City of Pittsburgh Capital Budget Deliberative Forum Delivers on Quality, not Quantity

16 Jun

In anticipation of the adoption of Mayor Peduto’s proposed capital budget, the City’s Office of Community Affairs hosted two deliberative forums, one in Brookline on June 8th, and one in Shadyside on June 14th. Deliberative forums give citizens the ability brainstorm and discuss issues with policy makers and one another, and provides a more participatory counterpoint to the traditional public hearing model. The proposed capital budget, which you can find here, will allocate just over $74 million toward infrastructure, facility, and neighborhood improvements.

 

The goal of the forum was to present Mayor Peduto’s budget priorities for 2018, receive community members’ feedback, and then hopefully incorporate that into the final product. Staff from Mayor Peduto’s office presented five priorities of the administration, some with clearer paths forward than others. The five values laid out were: 1) leveraging partnerships “through coordination with community stakeholders,” 2) “building a Complete Streets network,” 3) “establishing a baseline of core infrastructure,” 4) “creating opportunities for stability and growth for communities,” and 5) “utilizing data to invest strategically.”

 

One major question that lingers is what will happen to these community and infrastructure programs if Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding is cut by Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Ray Gastil, the head of City Planning, was able to address this partially, assuring us that funding levels will remain stable for 2018. However,  it remains unclear what local governments across the country can expect from HUD in the coming years. Sam Ashbaugh, Pittsburgh’s Chief Financial Officer, explained that in the case of a drop in CDBG funding, the City is able to rank which programs are most vital and in need of preservation– either because they are people-centric (e.g. Housing for People with AIDS [HOPA]) or provide a strong return on investment. However, funding was just one of many issues brought up by participants, and other topics covered included adding digital infrastructure costs to the capital budget, determining who is responsible for deciding what constitutes a baseline in our neighborhoods, and how to City determines which neighborhoods get assistance and capital upgrades first.

 

Unfortunately, due to severe rain and a flash flood warning, attendance was relatively sparse. Of the estimated 45 people at the event, roughly half were staff and presenters. As a group representing neighborhoods from every corner of Pittsburgh, PCRG hopes that the City will work on creative ways of getting bigger crowds and more diverse participants in the future.

Alix Levy

Research Analyst at PCRG
Despite repeated attempts, Alix has always found a reason to stay in her hometown of Pittsburgh. She received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Pittsburgh, with a one-year stint in Freiburg, Germany studying the European Union. Prior to joining PCRG, Alix was a community development consultant and adjunct professor. You can find her running around the East End, reading on her back patio, yelling about politics, and planning what to cook next.