Noting her goal of making Allegheny County finances and operations “crystal clear” to the public, County Controller Chelsa Wagner today unveiled her 2011 annual report to County taxpayers, “An Eye Toward the Future.”
“Allegheny County faces real challenges resulting from years of poor planning and severe cuts from the state and federal governments, many to services the County must still provide,” Wagner said. “We must set priorities with an eye to the future, and to work within the limits we face by improving efficiency and promoting innovation.”
The areas of greatest concern include:
- A drastic decrease in the General Fund balance, which stands below that of many school districts in the County.
- Reliance on one-time, non-recurring or unbudgeted funding sources.
- State funding cuts to critical areas such as transportation, human services and community colleges by Governor Corbett.
To address these internal fiscal problems, Wagner noted, the County must ensure that every dollar is spent efficiently and effectively while maintaining the services taxpayers demand. Her office is focusing its audits on the biggest cost drivers in County government.
Wagner added that the County should:
- Refinance debt to capitalize on historically low interest rates.
- Take advantage of marketplace competition in negotiating a new health-care agreement for employees.
- Encourage collaboration with other local governments to save money on purchasing.
- Hold state government accountable to maintain funding for essential services.
- Use assets wisely and avoid repeating past mistakes.
Despite significant structural and financial barriers to long-term financial stability for County government, the County and region continued to outpace much of the nation in 2011, Wagner noted. The County saw gradual recovery from the Great Recession as many sectors of the economy enjoyed growth and new opportunities.
Allegheny County’s unemployment rate at the end of 2011 stood at 7.1%, lower than the Pennsylvania rate of 8.3% and the national average of 8.8%, she wrote. In April 2011, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis recognized Allegheny County as Pennsylvania’s highest earning county with a total personal income level 4.5% higher than Philadelphia County, the next highest earner. Further signifying an economic recovery and burgeoning consumer confidence, home sales in Allegheny County rose 16% in 2011.
Wagner’s “Popular Annual Financial Report” complements the 2011 “Comprehensive Annual Financial Report” released in May. While the comprehensive report is aimed at government officials and financial ratings agencies, the popular report directly addresses County taxpayers.