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RAD spending plan for 2003 slightly higher

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

With the economy and sales tax revenues stuck in neutral, the Allegheny Regional Asset District has proposed a preliminary spending plan for 2003 that isn't much bigger than this year's outlay.

Additional coverage

Allegheny Regional Asset District preliminary 2003 allocations


It would distribute $74.9 million in sales tax revenue to 83 arts, music, dance, sports, parks and library organizations next year -- up only $200,000 from the current budget of $74.7 million.

The largest chunks of asset district funds would be $16.1 million for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh; $14.6 million for nine large county parks; a $13.4 million annual payment for a bond issue that helped build PNC Park and Heinz Field; $7.5 million for an association of suburban libraries; $5.1 million for four large regional parks within Pittsburgh; a $3.2 million annual payment for a bond issue for improvements at Mellon Arena; and $3 million for the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium.

The allocation for suburban libraries, called the Allegheny County Library Association, would include $250,000 for the county's bookmobiles, down from the $400,000 provided this year. Bookmobiles serve remote areas of the county that don't have libraries.

One arts group whose financial problems have been publicized recently, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, would get $725,000 -- $25,000 more than the group's 2002 allocation. The symphony had requested $900,000 for next year.

"The economic times are presenting challenges to many [arts and cultural] organizations," said the asset district's allocations committee, which prepared the preliminary budget released yesterday.

Daniel Griffin, chairman of the seven-member asset district board, commended the committee.

"It has a very difficult job," he said. "Very few of the decisions it has to make are easy."

The vast majority of the outlay would go toward the operating budgets of the recipients.

"We are trying to help these groups fill gaps [in their budgets]," Griffin said. "We are taking tax money and putting it back into the community."

Besides operating grants, the proposed budget includes $2 million in capital grants for city and county regional parks, plus development of trails and community gardens.

The capital spending for 2003 is about $1 million less than this year because of completion of a major improvement project at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland.

The preliminary budget for 2003 was released at an asset board meeting last night. A public hearing will be held on the proposal at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 21, when recipients can comment on the amounts of their grants. Anyone who wants to speak must sign up by noon on Oct. 18.

There could be adjustments to the 2003 budget before it is finally adopted by the seven-member asset district board Dec. 2.

The money distributed by the district is one-half of the approximately $146 million expected to be raised next year from Allegheny County's 1 percent sales tax, which is in addition to the state's 6 percent sales tax. The other 50 percent goes to county and Pittsburgh city governments and municipalities within the county.

The district anticipates receiving $73 million in sales tax revenue in 2003. That's just slightly more than what will be received this year.

That's in sharp contrast to the prosperous years of the late 1990s, when the economy was healthy, people were buying and each year's asset district budget exceeded the previous year's by several million dollars.

In addition to sales tax revenue, the asset district budget for 2003 will be balanced with $356,000 in interest earnings and $1.6 million from its $20 million reserve fund.

The proposed budget for next year was whittled from more than $80 million in requests submitted by various groups in July and August.

Tom Barnes can be reached at tbarnes@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.

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