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City of Pittsburgh launches interactive tool to show residents where their tax money is going

A screenshot from Pittsburgh's Balancing Act website shows the numbers based on the average salary and median housing price for that city. The city of Pittsburgh has released a new tool to help taxpayers see exactly where every penny of their taxes is being spent.(Image source: Balancing Act website screenshot)

The city of Pittsburgh has released a new tool to help taxpayers see exactly where every penny of their taxes is being spent.

Mayor Bill Peduto announced the launch of the new transparency tool on Tuesday, which was also tax day this year:

“Today, they’re going to be able to see exactly what it is that they paid for and how much of it went to all of the different services that they paid for.”

The tool, run by Colorado-based company Balancing Act, allows residents to see an estimate for how much of their income goes to various projects, departments, and public officials.

If you enter the average salary for Pittsburgh in 2012 ($39,884) and the median housing price for the same year ($188,300), the website gives you a total of $1,410.93 in annual taxes to the city.  From that, you get the following breakdown:

  • Elected officials (Mayor, City Council, etc,…): $27.10
  • Other City Departments: $815.75
  • Department of Public Safety: $602.51
  • Department of Public Works: $157.80
  • Community Development Projects: $49.01
  • Transportation & Public Right-of-Way Projects: $171.40
  • Facility Projects: $32.75
  • Park projects: $26.53
  • Sortware, Vehicles and Other Tools: $33.72

Beneath each one of these, the website lists sub-categories with a breakdown of where each dollar is spent. For example, looking underneath the vague “Other City Departments” header, you can see that $19.91 of the $600 total went to the Department of Finance. An icon next to each subcategory lets you see a description of that department or project.

At the bottom of the list, residents are able to see how much of their tax money comes from income tax and how much comes from property tax.

Residents are then able to submit their own proposals and comments about how their tax dollars could be better spent. You can add or subtract from different items, and even choose how many more firefighters you think the city should hire. These suggestions can then be submitted to the city for review.

Mayor Peduto said that this feature gives residents a way to have their voices be heard.

“They’re also going to be given the opportunity to say, ‘Hey, what if I were to add more to paving, what if I were to add more to police, what if I wanted more into our parks. And then giving them the opportunity to create their own budget, where their priorities are, and the ability to share that with us.”

Pittsburgh is not the first city to implement this tool. The website, Balancing Act, is also being used by cities, including Corpus Christi, Texas; Denver; Norfolk, Virginia; Moreno Valley, California; and Corona, California.

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