Think of Pittsburgh’s 2015 budget as a road map for making the city better, both now and for the long-term, says Sam Ashbaugh, Director of the Office of Management and Budget.

“Under Act 47 we are required to develop a five-year plan. On the operating [budget] side that is a good tool to bring more financial discipline to the city of Pittsburgh.”

Discipline might not sound like a lot of fun, but it’s allowed for the creation of an outcomes-oriented capital budget, says Budget Analyst Alex Pazuchanics.

“We really tried to take a critical look at how we conceive of capital projects. To figure out why that money [for a particular project] is necessary, what the justifications for it are, what the alternatives are, what happens if we do nothing.”

By providing clear deliverables for each allocation, the city can better track where investments are being made and therefore ensure neighborhoods aren’t forgotten. After the mid-December approval of the city’s $507.8 million operating budget, $76.6 million capital budget and five-year capital plan, Mayor Peduto said there was a clear path to fix the city’s financial problems.

However, the purview of the Office of Management and Budget is not just a bunch of numbers, but making the city a more livable, citizen-centric place, says Ashbaugh.

“I like to think that budgeting is the most important thing a government does. That’s how we allocate scarce resources and define what our priorities are for programs and services. At one point or another, everything comes back to the budget process.”

This year’s operating budget provides for millions of dollars in fuel to keep the snow plows running, police cruisers on the streets and fire trucks ready to go. We’ll spend half a million dollars on postage. With fewer public works employees than years past, the city’s hundreds of litter receptacles—on neighborhood street corners, in parks—will be attended to.

On the capital side, $12 million will be poured into street resurfacing. Thirty sidewalk and curb repairs will take place throughout the city’s neighborhoods. Playgrounds in the West End will be resurfaced, in Morningside there will be new fences. The Beechview Senior Center will undergo a major rehabilitation to convert it into an intergenerational space. We’re buying a Jaws of Life, and medical supplies to respond to emergencies. Our famous steps will get some love.

“We’re in a good place but there’s not a lack of needs; it’s always budget season,” says Ashbaugh. “We’re looking for the next Andrew Carnegie,” he added jokingly.

Margaret J. Krauss is a writer, radio producer, and researcher. If not biking Pittsburgh's streets or swimming its rivers, she is likely geeking out about a really good story.