PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Pittsburgh city streets are plagued with potholes and the city says it need every dollar it can spare to fix them.
So it might make a lot of people angry to learn one city council member may be diverting money for paving into pet projects.
City Council President Darlene Harris denies it.
“These are projects that the community has wanted and they need and there other places in the budget which money could be found,” she said.
City budget records show that in the past three years, Harris has moved $660,000 in paving funds to various projects in her district, including $50,000 for the restoration of a Spring Hill spring – a one-time source of mineral water that gave the neighborhood its name but has long lain dormant.
Or how about $100,000 towards turning the old Troy Hill fire station into a fire museum?
But one project that really frustrates the administration is the fixing of an old pedestrian bridge. They say that Harris is diverting funds that could benefit thousands for the benefit of a few.
The project calls for taking the bridge down and building a new one at a cost of more than $1 million. Harris has already earmarked $200,000 in paving funds.
“Some of those projects, I would call them, like, gingerbread,” City Public Works Director Rob Kaczorowski said.
Harris has earmarked more than $300,000 in paving funds for other projects and while the truth is that very little of the money has been spent, Kaczorowski says she’s tied up the money in the capital budget, hampering his ability to pave streets.
“If you have a house where your roof’s leaking, the hot water tank’s shot and your furnace is broken, you don’t build a gazebo in your backyard,” he said. “You’d take care of the roof, you take care of the furnace, you take care of your hot water tank.”
Andy Sheehan: “Why don’t you release that money so you pave the streets, which look like a lunar landscape all over the city?”
Darlene Harris: “Why wouldn’t we take other money such as some of the money that is used just to go on conferences, you know, or to belong to things, like $32,000 for the mayor?”
Harris says the administration should look at its own priorities, but when KDKA Investigator Andy Sheehan asked her constituents whether they’d prefer their roads paved or have these projects, they balked.
“If it’s a matter of getting the roads paved or putting this in then, you know, yeah, maybe they should pave the roads first,” Chris Waraks, of Spring Hill, said.
And some on Troy Hill aren’t thrilled about the idea of a museum.
“I don’t know where this museum comes from,” Sandra Parker said. “And not many people are going to come to it. What for the first month or so?”
But Harris says the support for her project is there and that she’s being singled out by the administration for voting against the mayor’s plan to lease the parking garages to bail out the city’s pension plan.
“All I want to do is care for the communities that I work for,” Harris said. “I listen to what the communities have to say. I do not listen to what the administration says.”