Children’s fund to children’s department?
Nearly a year after a ballot question to raise Allegheny County’s property tax millage by 0.25 mill for a children’s fund was defeated, a new report was delivered to the chief executive that analyzes existing early learning and after-school programs.
We pointed out the shortcomings with the goals sought by the tax increase and the light-on-details fund structure when it was proposed. The report makes virtually the same claims about the purported benefits of early learning and after school programs, the causation vs. correlation issue, inferring a direct causal link between early childhood education and success later in life while discounting other intervening factors.
It recommends a new county department with various levels of funding ($20 million—which is what would have been raised by the millage increase—to $5 million) but does not identify any funding source.
Sunset reviews show the number of departments was 16 in 2003, 20 in 2014 and 19 in 2018. Three departments—court records, medical examiner and real estate—assumed the functions formerly carried out by row offices eliminated in 2005. A fourth department, facilities management, was created from public works and administrative services. Real estate was later absorbed into administrative services. Since home rule became effective the county has not created a department from the ground up.
Based on the county’s 2019 operating budget of $932 million and how that is allocated among departments and offices, a new $20 million department would spend as much as the sheriff and district attorney—core county functions. It would rank higher than 11 departments on expenditures. It would have a budget greater than parks and medical examiner and would be twice that of the public defender. At $5 million it would surpass the budgets of the manager, County Council and budget among a few others. The proposed 2020 operating budget is supposed to grow $27 million over this year without the addition of a new department.
Who knows what happens with this report’s recommendations but while that is determined the working group should peruse this year’s and the upcoming sunset reviews and make suggestions on what they would reduce or eliminate to free up funding. That should be the starting point for discussions on whether the county would even want to go down the road of handling the programs.