Today, December 15th, 2014, Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak delivered City Council's annual Budget Address. Here is the full text of the speech.
"First I would like to say that it has been an honor and privilege to serve as City Council’s finance chair under President Kraus’ leadership during this very challenging year.
We began the year with the fanfare of the hopes and dreams of a new administration taking the helm. In February, to accommodate Mayor William Peduto’s vision, we collaboratively amended the budget, changing positions, departments and processes. In March, the Commonwealth Department of Community and Economic Development declared that the City would remain in state oversight and would have to put forward a new Act 47 plan. Through the formulation of that plan, Council realized the “unintended” consequences of actions taken during the previous administration:
1. That the result of the Pension Board lowering the Assumed Rate of Return from 8% to 7.5% at its December meeting - along with the mandated experience study - would have a budgetary impact of $11.5 million.
2. That the Real Estate millage rate - along with an increased homestead exemption - was set one half a mill too low in 2012, causing nearly an $8 million shortfall in our largest revenue source.
With our sleeves rolled up, members of this City Council worked together and we met the challenge and passed a comprehensive Act 47 plan on June 14. This plan put together the framework to address many of our long term problems as well as the short term needs to avert unsustainable deficit spending. But the work had just begun.
In August, along with the administration I met with bond rating agencies and showed the financial progress the City had made and the collaboration that exists between the new administration and Council. This resulted in an outlook upgrade from stabile to positive giving us an A1 rating from Moody’s on our $50 million capital borrowing that will fund the 2015 and 2016 budgets. A few weeks later, Council discussed a forward refinancing that the administration proposed, yet I and other members were uneasy with the structure of refinance. As a result of discussions with the Mayor, the refunding was pulled; this action and type of cooperation was unprecedented with prior City administrations. We - Council and the Mayoral administration - did the refunding at a later date, with a different structure, reducing the City’s total debt, saving more than $3 million and better preserving the City’s long-term borrowing opportunities.
We collectively began working on the budget early this year, with discussions on the Capital Budget happening through the Capital Project Committee every quarter, that included participation from our City Controller, Operations Director, City Planning and Public Works Director. We had citizen meetings throughout our neighborhoods that helped influence many of the priorities for our capital spending. Through the fall we worked on our revenue numbers, examining other opportunities to save money and find new sources of funds. Most of all, through the last 8 weeks of the budget process, each member of our Council worked tirelessly to minimize impact on our taxpayers. Although we didn’t always agree we challenged each other and the administration to do better. We succeeded by passing a balanced budget and 5 year plan today.
The balanced $507.8 million spending plan was made possible because of the courage and great efforts of Council and the Mayor. Along with the Mayor, City Council has created a budget that responsibly addresses the pension promise to our retirees, debt service, infrastructure improvements, proper maintenance spending, and a renewed commitment to public safety and our neighborhoods. Pittsburgh's competitive advantage as a place to live, work, and invest remains strong.
While there are still many difficult challenges we will face in the New Year, such as; implementing the new Department of Permits, Licensing and Inspection, a rental registration program, new economic development projects, and many other initiatives contained in our newly passed plan, I look forward to facing them with my colleagues on this Council.
I would be remiss not to mention how the sharing of information and openness between City Council and this Administration has proven to be fruitful. I am sure that communication not only with the Mayor but with our constituents will continue to improve in the year to come. Initiatives such as open data, a 311 CRM and the financial opengov.com program, all of which I championed, will shed new light for the public on city finances and government operations, “paving“ the way for performance based analysis, management and budgeting.
While the future looks promising there is still much that needs to be done, not only in the City, but also in Harrisburg. Issues surrounding non-profit contributions and pension reform will continue to haunt us as we move forward. With a new Governor and legislature taking seat in the capital I will be encouraging this body to work cooperatively with the Mayor on lobbying efforts and establishing the working relationships we need to best benefit the taxpayers of this City.
I would also like to thank President Bruce Kraus and President Pro Temp Theresa Kail-Smith for their leadership; I have truly enjoyed our positive, honest, and open working relationship over the past year. I'd like to thank my staff, Ashleigh Deemer, Dan Barrett and Bethani Cameron for supporting the the new role and responsibility of my office this year.
I'd also like to recognize the Clerk's Office - congratulations to new City Clerk Mary Beth Doheny and Deputy Clerk Kimberly Clark on their appointments- thank you for them and their staff for continually holding us together and keeping us organized. Thank you also to the Council Budget Office, analyst Michael Strelic and Budget Office Director Bill Urbanic for working tirelessly to keep members informed and supplied with facts and figures during the Act 47 and budget process. Thank you to Finance Director Paul Leger, Policy Manager Matthew Barron and Deputy Chief of Staff John Fournier for our weekly meetings and for keeping the lines of communication between the mayor's administration and City Council open.
Again, and last but not least, I would like to thank each one of you for your efforts and support through this process and look forward to serving as your Finance Chair in 2015."
Monday, December 15, 2014