Pittsburgh controller launches comprehensive city spending website

By Christopher Huffaker

Pittsburgh Controller Michael Lamb launched an online platform Friday opening up access to city spending, employee demographic and payroll information.

At a press conference at the City-County Building, Mr. Lamb called it “a great moment for the city as we begin to provide a level of transparency in city finances that really before was not possible.”

The portal, found at fiscalfocus.pittsburghpa.gov, includes three sections: an updated “Budget Explorer” and newly-launched “Checkbook PGH” and “Payroll Explorer.”

Save for payroll explorer, which will be updated along the city payroll’s twice-monthly schedule, all the data will be automatically updated nightly, showing every city contract and revenues as they are reported to the Finance Department. Most of the data goes back to 2012, with payroll again the exception. Pittsburgh contracted out payroll until 2017, so the controller’s office does not have data before then.

“You’ll be able to see every item of spending in the city of Pittsburgh,” said Mr. Lamb.

City transactions aren’t up-to-the-minute. There is a lag time between when spending occurs and when it is processed to the Finance Department.

In the checkbook section, spending is graphically broken down by expense category, vendor, fund and city department. Individual transactions are also viewable, including invoice numbers.

Names are removed from the payroll explorer, but it allows users to view department employee counts and payroll totals by ethnicity, gender, age range and longevity, as well as individual job titles by pay.

“At this point in the year, there’s an EMS crew chief that’s the highest paid in the city,” said Mr. Lamb.

That crew chief, a white male in his 60s, accounts for $96,632.64 in payroll so in 2019, as of the most recent update, or 0.11% of all 2019 payroll costs. That includes overtime, benefits and taxes.

The budget explorer is not a new tool, but it will now be updated more regularly, and it now includes a map for capital projects like bridge repairs, street redesigns and transit corridors. Street resurfacing is grouped as one item, but Mr. Lamb said he hopes to add geographic detail for it in the future.

The budget explorer includes graphical representations of both revenue and spending by source, with budgeted amounts versus actual numbers to date.

For example, Mr. Lamb demonstrated, “On salaries and wages, we’ve spent roughly 40% of the budget, which is where we are, roughly, right now” in terms of the portion of the year that has elapsed.

The tool was built with Socrata, an open data firm owned by Tyler Technologies, and cost the controller’s office $35,000.