City-County Cooperation Stalls

In a new audit the City Controller takes the City’s rental car policy to task, noting that Pittsburgh is paying much more for renting similar type vehicles than Allegheny County does, even though there have been opportunities for the City to join the County in a combined bid.

Perhaps there are good reasons why the City stayed put with its current vendor, the same one it has had since 2006, rather than going with the County. There’s no response contained in the audit from the people in charge of the City’s rentals (most of them are for police and parks) so it is hard to speculate. But one has to wonder what it could be when for the price of a four month minivan rental for the City equates to over eleven months for the County under their contract. The Controller also stated that "oversight by City personnel of these invoices appears minimal".

It basically boils down to (1) looking for savings and (2) watching the bottom line. Ironically, the audit points out that the City in 2008 "had an opportunity to join the County in its request for bid (RFB) issuance, but declined". That is the same year when the Task Force on how to merge the City and the County released their report in favor of the concept. That report wanted a clear commitment from the Mayor and the Executive to further efforts at cooperation.

The Allegheny Institute commented on the rental car issue over the summer in a media interview.

One Time Fixes an Every Year Thing

"It is the County’s goal to ensure current year revenues are sufficient to fund current year expenditures without the use of non-recurring revenues. However, non-recurring and unbudgeted areas of funding used to finance expenditures were as follows". This boilerplate language appears every year in the County Controller’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) under the section "Relevant Financial Policies" as a way of saying that the County has a goal to live within its budgeted means but cannot.

Since the 2007 CAFR-covering the 2007 fiscal year, which for the County runs on a calendar basis-through the newly released report covering 2011, the County has used the following amounts of non-recurring revenues: $41.8 million, $24.7 million, $35.2 million, $48.9 million, and $45.6 million. The sources of the revenues varied-gaming money, sales of property, state funds, etc. That adds up to the nearly $200 million referenced by the County Controller in the conference releasing the new CAFR.

Recent uses of non-recurring revenue came about even though the previous County Executive pledged in September of 2009 that "the county’s long-standing practice of balancing its finances with one-time revenue sources is a thing of the past." The $50 million deficit that the former County Controller predicted in April of 2009 that would surface in 2012 was tempered, supposedly, with the 1 mill tax increase passed by County Council at the end of 2011. Whether the County avoids using non-recurring revenue this year will become clear upon the release of the 2012 CAFR.