By Junction Coalition
When Mayor Ed Gainey announced an end to the Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC) shuttle road at the February 17 Greater Hazelwood community meeting, residents of affected communities applauded. They immediately requested basic improvements like safe street crossings, sidewalks and facilities for after-school programs. Officials offered no specific plans for redistributing MOC funds, but early reports focused on building a biking and walking trail that follows the same MOC route.
Five months after the MOC’s formal demise, with the trail project moving forward piece by piece, we tracked down what happened to the MOC funds.
When we contacted Emily Bourne, communications specialist for Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI), she emailed on June that $6.7 million remain in the budget for the MOC, which she called the Four Mile Run project.
“Any movement would require council action unless spent on something connected to the Four Mile Run project,” Ms. Bourne wrote.
However, Pittsburgh’s 2021 capital budget reported the project had $7.7 million in “unexpended/unencumbered prior year funds.” This aligns with what DOMI’s chief engineer Eric Setzler said in a late 2021 phone call, that the fund had about $8 million.
Funds, non-funds and conflicting reports
Some of the million-dollar difference can be explained by money diverted from the MOC budget.
In December 2020, City Council passed a budget amendment introduced by District 5 Councilman Corey O’Connor moving $4.15 million of MOC funds into affordable housing programs, support for small businesses throughout Pittsburgh and infrastructure improvements in Hazelwood. This should have left around $3.85 million.
But Ms. Bourne emailed that the diverted money was “not actual funds” because it was moved before the budget was adopted.
“There could have been other budget moves, but nothing with actual obligated funds,” Ms. Bourne wrote. “The only transfer was from December, 2021, when Council moved $575,000 from Mon-Oakland ‘Four Mile Run’ to Street Resurfacing,” she added.
Indeed, Councilman O’Connor did introduce a budget amendment to remove $575,000 from the MOC funds. Of those, $550,000 went to new lights for Bud Hammer Field in Greenfield and $25,000 went to repair steps around Burgwin Field in Hazelwood.
It is unclear how park lights and steps equal “street resurfacing,” and where the $4.15 million in the 2020 budget amendment originated, if not from MOC funds. Also unexplained is the $4 million shown in the 2021 capital budget as going back into the MOC for 2022.
Councilman O’Connor said during a June 10 call, “Whoever you were talking to [at DOMI] does not know what they are talking about. We always make amendments before a budget is passed. Only the final draft of the budget matters.”
The 2022 capital budget does not mention the MOC. Councilman O’Connor said it would not be listed in the capital budget if the funds were already allocated and no new funding was being requested.
Only about 7% of the $8 million in the fund last December is unaccounted for by our reckoning. This could be a calculation error due to rounding, or it might actually be missing. But the funds still exist and are being spent on lights and steps, at the very least.
When will our money fund our solutions?
One fact has become plain over the past five months: The project and its funding will continue—minus Almono Partners’ proposed shuttles and the MOC name.
This slow-walked continuation of the project formerly known as the MOC worries members of MOC-affected communities. Residents and community organizations created Our Money, Our Solutions (OMOS), an alternative plan listing needed improvements costing less than the MOC’s original $23 million budget.
Some OMOS priorities, like weekend service on the 93 bus line and Second Avenue/Irvine Street sidewalk repairs, have been realized. But critical items, like traffic calming on Hazelwood and lower Greenfield avenues, and problems discussed at the February meeting with Mayor Gainey, remain unaddressed. Why are bike trails prioritized over these needs? City parks already have a dedicated source of revenue from taxpayers, while neglect has destroyed existing infrastructure in these communities over decades.
“We said at the February 17 meeting that we are looking to put in a request for money for repairs and improvements for Burgwin [Recreation Building],” Councilman O’Connor said, explaining those funds would not come from the MOC budget.
City Council will have park tax funds to work with, but they have not finalized the process for distributing them, he added.
Explorations into the mysteries of MOC funding continue. In a May 27 email, City Controller Michael Lamb responded to Junction Coalition inquiries, saying his office will soon release their performance audit of several city departments. The audit included a review of the MOC that helped inform Mayor Gainey’s decision to end the project.
Read this article with links at https://www.junctioncoalition.org/2022/06/11/the-mystery-of-the-old-moc-funds/.
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