Wolf Brings Urban Policy Expertise

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s next governor knows all about distressed cities.

Gov.-elect Tom Wolf spent 12 years as president of Better York, a nonprofit bent on revitalizing the city of York. In that role, he worked closely with a nationally prominent urban expert who promotes regional solutions for urban woes.

As he prepares to take office Jan. 20, Wolf said he wants to lead a statewide discussion about how the future of older cities such as Scranton, inner ring suburbs and the surrounding townships are interrelated.

“What I bring to this is a real appreciation for what cities do,” he said in an interview.

Read more: http://citizensvoice.com/news/wolf-brings-urban-policy-expertise-1.1803039

Pennsylvania Tax Burden Ranks 10th Nationally

Map of Pennsylvania

Map of Pennsylvania (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pennsylvanians’ state and local tax burden reached its lowest point in more than a decade in 2011, but it still climbed to rank as the nation’s 10th most onerous, up two spots from the year before, an analysis released this week shows.

The Washington-based Tax Foundation said Pennsylvanians shelled out $4,374 per capita in state and local taxes in 2011, or 10.3 percent of their per-capita income of $42,268. About 10.5 percent of income went toward state and local taxes in 2010, the foundation said.

“This trend was largely driven by the growth of income,” said Tax Foundation economist Liz Malm, explaining the slight decline.

About 27 percent of Pennsylvanians’ tax money went to other states. Aside from sales, excise, income, corporate and other taxes paid in other states, the Tax Foundation factors what it calls tax exporting.

Read more: http://triblive.com/news/adminpage/5882443-74/tax-state-taxes#ixzz2y3z5waOg
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Schuylkill Valley Eyes Higher Tax

Map of Berks County, Pennsylvania, United Stat...

Map of Berks County, Pennsylvania, United States Public School Districts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Schuylkill Valley School Board agreed at a committee meeting Monday to vote on a tentative $33.8 million budget for 2013-14 at its regular meeting next week.

The budget calls for no job cuts but would raise the property tax 0.52 mill next year.

“This budget supports all of our current staff,” Business Manager Wendy Boarder said. “We’re adding one contracted teaching position in the budget.”

As Boarder explained it, supporting current staff includes replacing any staff member retiring or taking leave.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=477017

Berks School Boards Face More Tough Choices In 2013-14 Budget Process

Map of Berks County, Pennsylvania, United Stat...

Map of Berks County, Pennsylvania, United States Public School Districts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s looking like another tough budget season for school districts across Berks County.

Of the 13 local districts that have prepared preliminary budgets, all but one spending plan included significant shortfalls, ranging from about $400,000 to $2.2 million.

Muhlenberg’s budget doesn’t have a gap, but it currently includes a property tax increase larger than the state permits.

Budget gaps among districts can be somewhat hard to compare, because some include tax increases or major cuts in their preliminary budgets while others don’t.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=454915

Property Taxes To Rise Across Philadelphia Suburbs

English: Pennsylvania county map

English: Pennsylvania county map (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hundreds of thousands of property owners in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties are getting something they probably don’t want in the new year – higher real estate taxes.

Countywide increases, approved in December, affect the owners of all 382,304 real estate parcels in Chester and Delaware Counties.  Some people are taking a double hit, as at least 27 towns in those counties also have increased taxes.

Bucks and Montgomery Counties kept their rates the same, but at least 28 municipalities raised real estate levies.

While the reasons vary, officials say the overarching reason is basic: Revenue is down; costs aren’t.

Read more:  http://www.philly.com/philly/news/politics/suburban_pa/20130128_Property_taxes_to_rise_across_Philadelphia_suburbs.html

Bethlehem City Council Passes $71 Million Budget With 7 Percent Tax Hike

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Northampton C...

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

In a budget where rising pension costs framed the debate, Bethlehem City Council on Thursday adopted a $71 million budget that includes a 7 percent property tax hike and other revenue including a tax on certain concert tickets.

But what it doesn’t include is $500,000 from a citywide trash hauler, a proposal by Mayor John Callahan that drew public backlash.

Instead, council cut hundreds of thousands of dollars from the budget and accepted Callahan’s suggestions on refinancing the landfill debt.  Council also accepted the administration’s updated revenue projections that show the earned income tax and casino fees as bringing in more money than when Callahan first released his budget proposal last month.

Councilman Robert Donchez acknowledged the budget isn’t perfect but a lot of work was put into it.

Read more:  http://www.mcall.com/news/local/mc-bethlehem-council-passes-budget-20121221,0,6831964.story

Postal Service Reports Record $15.9 Billion Annual Loss

USPS service delivery truck in a residential a...

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

WASHINGTON – The struggling U.S. Postal Service on Thursday reported an annual loss of a record $15.9 billion and forecast more red ink in 2013, capping a tumultuous year in which it was forced to default on billions in payments to avert bankruptcy.

The financial losses for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 were more than triple the $5.1 billion loss in the previous year.  Having reached its borrowing limit, the mail agency is operating with little cash on hand, putting it at risk in the event of an unexpectedly large downturn in the economy.

“It’s critical that Congress do its part and pass comprehensive legislation before they adjourn this year to move the Postal Service further down the path toward financial health,” said Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, calling the situation “our own postal fiscal cliff.”

Read more: http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=428549

Allentown’s Bond Rating Downgraded To A3 With A Negative Outlook

English: City of Allentown from east side

English: City of Allentown from east side (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Allentown‘s bond rating has been downgraded from A2 to A3 with a negative outlook, Moody’s Investors Service announced this week.

According to Moody’s, the new rating reflects the city’s approximately $120.3 million debt as well as “four consecutive operating deficits which have largely been driven by aggressive budgeting of city revenues and reserve appropriations to balance the budget.”

Investors use credit ratings such as Moody’s to determine the risk of a municipality’s defaulting on debt payments. A lower rating can force municipalities to pay higher interest rates to compensate for the risk, increasing the cost of borrowing.

Allentown’s weak socioeconomic profile — a sizable and mature urban tax base with below-average “socioeconomic indices” — and limited financial flexibility are challenges to the city, according to Moody’s.

Read more: http://www.mcall.com/news/local/allentown/mc-allentown-pa-bond-rating-downgrade-moodys-20121012,0,5203322.story

Health Insurance For Police Retirees Next Problem For Reading

As the city struggles to meet its soaring pension costs, especially for police, it discovered a new problem that’s costing what some say is an illegal $900,000 a year.

Map of Berks County, Pennsylvania, United Stat...

Map of Berks County, Pennsylvania, United States with township and municipal boundaries (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Police officers retiring through the much-maligned DROP program continue to get their health insurance premiums paid by the city.

The contract requires that any retiree who gets a job with another department must use that agency’s health insurance plan and notify the city to drop them.  Many retired city police have gone to other municipalities or the county.

But many don’t, city officials say, because they’re more valuable to another department if it doesn’t have to pay that benefit.

Read more: http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=418707

Pennsylvania Dropped A Notch By Credit-Rating Agency

The New York-based credit ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service has slapped a lower rating on Pennsylvania‘s debt as state budgetmakers face spiraling public pension costs.

Monday’s downgrade means Pennsylvania is now closer to the bottom of Moody’s ratings for the 47 states with general obligation debt.

Thirty states still have ratings of Aaa or Aa1, while Pennsylvania joins 16 other states with an Aa2 rating or below.  Moody’s had boosted Pennsylvania’s rating to Aa1 in 2010.

Read more: http://lancasteronline.com/article/ap/689214_Pa–dropped-a-notch-by-credit-rating-agency.html#ixzz20pkx2F2i

Audit: Allentown Posts Deficit As Fund Balance Drops In 2011

The PPL Building (seen here in the distance) i...

The PPL Building (seen here in the distance) is the tallest building in Allentown, Pennsylvania. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another year of rising pension costs and flat revenues in 2011 forced Allentown to tap into what’s turned out to be not such an endless well.

Faced with a deficit for the fourth year in a row, the city dipped a bit farther into its shrinking general fund, spending more than $12 million in the last five years.

The general fund is the city’s primary operating account. It’s used to collect most revenues, pay out most expenses, like public safety and public works, and carry over undesignated and unspent money into the following year.

Now, Allentown is faced with its smallest fund balance in years — $1.9 million — and city officials aren’t ruling anything out if faced with a fifth year of deficit — not tax increases, not the sale of city property or any other solutions.

Read more: http://www.mcall.com/news/local/allentown/mc-allentown-budget-deficit-20120705,0,5637297.story