Tag Archives: John Campbell

May News Digest

Local Tax Raised
People soon will pay more to work in Harrisburg, as City Council has tripled the local services tax.

By a 5-1 margin, council voted to hike the LST from $1 to $3 per week. Only Councilwoman Shamaine Daniels opposed the measure.

Tax withholding will begin on July 1. However, for 2016, workers will actually pay $5 per week to make up for lost revenue back to the effective date of Jan. 1.

People who work in Harrisburg now will pay a local tax of $156 a year if they earn more than $24,500. Commuters vastly outnumber resident workers in Harrisburg, so the majority of income raised from the tax will come from people who live outside the city.

The LST hike coincided with several other tweaks to Harrisburg’s financial recovery plan. Most notably, the amended plan suggests that the city could consider adopting a Home Rule charter, which would give it more taxing options once it exits the state’s Act 47 program for financially distressed cities. However, council would have to pass another ordinance before initiating the Home Rule process.

 

Treasurer Resigns
Harrisburg will need to find another new treasurer, as Tyrell Spradley resigned last month after just 18 months in office.

City Council now must determine how to replace Spradley. For past vacancies, council members interviewed applicants, nominated their preferred candidates and chose among the finalists.

The treasurer’s office has been a revolving door since September 2014, when elected Treasurer John Campbell resigned after being charged with stealing money from two nonprofit groups. Two months later, Spradley was appointed, but only after council’s first choice withdrew his name from contention. Spradley was elected in his own right last year.

City treasurer is a part-time position that pays $20,000 per year. Deputy Treasurer Celia Spicher runs the office on a day-to-day basis.

 

New Archives Building
A new state Archives building soon will take shape on long-empty land along the 6th Street corridor, the state announced.

The building will occupy a three-acre site along N. 6th Street flanked by Harris and Hamilton streets. The $24 million project will occupy almost three complete city blocks, with half of the site backing to N. 7th Street.

Design is expected to begin soon, followed by a two-year construction phase that should be completed in 2019, said Howard Pollman, director of external affairs for the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

The commission has been searching for a site for a new building for several years, as the Archives’ current home—a 20-story tower built in the mid-1960s at the Capitol complex—is bursting from more than 450 million documents.

“The building we have here is full,” Pollman said. “We also have issues with environmental concerns.”

The commission will retain and repurpose the tower, perhaps for collection storage, said Pollman.

  

Reed Counts Dismissed
A judge last month dismissed 305 criminal counts against former Harrisburg Mayor Steve Reed, saying the alleged crimes occurred too long ago.

The alleged acts, pertaining to Reed’s tenure as mayor, were outside the statute of limitations, according to presiding Judge Kevin A. Hess.

Hess let stand another 144 counts, mostly pertaining to allegations that Reed stole and kept city-funded artifacts. The state last year confiscated many historical artifacts from Reed’s home and at a nearby storage site, but the former mayor said they legally belonged to him.

The attorney general’s office could appeal the ruling.

  

Restaurant, Shops for Strawberry Square
A new restaurant and a new gift shop soon will open in downtown Harrisburg, among a flurry of business activity in Strawberry Square.

A 60-seat eatery is slated to open in early fall near the 3rd Street entrance in a long-empty space once occupied by a bank branch. It’s the latest concept of restaurateur Juan Garcia, who owns El Sol and La Noche. The 2,000-square-foot restaurant will offer a variety of salads, soups, wraps and other healthy options, said Brad Jones, CEO of Harristown Enterprises, which owns Strawberry Square.

Inside the Square, Harristown has signed a replacement for Strawberry Patch, the Hallmark store that shut down in January after 35 years in business. By July, owner Shekhar Shah will open Strawberry Gifts, a 4,000-square-foot Hallmark store in the same space as the previous shop, said Jones.

In other retail news, AMMA JO, a fashion and lifestyle boutique, is expanding into space directly next to her original location, said owner Amma Johnson. Johnson will take another 1,200 square feet, extending her product line, as well.

Another specialty retailer, Ideas and Objects, is making an adjustment. Jones said that the long-time retailer will relocate from an interior location to 11 N. 3rd St., a smaller space with street access.

 

DeHart Deal Approved
The Capital Region Water board of directors has unanimously approved an agreement to conserve its 8,200-acre DeHart property in partnership with the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation, The Nature Conservancy and Fort Indiantown Gap.

DeHart, located in northern Dauphin County, is the primary source of drinking water for Capital Region Water’s 60,000-plus customers. The property includes the 5-mile long, 6-billion gallon DeHart Reservoir and 7,500 acres of forestland.

Under the agreement, Capital Region Water will receive approximately $9 million through the Fort Indiantown Gap Army Compatible Use Buffer program to grant a conservation easement restricting development on the property. Capital Region Water will continue to own and manage the property.

 

Incumbents Victorious
Harrisburg-area officeholders beat back party challengers during the recent primary election.

State Rep. Patty Kim defeated challenger Richard Soto by a wide margin for the Democratic nomination for the 103rd legislative district. She is unopposed in the general election in November.

In the 104th district, incumbent Republican Sue Helm topped challenger Nate Curtis. She’ll face Democrat Jody Rebarchak in the general.

In the 15th Senate district, incumbent Sen. Rob Teplitz easily topped challenger Alvin Q. Taylor. In the general election, he’ll face developer John DiSanto, who narrowly beat Andrew Lewis in the Republican primary.

 

Home Sales Climb
Homes sales in the Harrisburg area rose substantially in April compared to the year-ago period.

The Greater Harrisburg Association of Realtors reported that April sales totaled 739 units in April, compared to 653 units in April 2015 in its region, which includes all of Cumberland, Dauphin and Perry counties and parts of York, Lebanon and Juniata counties.

The median price dipped a bit, from $163,000 to $160,000, though the average days on the market fell substantially, from 99 to 83 days.

County-by-county statistics reflected similar trends, with unit sales up substantially and average time on the market down.

 

So Noted

Aangan Express opened for business last month at 263 Reily St. in Midtown Harrisburg. The restaurant, located directly across the street from Midtown Cinema, is a second location for Aangan Indian Restaurant of Susquehanna Township.

Better Homes and Gardens Capital Area cut the ribbon last month at its location at 500 N. Progress Ave. The company offers a range of real estate services for the Harrisburg region.

Dalicia Bakery opened its doors last month at 1419 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg. Owner Samra Alic and her daughter, Ajla, run the bakery, which offers breads, sandwiches and Little Amps coffee, in addition to cakes and other sweet treats.

Eastern University and the Papenfuse administration announced a partnership last month to provide tuition breaks to Harrisburg city workers and their families. Employees will receive a 25-percent discount as well as some free professional development training.

Fasta & Ravioli Co. had a “pasta cutting” last month to open its elaborate new stand in the brick building of the Broad Street Market. To celebrate, owner Bob Ricketts gave away 1,000 pounds of pasta to customers.

Harrisburg Mall last month announced the arrival this summer of two new restaurants. Kondu, serving quick-style Asian cuisine, will take a spot next to 2nd & Charles, while burger-and-fries franchise Checkers will open in the food court.

Mel’s Rock N’BBQ moved into a permanent home in the Broad Street Market last month. Mel’s had been in a pop-up stand for several months before building out a permanent spot in the stone building.

 

Changing Hands

Barkley Lane, 2525: R. Medellin to T. Brandon, $64,000

Briggs St., 235: J. Bradley to JLS Rentals LLC, $66,000

Calder St., 254: C. Elder to C. Baxter, $93,900

Derry St., 1221: N&R Group LLC & Touch of Color to 101 S. 17th Street LLC, $250,000

Derry St., 2615: P. Nalewak to S. Mejia, $38,000

Duke St., 2436: A. Miller to D. Moran & M. Everetts, $56,000

Fulton St., 1410: C. Platkin to N. Richardson, $95,000

Fulton St., 1707: J. & C. Thomason to C. Hutchinson, $102,000

Green St., 1610: M. & S. Noorbaksh to A. Calvano, $118,000

Green St., 1619: D. Healey Sr. to M. & L. Stednitz, $101,200

Harris St., 220: E. Brown to D. Grossman, $49,000

Harris Terr., 2483: Secretary of Housing & Urban Development to H. Nguyen, $35,000

Herr St., 267: B. Moehler to R. Joseph, $140,000

Hoerner St., 135: J. Gable to Green Property Management LLC, $49,900

Hoffman St., 3012: J. Dearing to D. Gule, $99,900

Logan St., 1712: Secretary of Veterans Affairs to PA Deals LLC, $72,250

Market St., 1913: Fulton Bank NA to Slatehouse Group LLC, $52,000

Market St., 2501A: J. Langley to A. Buglione, $55,000

Mercer St., 2468: PA Deals LLC to MidAtlantic IRA LLC & C. Hampton, $61,900

North St., 274: Mid Penn Bank to A. Gonzalez & L. Galvis, $240,000

N. 2nd St., 1007: J. & M. Solomon to C. & E. Bryce, $195,000

N. 3rd St., 1404 and 1409 & 1411 Susquehanna St.: Volunteers of America to Zecharya International Inc., $50,000

N. 3rd St., 2331: Federal National Mortgage Assoc. to F. Laoukili & M. Mtere, $32,000

N. 4th St., 1623: GWD Capitol Heights LP to T. Menta, $109,900

N. 4th St., 2715: J. Gilmore to K. Hilborn, $90,000

N. 5th St., 1821: C. Mitchell & J. Jackson to Home for the Friendless, $71,500

N. 6th St., 1408: PA Deals LLC to D. Sharma & N. Aggarwal, $103,250

N. 6th St., 2508, 2512 & 2516: JRH Anthony Partnership & Mr. Handyman of Lincoln Park to Harrisburg Housing Authority, $230,000

N. 13th St., 142: V. Trong to J. Forsyth LLC, $30,000

N. 17th St., 1000: S. Osibodu to D. Robinson, $75,000

Park St., 1923: S&H Investment Group LLC to Diamond Mined LLC, $45,000

Penn St., 1801: C. Touma to M. McCann, $112,000

Penn St., 1820: PA Deal LLC to D. Kapil, $122,000

Penn St., 1915: A. Mills to J. Bankard, $136,000

Rudy Rd., 1914: J. Charlton to M. Thach, $66,000

Rumson Dr., 2990: M. Salerno to R. Gonzalez & M. Cabrera, $50,000

S. 16th St., 1047: W. & E. Turns to W. Zawadski, $50,000

S. 18th St., 1319: New Island Properties LLC to K. Shemory, $80,000

S. 19th St., 24: J. Forsyth LLC to B. Zimmerman, $40,500

S. 25th St., 442: P. Bauer to R. Weese, $94,900

S. Cameron St., 912: Camp Hill Cleaners & Mark Cleaners to New Vision Management, $100,000

S. Front St., 707: D. & G. Dowen to A. Patton, $180,000

State St., 1606: Mid Penn Bank to R. Covington & T. Pean, $35,000

Susquehanna St., 1336: Metro Bank to Frog Hollow Associates LLC, $77,500

Verbeke St., 316: Kidder Wilkes LP to Silver Stone Enterprises LLC, $52,400

Wallace St., 1637 & 1639: J. Shurns to Buonarroti Trust, $118,170

Walnut St., 108, 110 & 112: Vast Holding LLC to E. Etzweiler, $225,000

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Harrisburg Officials Split over Critical Report on Treasury Department

DeBrunner2

Harrisburg Controller Charles DeBrunner takes the oath of office two years ago.

An independent review of the Harrisburg treasurer’s office has split elected city officials, after City Controller Charles DeBrunner released a preliminary internal report on the findings over objections by the city solicitor and mayor.

The review, which encompassed the treasury’s general practices as well as specific activity during the 2014 calendar year, found the office lacked certain written policies and that aspects of its operations left it more vulnerable to fraud.

DeBrunner said Monday that the 20-page report, by the New York consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal, found “numerous serious accounting problems” encompassing both the treasury and the city’s finance bureau, as well as a “culture at the city where errors are accepted and expected.”

But Mayor Eric Papenfuse sharply critiqued that characterization, saying it was politically motivated and misquoted the report’s actual findings. He further accused DeBrunner, who published a redacted version of the report on his official website, of “short-circuiting” an ongoing investigation that was still in its early stages.

The report “seems to have been released for political purposes over the objection of the solicitor and the administration as the investigation is not yet complete,” Papenfuse said.

The city retained Alvarez & Marsal after former Harrisburg Treasurer John Campbell was arrested in August 2014 on charges that he had embezzled funds from a number of local non-profit organizations.

Those non-profits were unaffiliated with city government, but they led to Campbell’s resignation from his elected post and prompted Harrisburg to seek an independent review of the treasury’s internal controls and financial activity during 2014.

In its report, submitted to the city in late February, Alvarez & Marsal found that a lack of internal controls in the treasury in that period and perhaps earlier resulted in “an environment where the opportunity for fraudulent activity exists.”

The report also said that the deputy treasurer, Celia Spicher, performs “too many” functions, including both initiating and approving outgoing wire transfers and reconciling monthly bank accounts, a practice that “weakens checks and balances and negatively affects operations of the office.”

Spicher is on vacation this week and was unavailable for comment, according to a person at the treasurer’s office who answered the phone there Monday.

Though the review found no specific instances of suspicious activity, DeBrunner said, the state of the city’s controls and records made it “less likely” that such activity would be detected by the firm’s limited review.

DeBrunner also claimed the problems found in the report encompassed the administration’s finance bureau, and not simply the treasury, which is headed by an elected city treasurer. The report does not explicitly mention problems with the finance bureau, but DeBrunner said they could be “inferred.”

DeBrunner, an independently elected official who oversees certain aspects of city finances, said he released the statement because he believed that citizens deserved to see it and wanted to push the city to address the issues it raises.

“I am hopeful that this report will motivate the Mayor and the Treasurer to improve the city’s internal controls and change the default expectation to one where the city’s financial records are given the attention they deserve,” DeBrunner said.

Yet he and Mayor Papenfuse appeared to draw opposite conclusions about the implications of the findings. Papenfuse said most of the problems had been or were in the process of being resolved, and that the unauthorized release of the report hampered the investigation into possible abuses under past practices.

“He’s hindered our ability to go forward with Alvarez,” Papenfuse said, noting that the report was simply the first phase of a two-phase project that was later to weigh the benefits of a more expensive forensic investigation into specific account activity.

“In my opinion, he’s acted recklessly and irresponsibly and wasted $42,000 of taxpayers’ money,” Papenfuse added, citing the cost of the first-phase review.

Neil Grover, the city solicitor, said Alvarez & Marsal had taken the position that the city needed the firm’s permission before releasing its report to the public, based on clauses in its contract relating to disclosure to third parties. He said the issue had been “still under discussion” when DeBrunner released the report without the mayor’s blessing.

The mayor also denied that the city had a “culture” of tolerating errors, saying the statement did not reflect the administration and noting that most of the employees Alvarez interviewed during its review worked under the treasurer or controller.

Tyrell Spradley, the current city treasurer, said Monday that he had agreed with DeBrunner upon taking office in November 2014 that there were significant problems with the treasury’s internal controls.

He said the findings in the report were “no big surprise,” but that he was glad to have outside confirmation of the problems, which he said his office has made significant strides in correcting.

Spradley also concurred with the controller’s opinion that the problems extended beyond the treasury. He said he supported the controller’s release of the report, whether or not it had been approved by the administration.

“I honestly think the public should know,” he said.

Read the redacted report here.

This story has been updated with information about efforts to contact the deputy treasurer and with details from the city solicitor about a discussion regarding disclosure with Alvarez & Marsal.

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September News Digest

Tax Hike Suggested
 
Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse last month proposed tripling the local services tax to help close an estimated $6 million budget gap for the year.

Papenfuse introduced the idea during the annual State of the City address, saying that the Harrisburg Strong financial recovery plan needed to be amended because some revenues, including parking revenues due to enforcement snags, have fallen short of projections.

Under this plan, the local services tax would increase from $1 to $3 per worker per week. The increase would generate about $4 million a year, according to the administration.

The increase must be passed by City Council and approved by the Commonwealth Court. Papenfuse later said that Fred Reddig, a state official and the city’s Act 47 coordinator, supports the idea.

During his speech, Papenfuse also urged Harrisburg-based businesses to help the city financially by ceasing to use private haulers for trash collection. In addition, he floated the idea that the city should consider Home Rule, which would allow it to have greater control in its own affairs.

Papenfuse said that Home Rule was the “only real way out” of Act 47 financial oversight. Many municipalities in Pennsylvania, including Carlisle, have Home Rule charters, but achieving Home Rule would take years.

 
Reed to Stand Trial
 
The criminal case against former Harrisburg Mayor Steve Reed will go to trial, a judge determined last month.

Following a daylong preliminary hearing, Senior Magisterial District Judge Richard Cashman said the state could proceed with a case against Reed on all 485 counts against him, covering a wide range of alleged corruption.

At the hearing, the prosecution presented evidence that Reed had violated numerous laws, including that he had kept in his possession hundreds of artifacts purchased with city money. Reed allegedly bought the artifacts for several museums that he had proposed building in the city.

The defense team, led by Henry Hockheimer of the Philadelphia-based firm of Ballard Spahr, refuted those charges, stating that the property rightfully belonged to Reed.

Separately, Reed’s attorneys last month filed a motion asking the court to dismiss more than 300 counts against him, claiming they were not valid because the statute of limitations had expired.

Sinkhole Application Favored
 
The state has ranked Harrisburg first in Pennsylvania to receive federal sinkhole mitigation funds, the city learned last month.

The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency sent a letter to Harrisburg saying its application for a federal Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant for sinkhole remediation had been ranked No. 1 in the state.

The city is seeking grants for sinkhole repair and home demolition and buyouts in a hard-hit area of S. 14th Street.

The state support, while positive, does not guarantee that Harrisburg will receive the award, said Mayor Eric Papenfuse. Only state emergency management agencies are eligible to apply for grants under the program, but awards are not allocated on a state-by-state basis.

 
 
 
LED Project Gets Green Light

Harrisburg’s plan to upgrade all of its streetlights with long-lasting LED lights is set to begin this month after the City Council approved funding for the project.

Council last month voted unanimously to borrow $3.2 million from M&T Bank for the LED conversion project, the city’s first major borrowing since the financial crisis shut it off from the credit markets. Council then voted unanimously to contract with The Efficiency Network, based in Pittsburgh, to perform the citywide installation of about 6,000 lights.

The administration estimates that the upgrade will save the city about $500,000 annually in energy costs, which should cover the cost of the financing. As part of its contract, The Efficiency Network guarantees the savings for a 10-year period.

Mayor Eric Papenfuse said much of the work would be done this fall, but probably would not be completed until early next year.

Council also authorized the administration to apply for a $3.6 million grant from Impact Harrisburg, a nonprofit set up as part of the city’s financial recovery plan to assist its infrastructure and economic development efforts. Impact Harrisburg is in the process of hiring an executive director, which it must do before considering applications for grants.

If Harrisburg receives the money, the city would pay off the loan early and use the savings from reduced energy costs for other purposes, Papenfuse said. The loan carries a prepayment penalty of 3 percent.

The city already has received a grant of $500,000 to offset some of the cost of the LED project.

 
Campbell Gets Probation
 
Former Harrisburg Treasurer John Campbell last month was sentenced to three years of probation for stealing money from three nonprofit organizations.

As part of his sentence, Campbell turned over a restitution check for $26,230, which will repay Historic Harrisburg Association, the Capital Region Stonewall Democrats and Lighten Up Harrisburg for the thefts.

In all, Campbell pled guilty to one misdemeanor and two felony counts.

Campbell was executive director of Historic Harrisburg and a volunteer treasurer for both Lighten Up Harrisburg and the Stonewall Democrats when the thefts occurred. He was not charged with any crimes in his capacity as city treasurer.

Dauphin County Common Pleas Judge Scott A. Evans is allowing Campbell to serve his probation in the Washington, D.C., area, where he now lives.

 
Bar Loses Appeal

A Midtown Harrisburg bar targeted for closure by the city has lost its appeal, and now has taken its case to court.

The city’s License and Tax Appeal Review Board rejected the effort by the Third Street Café (formerly Club 1400) to retain its business license and continue operating from its building at the corner of N. 3rd and Calder streets.

The three-person appeals board unanimously sided with the city, which alleges that the bar attracts criminal behavior, especially drug activity.

“The owners and operators of the Third Street Café consented to or allowed behavior on and around the premises that constituted crimes under federal, state and local laws,” concluded the board in its Aug. 28 decision.

The city has tried for months to revoke the bar’s business license. In late March, it sent owner Tony Paliometros a letter stating it planned to revoke the license, giving him 30 days to cease operations. Paliometros appealed the revocation, and a one-day appeals hearing was held in late May.

After losing the appeal, Paliometros immediately appealed that decision to the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas and was granted a stay to remain open. The court appeal is scheduled for Oct. 9.
 
 
Housing Market Stable

Housing sales and prices were relatively stable in August, compared to the same period last year.

Throughout the region, 783 houses sold at a median sales price of $165,000, according to the Greater Harrisburg Association of Realtors. In August 2014, 781 houses sold for a median price of $165,000.

In Dauphin County, 265 houses sold at a median price of $144,900. In Cumberland County, 268 houses sold for a median price of $179,900 and, in Perry County, 27 houses sold for a median price of $165,000.
 
 
So Noted

The Harrisburg Downtown Improvement District and Recycle Bicycle last month launched a Downtown Bike Library, which allows people to borrow and then return a bike, a helmet and a lock at no cost from the HDID office at 22 N. 2nd St. This program is considered a pilot program to the Bike Share Harrisburg initiative that is in the works to bring a bike share program to the city.
 
The Millworks last month started a lunch service, which begins at 11 a.m. Tuesday to Friday. The Midtown Harrisburg restaurant and art space opened in March for dinner, Tuesday through Sunday. It then added weekend brunch hours.

Bricco halted its lunch service last month in favor of expanding its catering business with Ciao! Bakery, in an endeavor now called Bricco-Ciao! Catering. The menu consists of both Ciao’s sandwiches and Bricco’s Mediterranean-inspired dishes. Bricco, at the corner of S. 3rd and Chestnut streets, remains open for dinner.

The Kitchen at H*MAC last month announced new lunch and brunch hours. The restaurant, located at 1110 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg, now is open for lunch on Monday to Friday beginning at 11 a.m. and for brunch on Saturday and Sunday beginning at 10 a.m.

Arepa City, which specialized in the Venezuelan sandwich called the arepa, closed last month after more than six years in downtown Harrisburg. Owner Daniel Farias said customers didn’t follow the restaurant after it moved into larger space further down N. 2nd Street. Farias said he plans to continue his catering business.

Frederic Loraschi Chocolate opened a retail location and production facility at 4615 Hillcrest St. in Colonial Park. For years, the chocolatier has made his high-end confections from a converted kitchen in the basement of his Hummelstown home. The new shop allows consumers to buy directly from him.

 
Changing Hands

Berryhill St., 2101: R. Pickles to D. Maxwell, $96,500

Calder St., 116: M. DePhilip to D. Goldman, $150,000

Chestnut St., 2100: W. & K. Richards to H. Trauffer, $65,000

Curtin St., 543, 2135 N. 4th St., 1949 Berryhill St., 545 Benton St. & 2314 N. 4th St.: Susquehanna Bank to MBHH RE LLC, $107,000

Graham St., 118: B. & K. Elgart & Cartus Financial Corp. to P. Furlong, $219,900

Green St., 1924: D. Miller & R. Finley to G. O’Loughlin, $214,900

Hale Ave., 428: Metro Bank to T. & K. Vu, $42,500

Herr St., 409: W. & F. Moore to D. Jordan, $106,000

Industrial Rd., 3360: Conewago Contractors Inc. to Norfolk Southern Railway Co., $7,500,000

Kelker St., 319: K. Hancock to J. Marks, $60,000

N. 2nd St., 1311: J. Feldman to T. Gray, $78,700

N. 2nd St., 1406: F. Magaro to C. Albers, $149,000

N. 2nd St., 1520: E. Spaar to N. & R. Masterson, $94,000

N. 2nd St., 1708: D. Shreve to J. Seigle, $171,300

N. 2nd St., 1829: E. Stuckey to M. Nolt, $126,000

N. 2nd St., 3206: R. & P. Kotz to S. Margut, $178,000

N. 3rd St., 1606: Fannie Mae to Anselmo Brothers Partnership, $52,500

N. 3rd St., 2243: Kusic Financial Services LLC to A. & M. Collins, $58,000

N. Front St., 2609: Supreme Forest of Tall Cedars to A. Hartzler, $225,000

Penn St., 1820: Bayview Loan Servicing LLC to PA Deals LLC, $50,250

Penn St., 1917: S. Stauffer to S. Cline & J. Lemon, $118,500

Penn St., 1920: WCI Partners LP to C. Clabaugh, $159,900

Rudy Rd., 2141: A. McKenna to M. McNelis, $142,900

Rumson Dr., 2586: Beneficial Consumer Discount Co. to PA Deals LLC, $43,299

Schuykill St., 518 & 522: M. & A. Parsons to J. & B. Readinger, $37,500

S. 15th St., 347, 1529 Catherine St., 1615 Naudain St., 30 Balm St., 1822 Park St. & 22 Balm St.: I. Colon to C. Harp, $30,000

S. Front St., 555: Ashbury Foundation to D. Ogg, $82,500

State St., 115: Pennsylvania Bar Association to Commonwealth Strategic Solutions LLC, $172,000

State St., 231, Unit 504: LUX 1 LP to M. & K. Lastrina, $144,900

State St., 231, Unit 505: LUX 1 LP to M & K. Lastrina, $154,900

State St., 1336: D. Pinnock to D. Vining, $37,000

Susquehanna St., 1833: G. & K. Ender to J. Secrest, $42,500

Swatara St., 2416: M. Gaston et al to D. & E. Davenport, $129,600

Thompson St., 1257: Jamil Karim LLC to Harrisburg Housing Authority, $80,000

Woodbine St., 502: K. Bethea to C. Guerrier, $40,000

 

Harrisburg property sales for August 2015, greater than $30,000. Source: Dauphin County. Data is assumed to be accurate.

 

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TheBurg Podcast, Sept. 18, 2015

Welcome to TheBurg Podcast, a weekly roundup of news in and around Harrisburg.

Sept. 18, 2015: This week, Larry and Paul talk about the preliminary hearing that ultimately sent Steve Reed on towards a full trial, probation and restitution in the case of former city treasurer John Campbell and a judge’s stay that lets a Midtown bar remain open, at least for now.

Special thanks to Paul Cooley, who wrote our theme music. Check out his podcast, the PRC Show, on SoundCloud or in the iTunes store.

TheBurg Podcast can be downloaded by clicking on the date above or by visiting the iTunes store. You can also access the podcast via its host page.

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August News Digest

Reed Arrested, Arraigned
 
Seven-term Harrisburg Mayor Stephen Reed was arrested and arraigned last month on 17 criminal charges ranging from bribery to running a criminal organization.

In all, the state charged Reed with 499 criminal counts covering actions related to the Harrisburg Parking Authority and the Harrisburg School District, as well as city government.

The counts cover alleged actions for many well-known Reed-era projects, such as the incinerator retrofit, the effort to acquire museum artifacts, the Senators baseball team and Harrisburg University.

Debt accumulated under Reed eventually resulted in a financial crisis that led the state to appoint a receiver for the city, as well as a failed attempt by City Council to declare municipal bankruptcy.

Dauphin County District Justice William C. Wenner set bail at $150,000 unsecured, meaning that Reed did not actually have to post bond. He ordered Reed to surrender his passport and restrict travel to the confines of Pennsylvania.

After the arraignment, Reed and his attorney, Henry E. Hockeimer Jr. of the Philadelphia-based firm Ballard Spahr, made statements defending the 28-year mayor. Reed blamed the criminal charges on “misperceptions and politics,” while Hockeimer said Reed “carried out his role [as mayor] with dedication and integrity.”

Afterwards, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane publicly released the grand jury presentment, which detailed the evidence behind the charges. The presentment alleged that thousands of “artifacts” and “curiosities” purchased with public funds were found in Reed’s home and storage areas; that Reed diverted money from city borrowings for other purposes; and that he used city employees for personal reasons.

Market Report Released
 
The Broad Street Market Task Force last month released a long-anticipated report on how to improve the condition, management and overall operations of the historic Midtown market.

Chairwoman Jackie Parker told Harrisburg City Council that the market’s two buildings are in decent condition, but that they will require “large capital investments” over the next decade.

More immediately, the report strongly recommended changing the market’s management structure.

Currently, the Broad Street Market Corp. operates the market, with the Historic Harrisburg Association as its sole shareholder. The task force advised separating from HHA and transitioning to a nonprofit entity, which then could better pursue grants and other funding.

“It would be a newly established nonprofit that is dedicated to full-time fundraising for the market,” said Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse, who announced the 10-member task force early last year as one of his first acts as mayor.

That transition could take the better part of two years, said Parker, who also is director of the city’s Department of Community and Economic Development.

Under the new structure, the market’s two buildings would remain owned by the city, but ongoing repair and maintenance would shift to the nonprofit, which would be overseen by a board of directors composed of volunteers from the community and market stakeholders.

The report recommended a number of other operational improvements, including free WiFi, greater recycling efforts, extended hours, greater diversity of food options, a marketing budget and better litter management.

Separately, Joshua Kesler last month was named president of the Broad Street Market Corp. board, replacing Jonathan Bowser, who resigned in June. Kesler is owner of The Millworks restaurant and art studios across the street from the market.

Campbell Pleads Guilty
 
Former Harrisburg Treasurer John Campbell last month pleaded guilty to charges that he stole money from several Harrisburg-based non-profit organizations.

Campbell said he was guilty of two counts of unlawful taking, a felony, and one count of Charitable Act fraud, a misdemeanor. He also promised to make full restitution for the thefts, which total almost $30,000.

Campbell was accused of taking money from several groups, including Historic Harrisburg Association, the Stonewall Democrats and Lighten Up Harrisburg. He was not charged with theft relating to his position as city treasurer.

If Campbell makes restitution by his Sept. 15 sentencing, Dauphin County Deputy District Attorney Joel Hogentogler said he would agree to a sentence of probation.

 
Anti-Blight Bills Passed

Harrisburg City Council last month approved two bills meant to battle the continuing problem of blight in the city.

The bills, passed unanimously, create a registry of foreclosed properties and increase fines on real estate investors and speculators for code violations.

Under the first ordinance, banks will pay a $200 annual fee for each property on the registry. The properties then must be kept properly maintained and secured.

Under the second, the city will levy higher fines on “corporate owners” of properties cited for code violations than it does on residential owners.

The higher fines are justified because it costs the city money to track down the investors and speculators, who often live out of the area and are difficult to identify and contact because they hide behind corporate entities, said Mayor Eric Papenfuse.

Food Truck Rules Updated

Food trucks in Harrisburg must locate at least 100 feet from brick-and-mortar restaurants under an ordinance passed last month by the City Council.

Council unanimously approved an ordinance update that requires food trucks and other mobile food vendors from setting up within 100 feet of existing restaurants, 15 feet from building entrances and 15 feet from a fire hydrant.

The ordinance update was urged by several downtown restaurants, which have complained that food trucks set up near them during high-volume times, such as during lunch and on weekend nights, and negatively affect their business. They also have complained about grease and litter.

The mobile vendors also must cease selling by 2:30 a.m. and move from the area by 2:45 a.m.

The ordinance does not apply to food trucks that congregate during special events, such as the monthly Food Truck Feast held during 3rd in the Burg.
 
 
HUD Funds Distributed

Harrisburg last month finalized the recipients of its annual dispersal of federal housing money.

The city received $3.1 million from three U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development programs, most through HUD’s Community Development Block Grant program.

The city’s housing rehabilitation program received $451,806, the largest allocation, and the city police department received $250,000, which it plans to use to boost manpower in Harrisburg’s most troubled neighborhoods. The city’s demolition program got $111,114.

Other recipients included:
Fair Housing Council, $130,000
Tri County HDC, $100,000
Camp Curtin YMCA, $80,000
Christian Recovery Aftercare Ministry, $75,000
Habitat for Humanity, $70,000
Boys & Girls Club of Harrisburg, $60,000
Latino Hispanic American Community Center, $59,982
Heinz-Menaker Senior Center, $50,000
Mid Penn Legal Services, $30,000
Christian Love Ministries, $29,000
Codes Enforcement, $10,000

The city’s Emergency Solutions Grant Program received $164,603, and the Homeowner Improvement Program got $295,765.

More than $1 million will not go directly to recipients. Grant administration received $482,624, while debt service ate up $638,000. The latter item covers this year’s installment of repayment of a $3.8 million federal loan that Harrisburg backed for the failed (since revived) Capitol View Commerce Center.

Recovery Officer Appointed

Audrey Utley was appointed last month as the new chief recovery officer for the Harrisburg School District.

State Board of Education Secretary Pedro Rivera appointed Utley after a search committee recommended her. She recently retired as superintendent of the Steelton-Highspire school district and served a short, three-month stint as acting superintendent of the Harrisburg district in 2010.

Utley will continue the effort of trying to improve the financial and academic condition of the Harrisburg district, an effort begun by Utley’s predecessor, Gene Veno, who served in the post about two years before resigning in June.

Under Veno’s recovery plan, the district’s precarious financial situation stabilized, but the academic performance deteriorated further, according to state performance measures released last year.

2 Projects Get Green Light

More apartments are coming to Harrisburg, as the City Council last month approved land development plans for two substantial projects.

First, council unanimously approved Harristown Enterprise’s plan to convert 21,000 square feet of office space and another 6,000 square feet of loft space to six two-bedroom and 16 one-bedroom apartments above a stretch of shops along N. 3rd and Market streets in Strawberry Square.

If all goes according to plan, work on the project would begin this fall with completion slated for spring 2016, said Brad Jones, president and CEO of Harristown Enterprises, which owns Strawberry Square.

Council then OK’d a plan by WCI Partners to transform the former Harrisburg Moose Lodge Temple at N. 3rd and Boas streets into 33 one-bedroom apartments, with commercial space on the ground floor. WCI also plans to renovate three boarded-up townhouses on the property.

WCI President Dave Butcher said the project should begin in early autumn with completion expected next summer.

Transit Consolidation Urged

A state official last month urged the Harrisburg City Council to consider regional consolidation of mass transit services.

Area governments could save an estimated $2.3 million a year, mostly through reduced administrative staff, if they chose to consolidate into a single entity, said Toby Fauver, deputy secretary for multimodal transportation for the state Department of Transportation.

Fauver cited the potential savings as he briefed council on Phase 2 of the South-Central Regional Transit Consolidation Study, which recommends consolidation for most transit systems in south-central Pennsylvania.

If they decide to merge transit operations, the participating counties and municipalities would need to appoint representatives to a transition board that would decide such issues as structure, governance and operations. The consolidation would cost about $4.7 million to achieve, but the state would absorb that cost, Fauver said.

 
Changing Hands

Boas St., 106: K. Miller to A. Nascone, $130,000

Boas St., 314: B. Ostella to W. James, $99,900

Briggs St., 241: M. Simmons to C. Jeffers, $113,500

Calder St., 504: P. Maruszewski to H. Nguyen, $109,900

Catherine St., 1620: R. & M. Caplan to M. & V. Keyes, $31,000

Chestnut St., 2137: P. Bowman to G. Bierbaum & W. Alford, $184,900

Cumberland St., 117: J. & C. Kuntz to Cardinal Investments LLC, $81,900

Derry St., 2422: N. Foose to D. Brently, $61,900

Green St., 1910: WCI Partners LP to C. Reinhold & K. Hurst, $193,900

Green St., 3011: R. Snyder to M. Palermo Jr., $180,000

Herr St., 415: A. Antoun to J. Foreman, $54,900

Herr St., 1424: M. & A. Foreman to Bethesda Mission of Harrisburg, $275,00

Kelker St., 235: S. Woomer to D. Robinson & J. Vu, $99,900

Kensington St., 2408: PA Deals LLC to F. Frattarole, $63,500

Manada St., 1905: PA Deals LLC to G. & J. Modi, $96,000

North St., 1718; 2418 Jefferson St.; 2228 N. 4th St.; 350 Harris St.; 352 Harris St.; 1813 Boas St. & 1833 Forster St.: R. Shokes Jr. & Shokes Enterprises to JDP 2014 LP, $497,000

N. 2nd St., 405, Unit 2 & Unit 4: Belco Community Credit Union to Vinculum Inc., $410,000

N. 2nd St., 1100: L. & A. Morato to S. & J. Toole, $45,000

N. 2nd St., 2537: J. & M. McCarthy to N. Banting, $72,100

N. 2nd St., 2821: D. & M. Anderson to J. & L. Witmer, $96,000

N. 2nd St., 2904: J. Reitz & Webster Bank NA to F. & B. Pinto, $285,750

N. 2nd St., 2926: J. & Y. Garner to M. & S. Bennington, $282,000

N. 2nd St., 3118: A. Barlup to P. & M. Rowan, $152,000

N. 3rd St., 1720: F. Phillipy to A. & A. Campoverde, $90,000

N. 4th St., 1625: GWD Capitol Heights LP to J. Wolfe & K. Hunt, $103,300

N. Front St., 1525, Unit 103: K. Blum to A. McKenna, $214,900

N. Front St., 2401: E. & D. Black to J.A. Hartzler, $215,000

N. Front St., 2501: Harrisburg Builders Exchange to Poole Anderson Construction LLC, $415,000

Rudy Rd., 2401: C. Butler to B. Royster, $119,900

S. 18th St., 946: W. & D. Shalan to Darna Investments LLC, $140,000

S. 21st St., 971: Lee Estates LLC to T. Le, $100,000

S. 29th St., 520: E. Cohen & Goodrich Assoc. to Goodrich Assoc., $125,000

S. Front St., 607: S. Farr to T. Edinger, $130,000

S. Front St., 711: Z. & J. Goodling to P. Moore, $180,000

State St., 1801: MAT Properties Inc. to Transcend Church, $99,000

Taylor Blvd., 52: PA Deals LLC to V. & S. Vdov, $56,900

Woodlawn St., 2359: Meier Norton FLP to Meier Supply Co., $406,800

Wyeth St., 1404: A. Weikert to F. Frattarole, $103,900

Wyeth St., 1412: PA Deals LLC to F. Frattarole, $103,900

Harrisburg property sales for June 2015, greater than $30,000. Source: Dauphin County. Data is assumed to be accurate.

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Not Our Fault? In Harrisburg, there’s plenty of blame to go around.

Screenshot 2015-06-01 08.14.19I don’t often get into screaming matches, much less in public places.

But, a pint or two in at my favorite new Harrisburg brewery, a friend and I began raising our voices over something we actually agree about—that we’re both angry, really angry, at John Campbell.

For sure, we’re not alone. The disgraced former Harrisburg treasurer upset plenty of people who had trusted him with their confidence and their money.

Heck, two months before Campbell’s arrest on theft charges, TheBurg helped host a party in his honor as he departed Historic Harrisburg Association, where he had been executive director. And my friend and I both were members of organizations where Campbell has been accused of taking money.

So, I guess we needed to vent, which we did, loudly, in contrast to the sounds of folks happily enjoying their La Dolce Vita drafts and their mutual company and the din of the jukebox at Zeroday Brewing.

We vocally debated Harrisburg’s version of “he who must not be named,” but, in the process, disagreed about something fundamental.

I hold many of us at least partially responsible for the phenomenon that was John Campbell; my friend doesn’t.

“He was a con man,” my friend said. “How could anyone have known that?”

Con man, no doubt. But I insisted that Campbell never should have had such positions of authority in the first place.

“He was a 21-year-old kid still in college when he was hired,” I countered, insisting (without success) that Campbell should have been flagged as too young and too inexperienced to serve as director or treasurer of anything important.

A person, I believe, is responsible for his own actions. However, that also pertains to the supporting actors, those who played lesser parts in a situation that goes spectacularly wrong.

I feel largely the same way about the city’s financial collapse.

Former Mayor Steve Reed, without question, tops the list of people responsible for Harrisburg’s fiscal chaos. However, in a flow chart of blame, you could list, in descending order, Reed’s direct underlings; the professionals who advised him; the Harrisburg Authority; members of City Council; the Dauphin County commissioners; numerous state officials; the supine media; and the voters.

Not that anybody has accepted this blame. A few years back, during a state Senate committee hearing on the city’s massive incinerator debt, every witness called upon, including Reed himself, denied responsibility. Evidently, Harrisburg’s near-bankruptcy happened without anyone causing it.

In fact, during the Reed administration, signals abounded that his consolidation of power was troubling and that the city’s finances were increasingly out-of-whack. Some residents tried to sound the alarm, but they invariably were shouted down, mocked or ignored.

You could make a long list of the ill-advised projects that the Reed administration championed, often financing them through strange, convoluted deals. For the sake of this column, I’ll limit my focus to what might be the most surreal—Reed’s attempt to build not one, but “five nationally scaled museums” (his words) in a poor, tiny city in central Pennsylvania.

New museums typically are born in one of two ways. In the first, a group (usually a non-profit board) tries to raise money for a building and/or its contents. In the second, a wealthy patron donates items—and sometimes foots the bill for the building, as well.

Harrisburg didn’t follow either path. The museum idea originated in the mind of a single man, Steve Reed, without any of the detailed preparation and painstaking planning needed to embark on a massive venture like starting a world-class museum (much less five of them).

In a nutshell, Reed got hold of public money and began buying stuff because he wanted to—and because he could.

Over a decade, he packed an enormous warehouse (and several other buildings) full of thousands of items from his sprees, spending untold millions on things that ranged from the genuine and valuable to junk and fakes. Lacking expertise, he vacuumed up lot after lot, often overpaying for the good and the bad.

The majority of objects were for an Old West museum he wanted to build, but some were for an African-American heritage museum he proposed and others for a Sports Hall of Fame he hoped to construct on City Island. There also were artifacts that didn’t seem to fit into any category—wood from a Colonial-era ship, transcripts from the Nuremberg trials.

Eventually, he got one “nationally scaled” museum built, the National Civil War Museum, but only because he learned that former Gov. Tom Ridge was a Civil War buff. So, according to project architect Vern McKissick, Reed quickly carved out a Civil War collection from his vast Old West stash and, though luck and salesmanship, got the state to foot the bill for the building.

This is local government gone completely off the rails. I half-laugh, half-cringe when I imagine Reed and his surrogates darting around the country attending auctions, sweeping up inventory, packing it all up, shipping it to Harrisburg, unpacking it and storing it in whatever dusty corner they could find for future museums that had no realistic path to ever existing.

But that’s what happened, and a lot of people knew about it—officials and politicians, consultants, city workers, the media, some in the general public. Yet year after year after year, it went on.

Typically, I’m not big on assigning blame, as I find resolving a problem more important than determining who’s at fault. However, in the case of Campbell and Reed, I believe it’s important to examine if we, as individuals, are in some way responsible. By understanding our own roles, we lessen the chance of a future rogue mayor, thieving treasurer or whoever might try to scam us next.

We all know the cliché that it takes a village to accomplish something good. Well, sometimes, it also takes a village to screw up royally.

 

 

Lawrance Binda is editor-in-chief of TheBurg.

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Mayor’s Slate Victorious in City Council Primary

Signs

Campaign signs from earlier today outside a polling station.

Mayor Eric Papenfuse wasn’t on the ballot, but he may have emerged the greatest victor in today’s Democratic primary for Harrisburg City Council.

The three candidates endorsed by Papenfuse–incumbent Jeffrey Baltimore and challengers Cornelius Johnson and Westburn Majors–won nominations for four-year terms on council. Challenger Destini Hodges tallied the most votes for the lone two-year seat.

No Republicans ran in the primary, meaning the winners of the Democratic primary will be strongly favored in November’s general election.

Moreover, Papenfuse vocally denounced incumbent Brad Koplinski, pleading with residents to vote against him. Koplinski placed fourth, losing to Majors by just 18 votes for the nomination for the final four-year seat.

“This is a big night for Harrisburg, absolutely phenomenal,” said Papenfuse after the final votes were reported. “I’m elated that we’re finally going to get new leadership to move the city forward.”

He added that he believed the public, with its vote, sent a message that it was “tired of the dysfunction on City Council.” Papenfuse advocated for new blood on council to help move his agenda forward and to replace Councilwoman Wanda Williams as council president.

Primary results were as follows: Johnson, 1,474; Baltimore, 1,429; Majors, 1,257; Koplinski, 1239; Ellis “Rick” Roy, 1,048; Rhonda Mays, 760; Jeremiah Chamberlin, 719; Ron Chapel, 332; Koscina Lowe, 226.

In the race for city treasurer, Tyrell Spradley defeated challenger Brian Ostella by a count of 1,279 to 1,221. Council appointed Spradley last year to fill the unexpired term of former city Treasurer John Campbell, who was arrested on theft charges.

For Harrisburg school board, Jennifer Smallwood, Monica Blackston-Bailey, Matthew Krupp and Melvin Wilson Jr. won nominations for four-year seats. Daunessy Penn and Lionel Gonzalez were tied for the final four-year slot, each with 1,159 votes. Judd Pittman defeated LaTasha Frye for the nomination for the sole two-year seat.

 

 

 

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TheBurg Podcast, Jan. 30, 2015

Welcome to TheBurg Podcast, a weekly roundup of news in and around Harrisburg.

Jan. 30, 2015: This week, Larry and Paul discuss City Council’s latest legislative session, gun-rights groups suing the city, and a whole bucketful of honorable mentions, including the cover of the February issue, which was distributed today.

Special thanks to Paul Cooley, who wrote our theme music and whose own podcast, the PRC Show, is available on SoundCloud and in the iTunes store.

TheBurg Podcast can be downloaded by clicking on the date above or by visiting the iTunes store. You can also access the podcast via its host page, here.

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A Year of Change: In 2014, you had to sift through the pastors, treasurers and gun-packing lawmakers to get to the most important news.

At TheBurg, we’re not much into new media stuff.

Link bait, user-generated content, seeding. Yuck.

In recent months, I’ve had several news people defend aggregation to me, the practice of taking content produced by others and liberally repurposing it for one’s own use.

“We used to call that plagiarism,” I’ve snapped back, stunned that reporters are now being told to do things that used to get them fired.

Then there’s the listicle.

Using lists to convey information has been around for a long time.

For years, one of my favorite features in the Washington Post was the annual “What’s Out and In” list that appeared every New Year’s Day. I had no idea how the contributors determined what would be hot or not over the coming year (why, a few years back, were “cancer memoirs” out and “grief memoirs” in? Beats me), but I relished sitting down with a big cup of coffee and poring over the lengthy, whimsical list every Jan. 1.

In part, I enjoyed the feature because of its novelty. Presenting information as a list was an exception, not the rule, or a crutch, as it’s become for many media outlets today.

For the past few years, I’ve created my own list each January: the Top 10 Harrisburg news stories of the past year.

So, enjoy the list for what it is: a highly subjective summation and ranking, with my own spin on the year’s news. Feel free to nod, argue or curse me out. And I promise not to make a habit of it. This will be my one and only listicle of 2015.

Screenshot 2014-12-29 10.44.4010. Civil War War: Sometimes, big stories seem to pop up from nowhere, and the scuffle over funding for the Civil War Museum fit into that category. Without notice, Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse appeared at a Dauphin County commissioners session to mount a case for negating an agreement that set aside about $300,000 a year in hotel tax money for the museum. Over the ensuing months, the city and county revived issues that hadn’t been discussed much in years: the purpose of the museum, its viability, its funding and how Harrisburg should use its limited funds to market itself. It also re-engaged the always-simmering battle over the legacy of former Mayor Stephen Reed.

Screenshot 2014-12-29 10.44.509. Pastor Arrested: Upon taking office, Papenfuse declared an all-out war on blight, targeting slumlords, deploying codes officers and even formulating a new Housing Court. That sounded fine to most people until the first person arrested under the get-tough policy was one of the city’s most prominent pastors, Bishop A.E. Sullivan, Jr., whose blighted church began to crumble down on its neighbors. For some, the arrest was an early test of Papenfuse’s resolve. For others, it signaled the re-emergence of racial tensions that always seem to lie just beneath the surface in Harrisburg.

Screenshot 2014-12-29 10.44.588. Grand Jury Convened: What happens when you open a closet and a room full of secrets pours out? In the case of Harrisburg, a grand jury is empaneled. At press time, months after official-looking guys in official-looking jackets hauled away box-loads of potential evidence to Pittsburgh, the investigation continued into the myriad twisted, dubious deals that led to Harrisburg’s financial collapse.

Screenshot 2014-12-29 10.45.087. Primetime Crime: If it bleeds, it leads, right? The media continued to have a field day (or year—or years) over the issue of crime in Harrisburg. Not that there wasn’t ample material to draw from. A continuing high homicide rate largely negated the good news that some other types of crime fell. Meanwhile, a few high-profile stories (the tragic case of Jared Tutko, Jr., a brief exchange of gunfire between a state legislator and a teenage mugger) led to predictable bouts of media hysteria. We’ll have to see if a few more cops and, as has been proposed, the revival of the school resource officer program make any difference for 2015.

Screenshot 2014-12-29 10.45.216. Treasurer Trouble: Sometimes, it seems like Harrisburg just can’t catch a break. In August, trouble arose from an unexpected corner when city Treasurer John Campbell—a young man with a seemingly boundless future—was arrested on charges of taking money from several organizations where he also served as treasurer. These allegations involved no city business, and the treasurer’s office operates largely independently from the administration. Nonetheless, Campbell’s arrest was yet another reason for people to dump on Harrisburg, as was the withdrawal, two months later, of his appointed successor, Timothy East, after a personal bankruptcy came to light.

Screenshot 2014-12-29 10.45.445. Receivership Ends: It came in with a bang and ended with a whimper. No, I’m not talking about the month of March, but about Harrisburg’s state-imposed receivership. In November 2011, bond attorney David Unkovic rode into the office amid tremendous skepticism over his intentions. In just a few months, he allayed those worries so that, when he suddenly resigned, many people feared the city had lost its best friend. In stormed Air Force Maj. Gen. William Lynch, who completed what Unkovic had started: selling the incinerator, privatizing the parking system and trying to straighten out and normalize Harrisburg’s calamitous finances. Count me among the surprised that the receivership ended so quickly after the major elements of the financial recovery plan were put into place. Today, the state retains some supervision over city finances as Harrisburg remains in Act 47. However, the receivership was never as strong-armed as many thought it would be, and, instead of fading away, it just went away.

Screenshot 2014-12-29 10.45.534. Parking, Parking and More Parking: Besides crime, parking became the media’s go-to story of the year. Sleepy news day? Go find some suburbanites and restaurateurs pissed off about the rising cost of parking. Beneath the hype, there was a real story. As part of the city’s financial recovery agreement, parking rates doubled and metered parking expanded, which did negatively impact some businesses. In addition, the rollout of the new digital meters was bumpy, and Standard Parking was (how shall I put this?) god-awful in communicating with the public. But, by the end of the year, people seemed to be adjusting, and the new regimen even had some pluses, such as a new source of revenue for the city, the ability to use credit cards and much higher turnover of street spaces. Also, while some weak businesses shut down (though not all due to parking, believe it or not), several others opened.

Screenshot 2014-12-29 10.46.053. Front Street Makeover: Sometimes, events are deemed important because they follow an accepted standard of what constitutes news—a political scandal or a high-profile crime, for instance. Other times, the importance is less certain, and only later do people realize the significance of a piece of news. I put the state’s announcement that, starting this spring, it will reconstruct Front Street, into the second category. Moreover, the state is studying improvements to Forster Street and to making much of N. 2nd Street two-way. It also plans to re-open the dormant rail bridge to pedestrians and maybe transit. In other words, the state seems to want to reverse the damage wrought almost six decades ago, when much of Harrisburg was turned into either a freeway or a traffic island, with devastating results. A more welcome, livable city could be a game-changer for Harrisburg.

Screenshot 2014-12-29 10.46.152. Papenfuse Takes Over: In January 2014, Eric Papenfuse took the oath of office as mayor of Harrisburg. In so doing, he promised to be both an effective administrator and an inspirational leader. A year later, I’m not sure about “inspirational,” but he has shown competence both in identifying what needs to be done and then taking steps to get those things done. From finances to blight to streetlights to schools, Papenfuse took on a full plate of issues, most very difficult, many controversial. My fellow columnist, Tara Leo Auchey, has described Harrisburg as being in a state of “reconstruction” following decades of misrule. The administration’s first year has been to try to stabilize a government in shambles and then plant the seeds of that reconstruction.

Screenshot 2014-12-29 10.46.561. Balanced Budget: This may seem like an odd choice for the #1 news story in Harrisburg. Yawn, right? Yes, in most cities, a balanced budget indeed would be a non-event. In Harrisburg, however, this was (or should have been) major news, as it was the city’s first truly balanced budget in—God knows—20, 30 years? Papenfuse even insisted on including items that had been kept off-budget for decades, as Reed was a genius at tucking inconvenient expenses into places where they couldn’t be found, then masking the overage with borrowing. This is an achievement that should not be understated. Going forward, it should allow the city to build an honest foundation and move forward from there.

So, there you have it—my Top 10 stories of 2014. Looking at the year in whole, I consider 2014 to have been a transition year: a transition from state to local control; a transition from perpetual crisis to some level of normalcy; and, I hope, a transition from dishonest and incompetent government to one that conscientiously serves the people of Harrisburg.

Lawrance Binda is editor-in-chief of TheBurg.

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November News Digest

Spradley Appointed Treasurer

Tyrell Spradley was named Harrisburg’s treasurer last month, ending a search that spanned more than two months.

A divided City Council selected Spradley following four rounds of voting, which included two other candidates—attorney Karen Balaban and former city councilman and controller Dan Miller.

Following his appointment, Spradley, 30, said he was eager to learn about and take on the part-time position, which pays $20,000 per year.

Harrisburg needed to name a new treasurer following the arrest in August of then-city treasurer John Campbell, who has been charged with theft from two organizations where he also served as treasurer.

Council first appointed accountant Timothy East to serve as Campbell’s replacement, but East withdrew his name after a personal bankruptcy came to light.

Spradley’s own eligibility was briefly called into question last month over issue involving his residency and the lack of a business license for an accounting company he owns. City officials later indicated those issues had been resolved.

Spradley will serve the remainder of Campbell’s four-year term, which runs until the end of next year.

 

Sinkhole Money Available

Some Harrisburg residents may benefit from a decision last month that allows federal assistance to be used to buy out homes endangered by sinkholes.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency ruled that municipalities could apply for aid to acquire sinkhole-prone structures.

Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse said the city immediately would apply for a grant to provide relief for homeowners along the 1400-block of S. 14th St., which has been devastated by sinkholes. There is no guarantee that Harrisburg will receive the money, as fierce competition is expected around the country for the grants.

Separately, Camp Hill-based Gannett Fleming last month issued more results of its sinkhole study in South Harrisburg.

The engineering firm told City Council that it had two options. The city could either buy out 27 houses in the middle of the most affected block or it could inject a substance beneath the surface to help stabilize the ground and prevent future sinkhole formation. Either option, both of which would include extensive road repair and relocating of residents, would cost about $4 million.

FEMA has put a cap of $3 million per project on its disaster allowance for sinkholes.

 

Schools Fail to Meet Performance Goals

Harrisburg public schools failed by a wide margin to meet academic standards set by the state-appointed chief recovery officer, according to state academic performance measures released last month.

None of Harrisburg’s schools met the academic goals for the 2013-14 school year set forth by Chief Recovery Officer Gene Veno in an April 2014 amendment to his recovery plan for the district.

The state’s “Building Level Academic Score” uses a 100-point scale to measure school performance. Much like a student report card, a score above 90 is considered excellent, while a score below 70 is deemed poor.

The following list shows each school’s performance, followed by a bracketed number that includes Veno’s goals for each school for the 2013-14 academic year.

  • Math Science Academy: 75.9 [94.2]
  • Harrisburg High School SciTech Campus: 63.8 [72.3]
  • Foose School: 57.8 [59.8]
  • Scott School: 57 [62.4]
  • Melrose School: 53.1 [69.7]
  • Downey School: 49.4 [67.5]
  • Benjamin Franklin School: 44.6 [63.5]
  • Marshall School: 44.4 [61.4]
  • Rowland School: 42.6 [56.5]
  • Harrisburg High School: 39.7 [57.6]
  • Camp Curtin School: 39.6 [60.3]

Scores were based upon several measures, including students’ performance on state standardized tests, improvement since the previous year, graduation and attendance rates and, in the case of high school students, SAT and ACT scores.

 

Lighting Grant Approved

Harrisburg’s plan to upgrade its streetlights took a step forward last month, as the city announced that it had received a $500,000 grant for its LED streetlight project.

Several months ago, the Papenfuse administration applied for the Pennsylvania Energy Department Authority grant, which City Council then approved.

In related matters, the administration last month asked council to approve the hiring of Doylestown-based Suburban Lighting Consultants to provide engineering services for the LED project. It also asked council to OK the engagement of Pittsburgh-based The Efficiency Network, which would conduct an inventory of existing streetlights, as well as an audit of streetlight and exterior light utility bills.

 

Green Infrastructure Grant Received

Capital Region Water has been awarded a $125,000 state grant to develop a Green Stormwater Infrastructure Plan for Harrisburg.

The grant from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) will allow Capital Region Water to evaluate using green infrastructure to reduce the impacts of runoff on the Harrisburg community, the Susquehanna River and Paxton Creek, and the underground infrastructure it operates, according to Andrew Bliss, Capital Region Water’s community outreach manager.

Green infrastructure is a broad term for trees, gardens and other ways to help reduce runoff by absorbing rainwater.

Last month, Capital Region Water also marked the one-year anniversary of its takeover of city water and sewer operations.

In addition to the DCNR grant, Bliss said, the year included several other achievements, including a “Top 5” designation for best drinking water in the country; a bond refinancing that will save the authority $4 million over two years; progress on a comprehensive GIS mapping project; and the beginning of a $50 million upgrade to the wastewater treatment facility.

 

Midtown Distillery Proposed

Two city residents announced plans last month to open a small-batch distillery in Midtown Harrisburg in the blighted, historic “Carpets and Draperies” building.

Alan Kennedy-Shaffer and Stanley Gruen are due to appear this month before the city’s Planning Commission and Zoning Hearing Board in an effort to get a variance for the site at 1507 N. 3rd St., which is not zoned for industrial use.

The partners plan a full renovation of the century-old building, which has sat empty for more than a decade. Their plan includes a bar and tasting room, in addition to a craft distillery that would make such spirits as whiskey, vodka, gin and rye.

If all goes well, they hope to open in mid-2015.

 

Parking Ordinances Updated

Motorists are on the hook to pay their parking fines, as the Harrisburg City Council last month updated its parking ordinances to conform to the city’s financial recovery plan.

Council needed to make technical changes to the city code to give operator Standard Parking the legal authority to enforce penalties. It also changed language to increase fines and allow non-currency forms of payment, such as credit and debit cards.

Standard Parking took over the city’s parking system in January, but council did not immediately update the city code. As a result, Harrisburg will receive about $200,000 less in parking revenue than anticipated this year.

The city said it expects to receive as much as $2.5 million in parking revenue next year.

 

Playground Safety Grant

Harrisburg has received a grant that could lead to improved safety at five of the city’s playgrounds.

The $10,000 grant from the Community Conservation Partnerships Program will fund an inspection and safety audit of the Cloverly Heights and Royal Terrace playgrounds, as well as playgrounds at Norwood and Hollywood streets; N. 4th and Dauphin streets; and Penn and Sayford streets.

The grant also will fund the creation of a routine playground maintenance and safety program and the training of city staff on program implementation.

 

Kim Re-Elected to 103rd

Incumbent Rep. Patty Kim will serve a second term in the state legislature, as voters returned her to office last month in an uncontested race.

Kim ran unopposed in the general election for the 103rd legislative district after beating challenger Gina Roberson in the Democratic primary in May.

In other election news, former Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson lost in her bid to unseat incumbent Republican Scott Perry to represent the 4th House district in Congress.

 

Changing Hands

Adrian St., 2423: B. Bisbano to C. Warble, $49,300

Benton St., 527: R. & A. Della Croce to S. Rea & M. Urgiles, $98,500

Berryhill St., 1954: C. Frater to M. Frater, $65,000

Cumberland St., 119: JB Buy Rite LP to S. Pritchard, $73,500

Duke St., 2614: PI Capital LLC to W. & A. Rivera, $88,900

Fulton St., 1710: N. Culver to Cartus Financial Corp., $107,000

Green St., 1615: R. & S. Aulakh to J. Scott, $92,500

Green St., 1902: WCI Partners LP to B. Garner, $180,000

Green St., 2024: Fulton Bank NA to J. Workman & J. Arawj, $139,000

Harris St., 213: J. Counterman to 8219 Ventures, $52,000

Herr St., 215: R. & E. Simons to Crested Enterprises LLC, $77,500

Hoffman St., 3206: Secretary of Veterans Affairs to Skynet Property Management LP, $43,000

Holly St., 1840: Tassia Corp. to Capital Properties LLC, $40,000

Kensington St., 2422: PA Deals LLC to C. & S. Feggins, $68,000

Mulberry St., 1936: C. Doran & A. Burnett to I. Peredo, $64,900

N. 2nd St., 513: T. & J. Male to Cricket Real Estate Enterprises LLC, $165,000

N. 2nd St., 2527: N. Myers to S. & A. Andrus, $193,500

N. 3rd St., 2304: Harrisburg Ventures LLC to FD Harrisburg Holdings LLC, $2,213,700

N. 4th St., 1733: PI Capitol LLC to G. Laudenslager, $100,000

N. 4th St., 2336: S&T Renovations LLC to A. & A. Barras, $58,000

N. 4th St., 2400 & 2402: M. Reed to E&K Homes LLC, $57,000

N. 4th St., 2547: PA Deals LLC to J. Tucker, $61,000

N. 4th St., 3228: A. Wlazlak to J. Tyson, $105,000

N. 4th St., 3231: J. Crutchfield to J. Grant, $79,900

N. 7th St., 2324 & 2350; 655 Seneca St.; 648 Curtin St.: M. Spangler to DAP 7 Curtin LP, $260,000

N. 16th St., 1205: D. Griffin to C. & B. Orellana, $35,000

N. 17th St., 817: G. Andrews to J. Jacob & T. Byrd, $120,000

N. 20th St., 14: Kirsch & Burns LLC to LMK Properties LLC, $32,000

N. Cameron St., 1914: D. Marino to J. Pagliaro, $72,000

Norwood St., 916: M. Flickinger to Crist Holdings LLC, $38,000

Penn St., 1509: D. & D. Dreher to D. Walker, $127,000

Penn St., 1703: B. Houtz to L. Colestock, $155,000

Penn St., 1921: S. Vanscoyc to H. Elliot, $123,000

S. 3rd St., 27: E. & R. Shore to Dewberry LLC, $190,000

S. 17th St., 38: S. Ledesma & M. Figueroa to J. Renteria & C. Figueroa, $30,000

S. 25th St., 713: S. Mosley to Kirsch & Burns LLC, $30,000

S. Front St., 595; 106 Tuscarora St. & 601 Showers St.: J. Barton to Dunkin & Associates LP, $250,000

State St., 231, Unit 202: LUX 1 LP to M. Abuel Jr., $134,900

Tuscarora St., 104: R. Rammouni & Touch of Color to J. Jones, $182,500

Verbeke St., 112: PA Deals LLC to M. & G. Modi, $125,000

Walnut St., 126: Pennsylvania Tourism & Lodging Assoc. to 126 Walnut Street LLC, $75,000

Walnut St., 128: Pennsylvania Tourism & Lodging Assoc. to 126 Walnut Street LLC, $75,000

Walnut St., 1854, 1856, 1858 & 1860: T. Vu & T. Tran to T. Van et al, $145,000

 

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