Water Under the Bridge

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) is staring at some sunk costs. According to an article today the PWSA spent $2.7 million on a financial management system that is essentially a closed loop and cannot communicate with the integrated City-County financial management system that took quite a long time to implement. A former City employee was quoted as saying that the PWSA should have jumped in on the integrated platform and one board member is not happy with the system they have.

But is that characterization of getting in on the City-County platform accurate? A March 2011 article seems to indicate that it was the City that was proposing to go with the PWSA’s platform as an alternative to joining the County’s system (the Act 47 rejected this option). That means the City-County integration was not even done at that point-that was not formally announced until January 2012, possibly two years after PWSA purchased its financial management system.

And how about the board member’s position-that "PWSA upper management recommended the system, and it made sense to approve it"? The PSWA board includes four Mayoral appointees: surely they had to have known in 2010 that there was a push to get a large integrated system. It was mentioned in the amended Act 47 plan that was written in 2009, a year before the PWSA purchase was made. Add on top of that the fact that the Mayor was bullish on cooperation and completed a purchase of the Borough of Millvale’s water system under the admirable goal of efficiency. Didn’t those appointees get direction from somewhere other than PWSA management? The other three members of the board are heavily involved in City finances-the Controller, the Finance Director, and the Treasurer. Did they offer opinions on where to steer the Authority’s financial platform?

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.