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Allegheny County Jail provisions added to county budget could lead to higher taxes, some council members say

Some council members say county jail provisions added to county budget could lead to higher taxes
Some council members say county jail provisions added to county budget could lead to higher taxes 03:02

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Allegheny County taxes could jump next year as a result of last-minute additions to the county budget approved by Allegheny County Council on Wednesday.

As KDKA-TV political editor Jon Delano reports, several council members say actions taken by the council concerning the Allegheny County Jail will lead to a tax hike in the years to come. 

Should county taxpayers pay $500,000 to change the color of jail uniforms, or hire a lawyer and a liaison person for the jail's oversight board, or allocate over $1 million to pay inmates for work they now do voluntarily in exchange for certain benefits?

"I cannot face my constituents telling them I'm going to raise your taxes to pay incarcerated people in our jail," Councilman Nick Futules said. "I can't bring myself to do that."

Futules, one of five who voted against the budget, says these jail provisions were rushed through council at the last minute with little consideration, like can you pay inmates less than minimum wage or are they then entitled to unemployment pay?  

"They're all kinds of issues here that were not vetted out," he said. 

Changing uniform colors from orange-red to tan should be done over time as uniforms wear out, says Futules, if it should be done at all.

"It's called safety red. It's not real red and it's not real orange. Just in the middle to stand out in a crowd of people if there was an escapee, they would be easily spotted," he said. 

Councilman Sam DeMarco tried to strip these jail provisions out of the budget but was not allowed an up-or-down vote on each item, which forced council members to vote for or against the entire budget. DeMarco voted no, saying it would hike county taxes.

"I'm afraid folks are going to face a significant tax increase in 2025 because of the way this council is behaving," he said. 

Both DeMarco and Futules say Councilwoman Bethany Hallam is pushing for changes at the jail that will cost tax dollars.

"I'll say something that might not be the right thing to say, but it seems like a couple council members are trying to turn our jail into a five-star hotel," Futules said. 

Hallam defends her proposals, saying jail is hardly a hotel and paying inmates $10 a day won't break the county's bank account.

Delano: "Will this lead to a tax increase in 2025?"

Hallam: "This has absolutely nothing to do with any proposed tax increases in years to come."

"The amount these initiatives will cost will save us money in the long run," she added. "The amount these initiatives cost will improve conditions so that we no longer have to pay out lawsuits, will enable us to keep and retain staff in our county jail where we are bleeding staff every single day."

Both Futules and DeMarco urged outgoing Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald to line-item veto these jail provisions from the overall budget. No word yet on what Fitzgerald will do.

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