Thursday, October 29, 2009

Match Day - Still Time To Donate

Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Foundation for putting forth $300,000 in 50% matching funds for Pittsburgh-area non-profits yesterday. They helped raise $900,000 for non-profits like the Pittsburgh Zoo, the Pittsburgh City Theater, and the Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. In an email to its fans, the City Theater alone announced that they received nearly $21,000. This onslaught of donations all happened in a frenzied 23 minutes.

On top of that money, the Pittsburgh Foundation also offered to match up to $100,000 in direct donations to the library. As of 6PM yesterday, they had only allocated $77,000 of that money (for a total donation to the library of at least $231,000.) In good news, the donation period isn't over yet. You have until 12PM EST today Thursday October 29 to donate to the library through Pittsburgh Gives.

Unfortunately, the technological backbone hasn't been so strong. Even though the online company was charging a fee of 4.75% per donation (or a whopping $62,000 in one day - about 3 times as much as was donated to the City Theater), they let down the charities and frustrated the folks who were trying to donate. Working with computers, I understand that there are unforeseen circumstances here, but when you are taking so much cream off the top, you better be well-prepared for an overload of visitors.
From the Pittsburgh Gives website, "Credit card donations do incur a 4.75% processing fee by the credit card processor, Network for Good. For example, a gift of $100 will net the charity $95.25."
"Network for Good" has some explaining to do. And they could start explaining by donating some of that fee to the libraries. They have until 12PM today.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

On Mayors and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

Regarding last night's debate:

"While reporters shuttled between the mayor and Mr. Acklin, Mr. Harris, who turned in a solid debate performance, was largely ignored by the media."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On School Population

Everyone talks about the story of Pittsburgh's population. It's halved since 1950. It's in a continual state of decline. This year marked the lowest population drop in a while and may be signs that the city's population is turning around (as Chris Briem reminds us). Similarly, Pittsburgh City Schools just reported the lowest decline in school students in the past 9 years. This parallels the city's smallest population loss in the decade. There was an increase in Kindergarten enrollment for the first time in 4 years. Pittsburgh schools are crediting programs like the Pittsburgh Promise for this slow in decline. It's easy to try to make a parallel between the city's population and the city's school enrollment. However, you'd be far off. While the city has lost barely 7.5% of its population over the past 9 years, the school district has lost a resounding 30% of its population.

Just last year, the Post-Gazette headline was:

City school enrollment falling fast

Contrast that with this week's Post-Gazette headline:

Pittsburgh schools like enrollment trend

Too early to tell? Yes. Have there been flukes in previous years followed by drastic drops? Yes. Can I have a little optimism? Yes.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Open Book Pittsburgh

Over at the City Paper Slag Heap, Chris Potter recently highlighted Open Book Pittsburgh, which I was entirely ignorant of. It seems like a pretty cool site put forth by my favorite City Controller, Michael Lamb, to enlighten us on all sorts of money passing through our local government's hands. My first cursory search was for the big bucks - any city contract over a million dollars.

The latest multi-million dollar contract?

A $3 Million contract for AON RISK SERVICES CENTRAL, INC. to cover risks associated with the G20.

3 Questions

1. Can Pamela's get a piece of that? Or was the city only covering its own behind at the expense of our local businesses?
2. Is this going to get reimbursed? And where will the reimbursement show up in Open Book?
3. What kind of deductible do you have when your insurance premium is $3 Million? I hope it's pretty low.

So, yes, Open Book Pittsburgh is a great concept. But I find that right now, it creates more questions than it answers.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Study Highlights Pittsburgh's Lack of Immigrants

The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Philadelphia Research Initiative has released a study stating that Philadelphia was under-counted in the 2000 census. Their goal? To direct more moneys to Philadelphia for the upcoming 2010 census count.
"The report finds that almost all of the cities studied have less money and fewer staffers for this Census than they did in 2000."
And the results of this study? Philadelphia was under-counted by 8,326 residents. Pittsburgh was over-counted by exactly 752 residents. They claim that certain groups are "hard-to-count" including low-income renters, immigrants, African Americans and Hispanics.

Additionally, there are groups of folks that they tend to over-count, typically non-
Hispanic whites with more than one residence.

From the PEW report:
After each Census, the Census Bureau conducts research to determine roughly what percentage of those groups it missed. Using that research, a noted Temple University statistician, Eugene P. Ericksen, found that the 2000 count likely missed an estimated 8,326 Philadelphians, or about 0.5 percent of the city’s population.
So what is the scientific evidence used in this study?

Eugene P. Ericksen, Temple University, at the request of the Philadelphia Research
Initiative calculated the ratio of under-counts/over-counts to true population to be -1.84
percent for non-Hispanic blacks, -3.17 percent for Hispanics and 1.09 percent for non-Hispanic whites. Eugene doesn't appear to actually account for those other "hard-to-count" groups including low-income residents and renters.

Philly 2008 statistics
Total Population: 1,447,395
44.8% Black
11.3% Hispanic
39.0% White non-Hispanic (versus 47.5% total White people)
Total under-count: 8,326 (-0.5%)

Pittsburgh 2008 statistics:
Total Population: 334,563
27.1% Black
1.3% Hispanic
67.6% White
Total over-count: 752 (0.2%)

In Pittsburgh, the census doesn't appear to track the number of non-Hispanic whites versus Hispanics that also identify as white. I assume it's a fairly negligible number.

As a state, then Pennsylvania 2008 statistics:
Total Population: 12,448,279
Black: 10.8% * -1.84% = -24,737
Hispanic: 4.8% * -3.17% = -18,941
White non-Hispanic: 81.4% * 1.09% = 110,448
Total over-count: 66,770 (0.5%)

To put these numbers in perspective, Pennsylvania would have been over-counted by 0.5%, more than twice as much as the city of Pittsburgh which is claimed to be over-counted by 0.2%. Any city with a majority of white residents and a vast minority of Hispanic residents, will show an over-count. Whether you believe our Hispanic residents are systematically under-counted and our white residents are systematically over-counted is a matter of debate. But what this study showcases yet again is our striking lack of Hispanic immigrants. Of the 239 cities in the United States with a population over 100,000 residents, Pittsburgh ranks 232nd in terms of its percentage of Hispanic immigrants. Pittsburgh is not a comparable city to Philadelphia in terms of population or demographics. In my opinion, Pittsburgh was included in their 11 cities list merely to pull more money in the state to Philadelphia. Why doesn't the highly reputable Pew Charitable Trust perform a study on the disparity of Hispanic immigrants to Pittsburgh?

So what is the justification for Pittsburgh's inclusion in the study?

From the PEW report:
The 10 cities examined for this report besides Philadelphia include the five with larger populations—Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York and Phoenix—
plus five chosen on the basis of their similarity to Philadelphia and their experience in dealing with the Census—Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Detroit and Pittsburgh. No consideration was given to fiscal condition or population growth.
Philadelphia is the 6th largest city in the country. If they had chosen the top 10 in terms of population (actual peers of Philadelphia), would Philadelphia have been dead-last? San Antonio, ranked 7th in population, has a Hispanic population of 61%. Dallas, San Diego, and San Jose round out the top 10. It's pretty obvious why the trust left them out of the running. Why else is Pittsburgh included in this study but to make Philadelphia look better and affect state funding of census studies? I'm only surprised they didn't include Cincinnati in the list - a city which ties Pittsburgh with its meager Hispanic population yet has a higher overall population. My serious question to pose is: Why are immigrants skipping over cities like Pittsburgh (1.3% Hispanic) and Cincinnati (1.3%) in favor of fellow rust belt cities like Rochester (12.8%) and Buffalo (7.5%) and Cleveland (7.3%)?

*Note: The city over-count/under-count numbers are based on the 2000 census, whereas my state numbers are based on 2008 estimates. There are more Hispanic residents in Pennsylvania in 2008 than in 2000 which would result in an even higher over-count back in 2000, but those numbers are harder to parse.

Friday, October 9, 2009

5 Valuable Posts About Library Closings

It seems like every blogger worth his keyboard has something valuable to say about libraries.
  1. PGH Comet - No books for you
  2. Brian O'Neill (Post-Gazette) - A Great City, Failing at its Libraries
  3. Pittsblog - Let the Libraries Close
  4. Me (Pgh is a City) - Does RAD work here?
  5. And the response: Carnegie Library Blog - Sustaining our Future
Of course, the commentary on these blogs is just as interesting as the posts themselves.
As J.K. RowledUP says:
"Isn’t a branch more important that a Marketing Department? And should’t a failed CEO work for 1$"

But just like the closing of South Side Hospital and the taxing of non-profit arts groups, public outcry can change the future. Let your voice be heard. Complain to your politicians. Stop this injustice.

Note: Yes, I know. Brian O'Neill isn't a blogger. It may even offend him to be in the same list as bloggers, but it's my blog, so I can put him in whatever list I want.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Does RAD Work Here?

If the city has any extra money, now is the time to spend it. The city of Pittsburgh only puts forth $40,000 per year for the libraries, relying instead of kind benefactors, RAD tax dollars, and the state. Yesterday, Mayor Ravenstahl was quick to point out that before the Regional Asset District (RAD) was created, the city put forth millions of dollars per year for the libraries. The problem here is that county and city residents contribute to RAD dollars, and the city can not control how RAD spends its money. The city can only control how it spends its money. We've given away our library system to RAD, and RAD is keeping it. Now, 4 libraries are closing in February.

From their web page: The mission of RAD is to support and finance regional assets in the areas of libraries, parks and recreation, cultural, sports and civic facilities and programs.

First in the mission statement, they list libraries, and the Carnegie libraries will receive $17.6 Million this year. Another $8.1 Million is devoted to the county libraries. The other big receiver from RAD dollars is the regional parks. The parks are budgeted to receive $24.3 Million. Their allocation has increased 19% over the last five years. The Carnegie library budget was flat over the last year.

Over the last 14 years (since RAD's inception), here's a brief run-down of spending totals:
Libraries: $331 Million
Parks: $287 Million
Stadiums: $220 Million

The Carnegie Library system has decided that communities like Beechview, Carrick, and Hazelwood are dispensable. These libraries, that have not been renovated like the lovely Oakland and Squirrel Hill libraries, do not draw people from outside their neighborhoods. South Side library was another library on the chopping block. This heavily-frequented (yet not renovated) library just celebrated its 100th birthday. It was spared the chopping block.

I'm asking myself this question: Is it more important to have more libraries serving the vast majority of city residents or better libraries that could drive Barnes and Noble out of business? We know what the Carnegie library system chose. Personally, I'd prefer consistent minor improvements to existing libraries rather than closing less popular libraries and building fancy new buildings. But it's too late for that. The city of Pittsburgh is too many steps removed from the actual funding and managing of its libraries, and the most disadvantaged residents will suffer for it.

Friday, October 2, 2009

One of these Taxes Is Not Like the Other

"These tax increases, if they come to fruition, would be very bad news for Pennsylvania," contended Matthew Brouillette of the Commonwealth Foundation, a conservative group.

Democratic Tax Proposals
  • Cigars and Chewing Tobacco
  • Increase in Tax on proposed table games at Casinos
  • Marcellus Shale Drilling tax
Republican Tax Proposals
  • Non-profit arts groups
  • Small games of chance (i.e. Fire Department Bingo)

I can only imagine that the "conservative group" is siding with the Democrats. Or they have some serious explaining to do as to why they are siding with tobacco, casino, and gas companies instead of non-profit charity organizations.

If the tax on chewing tobacco is too high, maybe some people will quit that cancer-causing habit. If the tax on table games is too high, the casinos won't open table games. If the tax on drilling for gas is too high, ROFL.

But, if the tax on bingo is too high, volunteer fire departments will not be able to afford a new truck. And if the tax on the zoo and theater is too high, school programs will be cut, jobs will be lost, and we will all suffer for a lack of arts in our lives.