Photo: Development Czar Pat Ford
After five months of asking, after 20% of the budget year had passed, after City Council had already transferred $12 million dollars to the URA, Councilman Patrick Dowd finally got his first look at the authority’s 2008 Administrative budget and he didn’t like what he saw: A $2.8 million dollar, 37% increase in the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Administrative budget. Among other things, Dowd wanted to know why the increase was so large and where the extra money was coming from. As usual, extracting these answers was a long, aggravating ordeal.
Why did their budget jump 37% in one year? Simple. New Executive Director Pat Ford was reorganizing and restructuring the authority. He had big plans, big visions and big things cost big money.
Where were they getting this extra money? Not so simple. Seems it all started long ago and far away in a project called Parkway Center Mall. Part of the money to build that mall came from a federal UDAG grant. (Urban Development Action Grant) The terms of that grant were such that Parkway Center Mall would eventually have to repay the loan to the City of Pittsburgh. A sizable repayment chunk was due for 2008.
“Then why are you [URA] getting this [repayment] money instead of the City of Pittsburgh?” Dowd asked URA Finance Director Constance Eads.
Eads explained that UDAGs were no longer around. After the UDAG grant program was discontinued, repayment monies were treated like CDGB monies.
“Even so, CDGB monies should still come to the city and not to the URA,” Dowd pressed.
Eads countered that since the URA has a cooperation agreement with the city, the URA has standing to TAKE THE FUNDS.
“What’s the big deal here? Our money …. Your money ….We’re all supposed to be on the same team. What’s the big deal here?” Pat Ford blustered.
Totally immersed in his District Attorney Jack McCoy groove, Dowd snapped back at Ford, “You can’t take the money without asking for the money! That is OUR authority.” (Pun presumably intended by Dowd)
Further Dowd grilling brought to light that the large budget increase would continue in 2009 and beyond. That UDAG repayments were not predictable, not re-occurring and not necessarily enough to cover the expanded administrative budget.
“Well, then how can this budget level be sustained?” Dowd asked Eads.
“Yes …Uh …. That will have to be addressed in 2009,” she answered.
“Precisely my point,” was Dowd’s comeback. “And you’re going to be asking us [City] for money then.”
What were Pat Ford’s overall thoughts, concerns and views on getting into yet another scuffle with City Council?
“How can I work with you [City Council] when you [Dowd] use words like ‘reckless’, ‘unethical’ and ‘irresponsible’ to describe [the URA] in the paper?” Ford was a furious shade of red. “I just want to make some great changes. We’ve been trying but we’ve never been given a chance to explain them. Why can’t we just settle this ‘mano y mano’… man to man …. instead of in the press? Council takes six hours to talk about a billboard but we’re not allowed even one minute to talk about our mission or our plans.”
Normally the epicenter of loud rants and occasional cursings, Councilman Jim Motznik was unusually quiet but did manage to get one important piece of information on the official record for the day.
“I want everyone to know that I take credit for bringing [Pat Ford] back from Florida,” Motznik proudly proclaimed.