Savings to be Found at the Jail?

The Allegheny County Jail has a prominent place in the Pittsburgh visage (being situated on the banks of the Monongahela River and next to the Liberty Bridge) but a relatively small place in the overall County budget. In 2011, the Jail totaled $55 million in expenditures, about 7% of the $767 million operating budget. There are ways to save money on its operations, however, and County Council is going to look at how to get that done.

An article today raised issues related to electronic monitoring and prisoner work detail in order to control the institution’s costs. The 2010 sunset review said that the Jail should "…manage inmate population growth, continue development of alternative incarceration programs". The report pointed out that the County does contract out a portion of the Jail’s operations: a non-profit provides medical services, a for-profit provides food service; laundry and halfway house programs are handled by contract. The sunset review also said that "the County could contract additional functions to make the jail a private facility".

The Jail’s most recent annual report for 2009 shows that most of the people that did end up there stayed for two weeks or less and that over the five year period through 2009 admissions decreased.

Tale of Two Transit Authorities

Lost amidst the discussion of the Port Authority’s annual ritual of talking about service cuts, layoffs, and fare hikes as a result of what they see as not enough revenue was the fact that the neighboring Westmoreland County Transit Authority hired a new contractor-from out of state, no less-to operate and maintain its fleet of buses. The WCTA has contracted out its bus service since 1978 due to the fact that the law that incorporated it prohibited it from directly operating buses.

The WCTA had to choose between seven bidders for its business, and the winner has stated that it will offer jobs to all 45 current drivers and mechanics without changing their current benefits. An Allegheny Institute survey of the WCTA contained in a 2005 report found that their drivers’ wage was well below that of PAT.

The outcome of the contractor change? According to the director of WCTA there will be no fare increases or changes to bus service and routes. He also said "I anticipate that the public will not notice any difference."

Contrast that with the status quo at PAT and it is hard to see how the union’s lockdown on mass transit in Allegheny County can be justified. If PAT leadership had refused to back down from its goal of outsourcing a portion of operations it would be much farther along on rightsizing operations than where things stand today.