You don't need a recession to go looking for efficiencies in government. Years before the nation's economic free fall, Allegheny County voters plus Pittsburgh and county leaders pushed through consolidations that have saved taxpayers millions of dollars.
As part of a larger county row-office consolidation approved at the ballot box in 2005, the Department of Court Records was formed last year from the merger of the prothonotary, clerk of courts and register of wills offices. The combination enabled the county to eliminate 30 jobs for total annual savings of about $1.2 million. It also led to more centralized and streamlined data storage.
Other savings have come to Allegheny County and the city of Pittsburgh through new joint efforts. The city and county have extended and expanded their joint purchasing agreement, subject to approval by their respective councils. In the last two years the two governments teamed up on 69 contracts and 29 bids worth $19 million, which saved the county $5.2 million and the city almost $1 million.
The joint purchase extension will let the county continue to act as buyer of office supplies, uniforms and computers, and it will have the new ability to purchase nonprofessional services for the city and county like plumbing repairs, electrical maintenance and waste disposal.
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and County Executive Dan Onorato are right to keep these savings initiatives rolling, but there's more to be done.
In the works are two other potential forms of joint business. First, the city and county are exploring a merger of their information technology systems and staffs, which could save both of them money. Second, the city needs a new computerized financial system, but rather than duplicate something the county already has, officials are exploring whether the city can use a designated part of the county's system, thus saving the city money.
These efficiencies would mean more progress, but not nearly as much as could be found in joint parks and joint public works operations -- complex and ambitious undertakings that truly could revolutionize how Pittsburgh and Allegheny County deliver services.
It was almost a year ago that a 13-member panel under the leadership of Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg issued a report calling for the consolidation of the city and county governments, a worthy idea that, reportedly, is still under discussion but far from implementation. Short of adopting this core recommendation, city and county officials can still accomplish savings for taxpayers by merging more functions.
These efficiencies are good, but it's time to take the notion of joint operation to the next level.