are not diligent enough, in reporting back to the finance department, ‘this project is closed, we don’t need these funds any more, we’re done with this project,’ and so we need to enforce that and maybe it will require legislation to do so,” says Lamb.

Council members reported that the finance department is rejecting some capital expenditures that are in the budget because it feels the funds have not yet been placed in the proper budgets.

Lamb also noted that there could be a budget surplus at the end of the year that could be used for capital needs. “We just finished the first quarter of 2011 and in the first quarter we have outpaced that same quarter, from a revenue standpoint, from 2010,” says Lamb. “We have seen increased revenues come in in the property tax and in most of our other major tax sources.”

Helping matters on the capital side of the budget is the decision by the ICA last week to free up gambling revenues for urgent capital needs including paving and police equipment purchases. Lamb says there could be some other funds on the way as well. “If we receive the 5 million or so in state and federal reimbursements that we are due and then also receive the 9 million from the sale of the municipal court building, then that might be enough for this year,” says Lamb.

The second budget post agenda meeting will focus on the budget over then next six years, and the final meeting will look at longer-range issues.

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