York Mayor Kim Bracey: 5 Game Changers That Could Save York (Column)

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting York County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting York County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the 2015 budget season approaches, it is my duty to talk straight about our city’s fiscal challenges and pension legacy costs that have been growing since before the turn of this century. While laying out the dire conditions, leadership requires us to hold out meaningful hope by advocating for bold measures. Long term fiscal game-changers can stabilize our property taxes while enabling us to continue providing quality public services and infrastructure that our people deserve and demand.

At times, I feel like a night watchman of earlier centuries who witnesses a spreading fire and vigorously shouts and rings the bell to alert citizens of the imminent crisis. During the last two city administrations, we’ve been warning of the growing fiscal crisis for 13 years, and we’ve done as much as we can internally to make our budget process transparent, to seek sound recommendations from outside experts, to cut costs, and to be fiscally responsible. The list is extensive.

• In 2003, under Mayor Brenner, our city initiated its first open budget hearings, an annual tradition that continues to this year.

• In 2006, our city was one of the very first in the state to enter the Department of Economic and Community Development’s Early Intervention Program, which provided an analysis of York’s finances by outside experts. Their analysis concluded that York’s financial controls and management were strong but that systemic constraints beyond its control were leading to out-of-control costs. Recommendations included implementing a parking tax, which was done.

Read more: http://www.ydr.com/letters/ci_26165619/kim-bracey-5-game-changers-that-could-save

Great Harrisburg Cleanup This Saturday

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Dauphin County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Dauphin County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It may be wet & cold today but Saturday will be sunny & dry.  Perfect weather to come out and join Friends of Midtown in the Great Harrisburg Cleanup which runs from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm.  There will be a dumpster located at the Broad Street Market for the bags of trash & debris collected.  Our new incinerator owner, LCSWMA, has agreed to waive the tipping fees and the dumpsters have also been donated by local businesses.  This is truly a community event and city-wide as there will be donated dumpsters located in Uptown and Allison Hill.

We will meet at 8:45 am in front of the Broad Street Market on the Third Street side and set our plans to clean up our neighborhood.  If you prefer to work with your neighbors in your own block and find hauling your collected trash bags to the Broad Street Market dumpster could be difficult, register your group on the Great Harrisburg Cleanup website at http://historicharrisburg.com/index.php/events/volunteer-registration and indicate what street corner your bags will be placed so they can be picked up by Public Works.

Any questions?  Contact us at beautification@friendsofmidtown.org before 8:00 am on Saturday.

Hope to see you there!

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Act 47 Cities Elect New Mayors Amid Changes

Map of Pennsylvania, showing major cities and ...

Map of Pennsylvania, showing major cities and roads (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

HARRISBURG – New mayors have been elected in four large cities under Act 47 status just as lawmakers are giving greater attention to urban fiscal issues.

Election Day brought victories to Democrat Bill Courtright in Scranton, Democrat Bill Peduto in Pittsburgh, Democrat Eric Papenfuse in Harrisburg and Republican Matt Pacifico in Altoona.

The mayors-elect came to office by various routes and campaigned on issues specific to their cities, but once in office they will face common problems with a shrinking tax base, greater demand for municipal services and the skyrocketing cost of unfunded pension obligations for municipal employees.

It could help matters that new elected spokesmen for cities will be on the scene while state lawmakers consider a wave of legislation to help municipalities address financial problems.

Read more: http://citizensvoice.com/news/act-47-cities-elect-new-mayors-amid-changes-1.1582982

Former Harrisburg Official Slams $86M Premium For City From Incinerator Sale

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Dauphin County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Dauphin County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

HARRISBURG, PA – The capital city will pay an $86 million premium for garbage disposal under the proposed terms of sale for its incinerator, a former local official warns.

Those numbers are based, in part, on the city’s disposal rate starting next year at $190 per ton, former Harrisburg Public Works Director Ernie Hoch said.

Hoch sent a letter and supporting spreadsheet to City Council on Sunday afternoon lobbying them to vote against the transaction, then forwarded copies to other contacts including PennLive and City Controller and mayoral candidate Dan Miller, who sent his own cautionary correspondence last week.

Hoch noted the rates and tonnage minimums for the city and Dauphin County are based not on service costs, but the Lancaster Solid Waste Management Authority’s anticipated debt obligations related to its acquisition of the facility.

Read more:  http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2013/09/former_harrisburg_official_sla.html#incart_m-rpt-2

Firefighters investigating Back-To-Back Fires In Harrisburg As Possibly Related Arsons

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Dauphin County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Dauphin County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Harrisburg resident Michael Bordner had just put his eldest daughter to bed in his home at 2042 Susquehanna Street when, just after midnight Monday morning, chaos erupted.

“I laid down at about midnight and then, at about 12:15, I heard all the alarms going off in my home,” he said.  “At the same time I heard my stepfather saying ‘Get [your daughter] grab the dog; we have to get out, there’s a fire!’”

Bordner’s stepfather, Tim Bucher, who was visiting the house Sunday night, had woken up only moments before when he noted a strange smell and bright light emanating from the row house next door at 2044 Susquehanna Street.

“I peeked out the third floor window because something didn’t smell right,” Bucher recalled, almost from a daze Monday morning as firefighters stomped up the ruined stairs to Bordner’s home.  “It didn’t smell like a fire, but when I looked out the window and looked down I saw flames coming up from the floor below.”

Read more:  http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2013/07/firefighters_investigating_bac.html#incart_m-rpt-2

Pennsylvania Ranks Fourth Nationally In Number Of Hotels Breaking Labor Laws: PublicSource

If you’ve stayed at the Heritage Hills Resort in York County while touring Amish country, toasted newlyweds at the Avalon Hotel in Erie or settled in for a weekend of pampering at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in the Laurel Highlands, chances are the person who made your bed, poured your Champagne or washed your towels wasn’t being paid minimum wage.

In fact, Pennsylvania ranks fourth in the nation — behind Texas, Alabama and Florida — for the number of hotels breaking labor laws, according to an analysis by PublicSource, a nonprofit news organization.

York, Erie and Pittsburgh had the highest number of violations by their hotels, with Farmington, Lancaster and the Harrisburg area coming in behind them.

These working men and women, who might have few skills to find another job, are often reluctant to talk about their situations, as PublicSource discovered after making many attempts to reach them.

“These workers are subject to retaliation from employers, and some hotels have nondisclosure agreements,” said Mackenzie Smith, an organizer and executive board member of Unite Here Local 57, which represents hotel workers in Pittsburgh.

Read more:  http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2013/07/pennsylvania_ranks_fourth_nati.html#incart_m-rpt-1

PennDOT Lists Berks County Projects Transportation Bill Could Fund

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Berks County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Berks County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

PennDOT says it could make Route 222 four lanes from Reading to Allentown and catch up on road and bridge repairs all over Berks County if it can get its hands on more money.

The agency released its long-awaited Decade of Investment list Friday, detailing on an interactive website what extra projects it could get done if the state Legislature passes one of the transportation funding boosts that have been proposed.

The site allows people to compare what roadwork could be done if funds stay the same with what could be done with the $1.8 billion per year increase Gov. Tom Corbett proposed in February or the $2.5 billion per year increase the state Senate passed this month.

“There’s not much that’s going to happen if we’re faced with the current funding,” PennDOT spokesman Ronald J. Young Jr. said, adding, “We’d just be treading water, so to speak.”

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=486658

Congested Commutes In Harrisburg, York, Lancaster? National Group Ranks Them

Sitting in traffic is not unusual for commuters in the Harrisburg, York and Lancaster areas.  The stop-and-go of the rush hour wears on cars, nerves and wallets.

TRIP, a Washington, D.C., based national transportation organization, has pinpointed 14 corridors costing area commuters a total of $472 million each year or about $2,000 annually per driver depending on which route they take.

The report released Thursday points to these trouble zones for commuters:

  1. Rohrerstown Road from Wabank Road to State Street in Lancaster.  On this corridor, the average rush hour driver spends 108 hours, 46 additional gallons of gas, and $1,995 annually or $38 weekly.

Read more:  http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2013/06/national_group_pinpoints_worst.html#incart_m-rpt-2

Reading Area Mail Slowed By Post Office Moves

USPS service delivery truck in a residential a...

USPS service delivery truck in a residential area of San Francisco, California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mail delivery has been slowed in the Reading area due to the recent termination of mail processing in the city, but a U.S. Postal Service spokesman said Wednesday that the delays should be temporary.

The mail that used to be processed at the Gus Yatron Postal Facility, 2100 N. 13th St., is now being handled in a Harrisburg facility.

The change was part of the Postal Service’s nationwide cost-cutting efforts, which include the closure of hundreds of mail processing sites.

The Postal Service no longer has the mail volume to justify keeping those facilities open, officials have said.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=485891

Bill To Boost Neighborhood Climate Could Freeze Out Reading

Map of Pennsylvania

Map of Pennsylvania (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Two competing bills are being introduced in the state Senate that would expand Allentown’s Neighborhood Improvement Zone – unique and highly successful but also highly criticized – to other Pennsylvania cities.

One bill would include Reading; the other would not.

The prize for any city is the zones’ new ability to retain state personal income and sales tax revenue generated in the zone, using it to repay bond issues for demolition, infrastructure and even new buildings.

But both bills, in answer to charges that Allentown’s gains are the state’s losses, would limit how much state tax can be kept locally.

Sen. Lloyd Smucker, a Lancaster Republican, introduced the first bill in early May to authorize what he calls City Revitalization and Improvement Zones.  Its pilot program applies only to cities with 40,000 to 70,000 people.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=484975

Expanding Suburbia: Route 39 In West Hanover Township Primed To Grow Over Next Several Years

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Dauphin County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Dauphin County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s hard to miss the signs pointing to Route 39‘s future north of Hershey in West Hanover Township.

Some of them are quite large and aligned toward the road.

While the names are all different — High Associates, Brownstone, Landmark Commercial Reality, among them — the message is pretty standard: “Available.”

In West Hanover Township, Route 39, also known as Hershey Road, is open for business.

What used to be rural farmland and rolling green hills is once again quickly becoming dotted with new developments and “For Sale” signs as two lines of force converge along Route 39.

Read more:  http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2013/06/expanding_suburbia_route_39_in.html#incart_river_default

SEC Case Against Harrisburg Falls Short For Exempting Finance Pros, Some Say

Seal of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commi...

Seal of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

HARRISBURG, PA – No one answered the phone or the door at former Mayor Steve Reed’s home Tuesday nearly 24 hours after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced a settlement with Pennsylvania’s capital city over fraud charges rooted in activity during his administration.

Some public finance and securities experts saw the settlement – dubbed “toothless” by one – as a warning to municipalities that consequences await them if investors are misled by false or incomplete financial statements from local governments.

Others, however, criticized SEC for failing to hold the city’s hired advisers to account.

“Reed ran the city, (current Mayor Linda) Thompson (is running) the city,” said Mark Schwartz, a former bond lawyer who previously represented Harrisburg City Council on its ultimately rejected bankruptcy petition. “There is a ‘buck stops there’ liability for (city leaders), but the people who do the work are bond lawyers.  These are bonds that never should have been issued.  Reed cannot issue bonds on his own.  Professionals were abysmal in terms of fulfilling their responsibilities to investors and they have gotten off scot-free.  They’ve made millions.”

Read more:  http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2013/05/fsec_case_against_harrisburg_l.html#incart_m-rpt-1

Harrisburg Neighborhood Safety Zone Program Nabs 16 Guns, Cites Over 150 Code Violations

HARRISBURG — Police confiscated a gun, wrote nine traffic tickets and issued 100 citations for property code violations during the third phase of the capital city’s Neighborhood Safe Zone initiative.

The eight-day crackdown on crime targeted North Sixth Street between Radnor and Woodbine streets, and along North Fourth Street from Radnor to Jefferson streets, Mayor Linda Thompson said.

Thompson spoke during a news conference Tuesday to provide an update on the NSZ program launched two months ago.

Modeled after initiatives in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., the program increases enforcement in specific areas for a brief duration: police crack down on crime, then code enforcement officers survey properties for violations — resulting in everything from littering citations to deeming structures unfit for human habitation — and illegal dumping.

Read more:  http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2013/04/harrisburg_neighborhood_safety.html#incart_m-rpt-2

Latrobe Air Traffic Control Tower To Close

250

250 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The air traffic control tower at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe will close, along with 148 others at small airports nationwide, as the Federal Aviation Administration cuts $637 million from its budget by November.

The closures will not force airports to shut down, but pilots will now coordinate takeoffs and landings by radio without ground controllers’ help.

“We will work with the airports and the operators to ensure the procedures are in place to maintain the high level of safety at non-towered airports,” FAA administrator Michael Huerta said in a news release.

Spirit Airlines — which flies out of Latrobe to Dallas, Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, Fla. — plans to operate a normal schedule, airline spokeswoman Misty Pinson said.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/local/westmoreland/latrobe-air-traffic-control-tower-to-close-680511/#ixzz2ONMqa1Kx

Norristown Makes FBI’s 100 Most Dangerous Cities List

Location of Norristown in Montgomery County

Location of Norristown in Montgomery County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our research reveals the 100 most dangerous cities in America with 25,000 or more people, based on the number of violent crimes per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes include murder, forcible rape, armed robbery, and aggravated assault.  Data used for this research are 1) the number of violent crimes reported to the FBI to have occurred in each city, and 2) the population of each city. See our FAQ on how we rank the most dangerous cities

Norristown ranked number 68

Other Pennsylvania cities on list list include:

Philadelphia at number 50

Harrisburg at number 30

Chester at number 19

York at number 18

Nearby New Jersey cities:  Camden was number 2, Atlantic City was number 7, and Trenton was number 29

To see the entire list, click here:   http://www.neighborhoodscout.com/neighborhoods/crime-rates/top100dangerous/

HACC Placed On Accreditation Warning Status

The accrediting organization overseeing Harrisburg Area Community College has placed the system on warning status.

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education found HACC was lacking in three of its 14 criteria during the five-year periodic review.

But HACC and Middle States officials emphasized the system, which includes a York campus, is not in any immediate danger of losing its accreditation, which allows a college to grant diplomas.

The periodic review, done halfway after HACC was given its 10-year accreditation, helps make sure a college is fulfilling its obligations, said Middle States spokesman Richard Pokrass.

HACC had issues in the areas of Institutional Assessment, which deals with how well a college can monitor and show it’s doing everything it says its doing; Assessment of Student Learning, which deals with a collegetracking classroom learning and having a system to improve instruction; and General Education.

Read more: http://lancasteronline.com/article/local/787730_HACC-placed-on-accreditation-warning-status-.html#ixzz2DjFwCK3s

Pennsylvania Unveils Bid To Privatize Lottery

English: Pennsylvania Lottery official logo, w...

English: Pennsylvania Lottery official logo, which includes tagline, “Benefits Older Pennsylvanians. Every Day.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – The Britain-based company that runs the national lottery in the United Kingdom is pledging to produce more than $34 billion in profits over 20 years if it wins a contract to manage the Pennsylvania Lottery, Gov. Tom Corbett‘s administration said Tuesday as it moves toward privatizing the state’s $3.5 billion system.

The administration said it will weigh the offer by Camelot Global Services, which it said is good until Dec. 31, and is the only one it said it will receive after two other companies that it would not identify dropped out.

The revelation of the bid was the first time that Corbett has disclosed the identity of an interested party since it announced in April that it would explore privatizing the lottery in an effort to raise more revenue for the programs for the elderly that are supported by the Pennsylvania Lottery. Other states, such as Indiana and New Jersey, have shown no need to keep such secrets while exploring private lottery management contracts.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=430433

Report: Pa. House Bill To Abolish School Property Taxes Would Fall $1.5 Billion Short

Map of Pennsylvania

Map of Pennsylvania (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

HARRISBURG — A House bill to eliminate all school property taxes would fall $1.5 billion short of generating enough money to replace the revenue existing property taxes raise, according to a report from Pennsylvania‘s Independent Fiscal Office.

“The IFO has confirmed the views I held in June,” when the bill was tabled, said Rep. Tim Briggs, D-Montgomery, who released the report over the weekend. “House Bill 1776 simply does not raise the revenue it claims to provide.”

Sponsors of the bill estimated it would raise about $10 billion a year by increasing the state’s income tax rate to 4 percent from 3.04 percent and the state sales tax rate to 7 percent from 6 percent.

Allegheny County‘s rate, already at 7 percent, would jump to 8 percent.

Pennsylvania Turnpike Is Billions Of Dollars In Debt

Map of the Pennsylvania Turnpike

Map of the Pennsylvania Turnpike (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Editor’s note:  Stop the madness!

PHILADELPHIA – The Pennsylvania Turnpike may be on the road to the poorhouse.

Required by a 2007 state law to provide billions of dollars for statewide road and bridge repairs and transit operations, the turnpike is spending more money each year than it makes, despite toll increases that have doubled the cost to travel the turnpike over the last 10 years.

To meet the financial demands created by the law, Act 44, turnpike officials have borrowed aggressively, leaving the agency deeper in debt each year.

The Turnpike Commission is now more than $7 billion in debt, up from $2 billion in 2002 and $4 billion in 2009. The burden continues to grow, with the turnpike required to make payments until 2057.

Read more: http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=411605

Harrisburg City Council Adopts 2012 Budget With 16 Percent Tax Hike

Harrisburg City Council tonight adopted a $54.3 million 2012 budget that includes a 16 percent real estate tax hike for homeowners.

The increase will tack on $50 to $100 in real estate taxes for most property owners.  A person whose property is assessed at $50,000 would pay $40 more annually in property taxes.  Property owners with houses valued at $100,000 would pay an additional $80 in taxes per year.

Council’s budget cuts spending by $1.2 million compared to the $55.5 million plan Mayor Linda Thompson introduced last month. Thompson’s proposal also included a 16 percent tax hike.

Read more: http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2011/12/harrisburg_city_council_adopts.html