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If It Ain't Got That Swingset

The city's capital budget is no trip to the playground

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Pittsburgh government won't come to a sudden stop next year. Things will just slowly fall apart -- and the kids may be the first to notice.

 

That was the unspoken message in Mayor Tom Murphy's capital budget, released Oct. 7. The capital budget represents the city's spending on long-term investments like roads, bridges, buildings, pools, playgrounds and development. The operating budget -- due out Nov. 10 -- is the one that pays salaries, and faces huge deficits.

 

When you include federal, state and authority money, the city expects to spend about $130 million on improvements in 2004 -- about $20 million less than it planned to spend in 2003. But the actual difference won't be that dramatic, because the city postponed or cancelled more than $10 million in investments this year, as it teetered on the brink of bankruptcy.

 

Development projects like the South Side Works and Bedford Dwellings will continue, says Urban Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Mulugetta Birru, whose department is taking a $2.5 million cut. (One Murphy favorite, the Nine Mile Run housing development, may stall, Birru adds.) And major road and bridge projects, which are mostly federally funded, will go on, says Department of Engineering and Construction Director Fred Reginella. The excruciatingly lengthy McArdle Roadway reconstruction may even be complete in spring, Reginella says.

 

"That leaves us with a whole lot of other things that will be put on the back burner," Reginella says. That includes improvements and repairs to senior centers, recreation centers, swimming pools, playgrounds and the City-County Building. "Things like that are going to be set aside," he says. City engineers don't actually do the heavy lifting on those projects, but they prepare the specifications and bid documents and then hire contractors.

 

The biggest losers may be the city's kids. If the city reopens pools and rec centers -- closed in August when Murphy laid off 731 workers -- it may lack the funds to keep them in good repair. Vandal-plagued playgrounds can be expected to wait even longer for fixes. And there won't even be dinosaurs to vandalize next year.

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