The Tribune-Review, Greensburg
PITTSBURGH — The personnel cuts that will be needed July 1 if further federal pandemic relief funds aren’t approved “may prove to be untenable,” Pittsburgh Council Budget Director Bill Urbanic told council members Thursday.
The city needs an infusion of at least $26 million by then to avoid making the cuts, which would include more than 600 city employees, a third of whom would be police officers.
Cutting 200 police officers from the 943 people on the force “would basically be disastrous,” Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich told council members during a more than three-hour-long budget hearing to go over the 2021 proposed public safety budget.
“We are all aware of the revenue downfall,” Hissrich said. “We’ll make do with what we have.”
In addition to putting a strain on the city’s finances, the pandemic has been a real-world test of the city’s overall preparedness for a critical emergency, Hissrich said.
Public safety workers responded to pandemic emergencies while also dealing with more than 200 protests since May 25 spurred by the national Black Lives Matter movement, Hissrich said.
In addition to cutting 200 cops, more than 150 firefighters and more than 60 emergency medical services (paramedics) would be cut if the city doesn’t receive federal help.
Making the cuts would lead to an increase in crime in the city, delay response times and otherwise put people in danger, Hissrich said.
To avoid the cuts, the city would need about $26 million. To get to the point where the city was at the start of 2020, it would need $120 million, Urbanic said.
The hope is Congress approves something between those figures, “between $50 million and $70 million,” to get the city back in the black, he said.
“Wow,” is how Councilman Anthony Coghill described the potential cuts.
“Can you possibly serve Pittsburgh with 64 cuts?” Coghill asked the city’s EMS Chief Ron Romero.
“It will be very difficult,” Romero said.
The budget cuts the police department budget by more than 8%, mainly through attrition and shifting oversight of crossing guards from police to the administrative staff of the public safety department.
The spending plan also reflects many of the police reforms council enacted this year as Pittsburgh officials work using social services programs to treat and prevent many of the calls police now deal with.
Last week, Mayor Bill Peduto warned council of the dire situation when he presented the $564 million spending plan. Peduto has repeatedly lobbied federal leaders about the need for more federal relief because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has wiped out a $120 million reserve the city started the year with and will leave the city with a $25 million deficit on July 1 if something isn’t approved.
Council members spent more than three hours talking with public safety leaders as part of the 2021 budget hearing process, which started Tuesday and will continue through Dec. 14 when council is expected to vote on a preliminary budget before adopting the final plan on Dec. 21.
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