Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey. Photo by Ann Belser.

When Pittsburgh’s new mayor, Ed Gainey, took the oath of office, he also took over a city with a shortage of workers in key departments, duplicate services, and a worker shortage that is expected to get worse as hundreds of city employees reach retirement age.

In the police department, where officer training takes a year and a half, 257 of the 991 sworn members of the department are eligible to retire; the department does not have a recruitment class in the pipeline. The Department of Public Works is also facing a loss of experienced workers with 10 people in the department who have worked for the city for more than 40 years and septuagenarians who are working as laborers and drivers.

These are some of the findings of the Pittsburgh Government Guidebook, a four-month, $250,000 study of Pittsburgh’s city government by New Orleans-based Thomas Consulting Group, which was paid for by The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments. The full report is available online.

The two foundations have also engaged HR&A Advisors out of New York and Washington, D.C., to analyze the city’s finances and help with the preparation of the city budget.

The result of the government study is a 1,053-page report composed of a 146-page executive summary, and 917 pages of information on 19 city departments and three city authorities: the Pittsburgh Parking Authority, Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority and Urban Redevelopment Authority.

It remains to be seen what will come from the report’s observations.

City spokesperson Sam Wasserman said in an email, “Currently the Gainey transition committees are doing their work to analyze these reports and make actionable policy recommendations for the administration.”

Schenley Park Ice Rink needs to be upgraded in order to be operational next winter. Photo courtesy of Schenley Park Ice Rink.

Stretched thin

The guide found significant issues throughout city government.

The Department of Public Works, which works with the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure on street maintenance, also has overlapping duties with the Parks Department for park maintenance.

The report also lists some of the responsibilities of the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure, which has to maintain 2,423 lane miles of streets, tens of thousands of crosswalks and pavement markings, 675 sets of steps that cover 23.3 linear miles, about 44,000 street lighting fixtures, 613 signalized intersections and about 10,000 traffic control fixtures, 850,000 street lights and 33 miles of guide rails.

The consultants noted that all of the new projects funded by the American Rescue Plan have put even more work on the shoulders of staff. The report calls for more workers and notes that the compensation for those workers has not kept up with inflation and that they can take a job outside of city government and be paid $20,000 a year more.

While Public Works provides road maintenance, the department is also responsible for collecting garbage and recyclables, a manpower-intensive duty that often barely gets done. “On any given day, 15-20% of the workforce is out due to illness or injury,” the report states.

The Public Works Department is also responsible for the restrooms in the city’s parks.

“Because the laborers do not have the capacity to add daily restroom responsibilities, the department uses a contract with a local porta-potty company to make porta-pottys (externally managed) available in parks. As a result, the public restroom buildings remain closed.” the report states.

There are major maintenance issues looming for the Department of Parks and Recreation and there is not enough money in the budget to support upcoming projects.

For example, the Mellon Park tennis bubble, which has a 20-year-life span was slated to be replaced last year and the consultants said it cannot make it another year. Similarly, the staff at the Schenley Park Ice Rink is working to make the chillers at the rink last through the season, but unless they are upgraded, they will not be operational for next winter.

The Parks Department has struggled to hire enough lifeguards at the city wage of $9 to $13 an hour and members of the department told the consultants that they need to increase that pay to $15 an hour. The city will also have to pay for the water used in the pools and the parks for the first time.

Mini Traffic Circle on North Euclid Avenue in East Liberty. Photo courtesy of BikePGH.

Public safety issues

All of the departments that are under the umbrella of the Department of Public Safety have their challenges, according to the report.

The Bureau of Police has to add officers while the new administration negotiates a contract with the Fraternal Order of Police. 

That contract will also have to address the reluctance of officers to cooperate with investigations of misconduct by the Citizens Police Review Board or investigations on discrimination by the Commission on Human Relations.

In the Bureau of Emergency Medical Services, the city is dealing with a workforce that has been demoralized by both the Covid-19 pandemic and by having to regularly work 18-hour shifts to cover a lack of staff.

The fleet is also a problem for the city’s EMS. No new ambulances were purchased by the city in 2021 and there are none ordered for 2022 for the fleet, which includes 13 advanced life support units, including one that is 5 years old but has high mileage. The report notes that the SCUBA truck is from 1987 and the rescue truck is a 1982 model.

In the report, EMS Bureau Chief Ronald Romano says that the city needs to order nine new ambulances for 2023, which will cost about $3 million.

The consultants found that the Bureau of Fire suffers from a lack of gender diversity, with just four women in the 656-member department.

The city’s Fire Department also has fleet issues. Chief Darryl E. Jones advises that the trucks in regular usage be no more than 10 years old. The city has two engines in regular use that were purchased in 2008.

URA comes under fire

Some of the harshest language in the report was used to describe the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

The section on the URA opened with the sentence “The economic development apparatus in Pittsburgh is large and unfocused.”

While the consultants noted that the city has conducted studies and created plans to define local priorities for economic development, instead the city has “a disjointed set of programs, initiatives and services that are not coordinated to achieve maximum impact. The incoming administration has the opportunity to articulate a clear vision, goals and metrics for economic development, and to direct all public agencies to align their resources and plans toward the implementation of the strategic vision.”

Read the full report.

Ann Belser

Ann Belser is the owner of Print, a newspaper covering Pittsburgh's East End communities. After receiving a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, she moved to Squirrel Hill and was a staff writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 20 years where she covered local communities, county government, courts and business.