Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald presented the county's proposed 2016 budget this week and encouraged the council to approve a $5 fee addition to vehicle registrations to help pay for infrastructure repairs to the county's roads and bridges.
According to Fitzgerald, money accrued by the fee would go directly into to an infrastructure support fund that is expected to raise $3.5 million this coming year, with the potential for up to $5 million in
future years. The county is responsible for more than 400 miles of roads and more than 500 bridges.
At last week's quarterly address, Fitzgerald outlined the need for additional funding for road and bridge repairs saying that the county has been "woefully under" the pace to catch up to all that needs refurbished.
Fitzgerald says that if the $5 fee increase is not passed, the funds that would have come from the fee would have to be generated from a county-wide property tax increase.
Many county councilors reiterated the executive's sentiment that the problems of roads and bridges need to be addressed. "This is a public safety issue to everyone driving on our roads," said democratic council member Robert Macey.
However, a few voices were concerned a user-fee was being proposed and approved a bit too fast and the public's input was not considered.
Republican council member at-large Heather Heidelbaugh argued that more time should have been allocated so the public could respond to any concerns they may have had over an increased fee. The bill was proposed by Fitzgerald on Sept. 29, discussed at a budget and financed meeting on Oct.1, then approved for by a 10-4 vote on Oct. 7.
Democratic council member Michael Finnerty argued that this is more than enough time, considering the media attention the $5 fee increase has received.
But some disagreed with the idea that information about the fee increase reached everyone in the public. Republican council member Thomas Baker repeated Heidelbaugh's sentiments that the process was "very quick." He says he talked to 50-60 constituents and none of them had heard about the fee increase in the week following the proposal.
"There are certainly good merits to the bill, but I would have loved to have a public hearing," says Baker.
Although the fee was passed on Tuesday, the county council will hold budget hearings later this month and then approve a final budget before the year is out.
In other budget related news, the county jail will also receive around $4 million more in funding, with $3 million of that being specifically allocated to support health care at the jail. The county took over as the primary health-care provider in September, with partnering efforts from Allegheny Health Network, replacing the much-maligned, for-profit Corizon Health Services.
"We want to try to do a better job than was done previously," says Fitzgerald concerning the increased funds for the jail medical care.