County residents share their thoughts on the budget

Allegheny County residents weighed in on the proposed 2023 budget at a town hall meeting with some county council members Monday.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald filed the $1 billion operating budget to the county council in October. Includes a 2.9% increase over the 2022 budget, primarily due to personnel costs.

So far, the county council has heard feedback on the budget from various county departments. But Monday’s town hall, hosted by the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America and the Pittsburgh Economic Justice Circle, focused on what county residents think.

They asked council members questions about the county’s sustainability efforts, education funding and the Allegheny County Jail.

County council member Anita Prizio, a Democrat, said she hopes the town hall will be held every year, noting it could boost transparency and accountability.

“Budgets are essentially moral documents. And that this is the first town hall to introduce the participatory budget. We are here to listen, learn and act,” Prizio said.

Prizio and others said they plan to propose “strategic changes” to the financial plan in an effort to drive funding toward causes they believe need more attention.

A proposed amendment would increase funding for the public defender’s office, as well as the district attorney’s office, county medical examiner, and IT positions in the court records department, all of which are governed by the same collective bargaining agreement. . Public defenders have Been asking for raises. New hires at the public defender’s and district attorney’s offices can expect to earn around $45,000 a year.

County Councilwoman Bethany Hallam, also a Democrat, said that while these offices have the same starting salary, the district attorney’s office often receives more funding.

“So even though they have that pay parity when it comes down to it, attorneys are moving through the ranks in the district attorney’s office at a much faster rate than they are in the public defender’s office,” Hallam said. .

Council members also say this increase in base salary would make Allegheny County more competitive with neighboring counties. Erie and Washington counties offer starting salaries of $65,000 and $68,000, respectively.

Another proposed amendment would increase funding for the Allegheny County Community College. Current law requires county, state, and CCAC students to split the college’s operating budget equally.

Hallam said the county’s proposed contributions in the 2023 budget are $8.3 million shy of reaching the 1/3 contribution mark. She said this could put the county in violation of state law.

He explained that when the county doesn’t contribute its share of the funds, “It’s not just that CCAC has a lower operating budget… What happens is that the cost of running the institution falls on the backs of our students.”

At least four members of the county council’s budget and finance committee must approve any amendment before it can go before the full council. Any measure that comes before the full council needs at least eight votes to pass.

The full council must approve the budget before December 6.

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