Today, County Controller Chelsa Wagner issued her audit of the County-owned Fourth Avenue Garage Building’s closure, saying that the County's long-term failure to conduct necessary and routine maintenance of the building resulted in higher costs to taxpayers. Additionally, she issued a two-fold warning to the County. First, Wagner said the County must focus its efforts on proper maintenance of all existing capital assets to prevent further deterioration and devaluation of those properties. Secondly, the Controller stated that the County must not take on any additional capital asset until it can assure taxpayers that a plan is in place to maintain and repair existing assets.
“The failure of the County to properly maintain and repair the Fourth Avenue Garage Building has cost taxpayers much more in the long-run and put the County’s own employees and the public in serious danger,” Wagner said, “We must be willing to learn from past mistakes and take immediate steps to correct our course and create a long-term plan for monitoring and maintaining buildings and other assets.”
Wagner’s audit uncovered a lack of a preventative maintenance plan for the Fourth Avenue Garage, which is indicative of a larger problem for the County overall. Since acquiring the garage in 1989, routine maintenance needs were not identified, prioritized, or performed and critical repairs were not made in a timely fashion. Additionally, Wagner found that had action been taken to address the structural integrity of the garage, the building and taxpayers would have benefitted. Finally, Wagner’s audit revealed that rather than dedicating the monthly fees being paid by County employees to maintain the garage, those fees went into the General Fund for common use.
“Allegheny County’s continued practice of ‘band-aid’ repairs as a maintenance strategy hurts its short and long-term financial health,” Controller Wagner said, “This approach does not serve the interests of effective or efficient government, and wastes taxpayer money. Long-term asset management is vital for the County to avoid these situations in the future.”
Controller Wagner also called on the Administration to review existing assets and prioritize necessary maintenance before acquiring any new buildings. Wagner specifically warned against the County’s intention to use bond proceeds to purchase the sprawling, multi-building Lexington Avenue Facility in East Liberty from the Urban Redevelopment Authority before a comprehensive plan and approach are outlined for current asset upkeep.
“With the County’s own roof caving in, it is absurd to consider purchasing a troubled asset on a credit card,” Wagner added, “The Lexington Avenue facility is a massive property with known physical and environmental concerns, similar to those current County buildings that haven't been properly maintained.”
In response to recommendations in Wagner’s report, Allegheny County Director of Public Works, Joseph Olczak agreed that there was a need for a formal maintenance plan of all County assets. Director Olczak pledged to work with the Administration to address the issue.
The full report, including Director Olczak’s response, can be downloaded here.