(Pittsburgh) May 31, 2017 Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner said the rationale for moving County offices from the Lexington Technology Park in Pittsburgh’s East End to other locations around the County is unclear, and is likely to result in increased costs to the taxpayers.
The County currently holds 11 separate leases at the Lexington complex at an annual cost of about $1.4 million, and about 10 percent of the County workforce is located there.
The first confirmed relocation, of the County Police to the former Parkway Center Mall property, will cost about twice as much as that agency’s Lexington lease in its first year, with increases thereafter, Wagner’s audit showed. The new lease also gives the County responsibility for costs such as snow removal, floor cleaning, and capital improvements which could further add to its costs.
The County administration did not provide any cost or feasibility studies conducted to justify the planned relocations, nor does it conduct any public bidding process for property leases, as is required for most other significant contracts with private parties.
“Our employees and those accessing services of course deserve adequate facilities, but the County administration has not explained to the public why we must leave Lexington for more expensive properties,” Wagner said. “Moreover, with no public, competitive process in place, we have no way of knowing that the taxpayers are getting the best deal or that favoritism is not coming into play in lease decisions.”
Bidding processes for property leases are routinely utilized by state government and even private entities seeking the best value, Wagner said. For instance, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported this month that the Pittsburgh law firm Buchanan Ingersoll secured new office space through a competitive bid process, considering as many as 15 prospective locations.
Lease negotiations are underway to relocate the County 911 Call Center to a building at Pittsburgh International Airport. The cost to build out the prospective facility to be suitable for the Call Center is estimated at up to $4 million, which would be paid by the Airport Authority then recouped from the County in its lease payments.
The County has not released plans for relocating the Call Center without any disruptions in service, Wagner said.
Other agencies currently located at the Lexington complex include a number of Children, Youth and Families (CYF) programs. While the Lexington facility is located in the vicinity of some the County’s most economically challenged communities, is easily accessible via public transit, and provides free parking, it is unclear where these programs could be relocated that would provide this level of accessibility.
“The condition of buildings cannot be the only consideration when it comes to facilities where citizens receive vital services. I urge the administration to take special care in deciding where to relocate CYF offices so that no family finds them more difficult to access,” Wagner said.
Wagner said it is also unclear if the County properly monitored the compliance of its Lexington landlord, the Urban Redevelopment Authority of the City of Pittsburgh (URA), with lease terms requiring improvements to the property. Under the terms of its leases, the County paid approximately $4.7 million to the URA over the past two decades for improvements to the property. However, neither the County nor the URA could provide an accounting of what improvements were conducted or when, and a 2012 consultant’s report showed the facility needed more than $2 million in repairs.
“If the rationale for leaving Lexington is the condition of the buildings, the County may have only itself to blame since it did not hold the URA accountable to the terms of the lease,” Wagner said. “As with all contracts, monitoring is crucial. With the County entering into more expensive leases, it must insist on strong protections for the taxpayers and hold their landlords to these terms.”
The full Performance Audit Report can be viewed here.