Onorato Signs 2010 Budget into Law, Guaranteeing Ninth Consecutive Year with No Property Tax Increase

Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato today signed the County’s 2010 budget into law, guaranteeing a ninth consecutive year with no property tax increase.

“While other governments are raising taxes and raiding their rainy day funds, we’re controlling costs and being fiscally responsible in Allegheny County,” said Onorato. “We’re also investing in our bridges, roads and parks to improve our infrastructure and create jobs. And, we’re increasing our support for the Community College of Allegheny County by $438,000, helping the institution to strengthen its mission of providing quality, affordable education and workforce development.”

The County’s 2010 operating budget is $773.5 million, representing a $10.8 million or 1.41 percent increase over the 2009 adopted budget. The County’s fund balance at the end of 2010 is projected to be stable at $18.5 million.

The 2010 capital budget is $92.6 million and includes 97 infrastructure and capital improvement projects. The capital budget requires the use of $47.5 million in County bond proceeds, $43.1 million in federal and state bridge and road reimbursements, and $2 million in other financing.

The capital budget provides $41.4 million for bridge construction, maintenance, repair and design, including $19.7 million to complete the rehabilitation of the Rankin Bridge, as well as $9.6 million for the rehabilitation of Jack’s Run Bridge No. 1, which connects the Borough of Bellevue and the City of Pittsburgh. In addition, $6.2 million will be directed toward repair and renovations on numerous smaller bridges throughout Allegheny County.

The County is also providing $1 million for construction of a new bridge over active railroads tracks in McKeesport to connect Lysle Boulevard and Industry Road, which will help to spur additional development at the RIDC Industrial Center of McKeesport, a former brownfield.

The 2010 capital budget also provides $18.4 million for road construction, maintenance, repair and design. The annual road and facilities improvement program will receive $4.5 million, and the paving program will receive $2.3 million.

Allegheny County will also begin a major reconstruction project at the intersection of Brownsville, Broughton and Curry Hollow roads in the South Hills in 2010. The $5 million project includes the realignment of five roads and will include new signalization and widening to improve traffic capacity and safety.

Continuing his effort to improve County parks, the County Executive proposed and County Council approved $10.7 million in capital and maintenance projects for the 12,000-acre system. This includes $4.8 million to remove sediment from North Park Lake and restore its ecosystem, as well as $1.5 million to renovate the South Park wave pool.

At the urging of Onorato, the County is providing $800,000 for construction of three additional universal playgrounds so children of all capabilities can enjoy the County parks and play side by side. The playgrounds include wheelchair-accessible ramps and platforms wide enough for two wheelchairs to pass one another, reducing confusion and facilitating universal access to the play

In 2010, the Community College of Allegheny County will receive $22.3 million in operating revenue, an increase of $438,000 or two percent, as well as $1.5 million to support various capital projects at its campuses and centers. Port Authority will receive $8.6 million for acquisition, construction and improvement of Allegheny County’s mass transit infrastructure, including a new automated fare collection system.

Onorato will continue to pursue his Allegheny Green initiative during 2010, including completing a comprehensive inventory of the County’s annual greenhouse gas emissions and energy usage in buildings and vehicles. Other efforts will include environmentally preferable procurement policies, expanded recycling in County-owned facilities, and sustainability training to employees. The County will also begin construction on a green roof on the County Office Building in 2010.

During 2009, the Onorato administration made great strides in improving energy efficiency, promoting sustainable practices, and increasing cost savings as part of Allegheny Green. The County is saving more than $350,000 annually due to improvements at the Allegheny County Jail, where more than 800 light fixtures were replaced with high-efficiency LED lights that consume 83 percent less energy. In addition, the jail is using environmentally friendly cleaning products and has expanded its recycling program, both of which reduce energy consumption and waste.

The County entered a contract with Amcom Office Solutions in 2009 to replace its 406 copier/printer/fax machines with modern, Energy Star-rated multifunctional devices. The new equipment will save taxpayers more than $400,000 annually or nearly $2.3 million over the five- year term of the contract – a 47 percent reduction over the previous agreement. To save paper and additional costs, the new devices are set to print double-sided by default.

Since taking office in 2004, Onorato has reduced the County’s operating payroll by 573 employees. The County Executive’s efforts to consolidate and merge government services and functions have resulted in $21.7 million in savings. This figure includes: $10 million in savings from merging five 9-1-1 centers into a unified County system; $7.3 million in savings from joint purchasing, including telecommunications, electricity and commodity goods; $2.8 million in savings from collapsing the City of Pittsburgh’s fingerprinting operation into the County’s; and $1.6 million in savings from consolidating six row offices into the County administration.

Onorato is also working with municipalities throughout Allegheny County to encourage consolidation among volunteer fire departments and municipal police departments. Currently, there are more than 100 separate municipal police departments and more than 200 separate volunteer fire departments in Allegheny County. The County Executive’s staff succeeded in helping four separate volunteer fire companies in Stowe Township to consolidate into one. The administration is having ongoing discussions with other departments throughout the County.

In March, Onorato announced an extension and expansion of the City and County’s joint purchasing agreement, under which the County is continuing to jointly purchase commodities, such as office supplies, uniforms and computers, and it is now jointly purchasing non- professional services, such as plumbing repairs, electrical maintenance, and waste disposal.

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services raised Allegheny County’s debt rating from A to A+, and Moody’s Investors Service changed the County’s outlook from stable to positive in 2008. These rating changes were the result of independent analysis of the County’s financial status by the two Wall Street firms. In 2009, both companies reaffirmed their ratings of Allegheny County.

“The positive ratings from Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s are further proof of the success we’ve had in increasing efficiency, cutting costs, and maintaining our fund balance – all of which have been accomplished without raising property taxes,” added Onorato.

In 2004, Onorato and County Council cut property taxes by $7 million by increasing the homestead exemption by 50 percent. In 2006, the County Executive fought to reduce County, municipal and school district taxes by $8 million for 8,700 homeowners who saw their assessed values wrongfully increased due to appeals by municipalities and school districts.