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Tag Archives: John Campbell

Screenshot 2013 11 29 10.16.06 1024x568 A Candlelight Tour of Midtown: For 40 years, HHA has showcased the best of Harrisburg.Screenshot 2013 11 29 10.16.23 1024x572 A Candlelight Tour of Midtown: For 40 years, HHA has showcased the best of Harrisburg.

This holiday season, some of the city’s most iconic properties will open their doors to visitors from across the state as Historic Harrisburg Association celebrates four decades of its best-known event: the HHA Candlelight House Tour.

“This is our 40th anniversary, so it’s a pretty big year for us,” said HHA Executive Director John Campbell. “The tour has become a holiday tradition for the organization, and it is now one of the largest in central PA.”

The self-guided tours provide visitors with a chance to enter classic properties that serve as models of city living.

“The first house tour took place in historic Shipoke in 1973, in conjunction with the founding of the organization,” said Campbell. “That was the year after Hurricane Agnes had decimated much of Harrisburg, specifically Shipoke. The event was meant to look at the neighborhood and see what the private homeowners were doing to create urban renewal through a home tour experience.”

Following the initial Shipoke event, there was some question as to whether the tours should continue. HHA founding member Ronn Fink, the owner of Harrisburg’s Bare Wall Gallery who passed away last year, was instrumental in building the tour’s legacy. “The Bare Wall Gallery staged a lot of HHA’s early meetings, and Ronn’s the one that kept the tour together in its early years,” said Campbell.

Fink’s determination to continue offering the Candlelight Tour was based on his dedication to the Historic Harrisburg Association’s mission of creating sustainable communities. “At its core, the Candlelight Tour is about bringing people into the city. It’s about urban renewal, revitalization, historic preservation and city living,” said Campbell. “That’s what Ronn cared about most, and we were very privileged to have him involved. He was the glue that kept the team together.”

With Fink’s guidance, the event continued to thrive, bringing more than 40,000 visitors into various Harrisburg neighborhoods. Past tours have highlighted urban renewal efforts in communities including Academy Manor, Allison Hill, Southside and Bellevue Park.

The 2013 tour, titled “Unique Expressions: Opening Doors for 40 Years,” will take place in Harrisburg’s Midtown neighborhood. “Our offices are in historic Midtown, and we thought that having our anniversary where the heart of our work is would be a great opportunity to showcase what we’ve done over the past 40 years,” said Campbell.

The “Unique Expressions” tour will span 17 properties that incorporate new ideas of urban living and design into historic structures, some of which are over a century old.

“All of the buildings have the consistent theme of revitalization, showcasing how the neighborhood has changed and transformed,” explained Campbell. Colonial, Tudor and Federalist style homes will be open to the public, as well as the Governor’s Mansion and properties designed by renowned architect Charles Howard Lloyd.

Tour-goers will also have access to an exclusive art opening at Studio 919 on Green Street for the exhibit “Expressions of Art.” Curated by Yachiyo Beck, “Expressions of Art” will include pieces by local artists Barbara K. Buer, John Hassler, Sandra G. McKeehan, Joan S. Wolfe and Susan Auchincloss, with a portion of all artwork sold to benefit HHA.

“Visitors will have the opportunity to experience and purchase one-of-a-kind art. Many of the pieces will be displayed for the first time, created by artists who have exhibited around the world,” explained Sloan Auchincloss, who co-owns Studio 919 along with his wife Susan.

The gallery is an addition to the Auchincloss’ home, which will also be featured on the tour, highlighting recent renovations made to the Federalist property, including the addition of a painting studio and handicapped-accessible bathroom. “We hope that visitors can take some of the creative ideas and apply them to their own homes,” said Auchincloss.

The Unique Expressions Candlelight House Tour embodies HHA’s vision of what life in Harrisburg can become.

“When the Historic Harrisburg Association was founded, very few of these buildings were occupied,” concluded Campbell. “You couldn’t even get a mortgage to buy a house in the neighborhood. We want tour-goers to see the revitalization of buildings that were vacant for years and to showcase the transformation that’s happened over the past couple of decades.”

HHA’s 40th Annual Candlelight House Tour will take place Sunday, Dec. 8, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is $15 in advance, $20 on the day of the tour, with proceeds benefitting the Historic Harrisburg Association. Tickets are available through HistoricHarrisburg.com, which also lists locations where tickets can be purchased in person. For more information, visit HistoricHarrisburg.com or contact the HHA by phone at 717-233-4646.

FreedomFromWant1 231x300 TheBurg Cover: An Explanation of Our Parody BurgNovCover 250x300 TheBurg Cover: An Explanation of Our Parody

As many people may know, Norman Rockwell’s classic painting, “Freedom from Want,” depicts an American Thanksgiving dinner (above left) during the 1930s. In it, the family matriarch serves a feast to her hungry brood. 

In our November issue, we used the painting, which has been parodied often, to humorously depict the current political situation in Harrisburg (above right). Our intention was to show Mayor Linda Thompson, with receiver William Lynch standing behind her, offering the main course (the transfer of political power in the city) to Democratic candidate Eric Papenfuse (and two of his principal allies, Joyce Davis and Karl Singleton) on the left side of the table and Republican candidate Dan Miller (and two of his principal allies, John Campbell and Nevin Mindlin) on the right side.

We thought this was a timely concept and cover, given that November is both the month of Thanksgiving and an important election in Harrisburg. In this space, we wished to make clear our intention so that it would not be misinterpreted.

Lawrance Binda, Editor-in-Chief

 

Screen Shot 2013 08 30 at 11.54.04 AM Market in the Middle: Riddled with bureaucracy, Broad Street Market strives to move forward.

Broad Street Market is a study in contrasts. Signs of hope coexist with signs of neglect. Posters announce “Coming soon: Cornerstone Eatery” at a prime spot in the stone building on N. 3rd Street. A pergola-style booth houses the new, pristine Harvest organic foods stand in the brick building that backs onto N. 6th Street.

But inside the stone building, the space is dim—maybe because so many lights aren’t working. Plywood is tacked over worn doors leading into the brick building.

The Broad Street Market is an old-fashioned market looking for new everything. New roof. New doors. New manager. New customers.

Renewal, say market officials and vendors, is around the corner. Envisioned changes in ownership and management, it is hoped, will restore stability, attract vendors and lure new customers.

Scrutiny of the 150-year-old Broad Street Market has intensified as the farm-to-table movement goes mainstream and Midtown Harrisburg cultivates its artsy identity. The Market once thrived, but recent troubles—two shutdowns for pest violations, manager churn, vendor turnover and vacant stands—have tarnished its reputation.

“It’s one thing for a city resident to say, ‘I don’t go there,’” said Broad Street Market board chairman Jonathan Bowser. “It’s another for them to say, ‘I didn’t know they were still open.’”

Still, the market has its assets and charms.

“I’ve seen a lot of improvement,” said vendor Joy Gillette, of Simply Soup & Beyond Café. “A lot of foot traffic is starting to come back. This market is different. You really have to gain the customer’s trust.”

Some of the turmoil can be attributed to the market’s convoluted ownership and management structure. In short: Historic Harrisburg Association owns the Market entity. The city of Harrisburg owns and is responsible for maintaining the buildings, at least on the outside. The for-profit Broad Street Market Corp. board oversees operations and internal maintenance. A manager and facilities manager, hired by the board, run daily operations.

Got that?

“It’s like four carts trying to move along and pull things forward,” said Assistant City Solicitor Carlesha Halkias. “You look to the right, you look to the left, and you’re not really sure where the other is. We’ve worked hard the last several months to make sure that communication is flowing. I think that was a barrier before.”

Coming Soon

Anticipated changes could finally untangle the Gordian knot. HHA has removed its authority to amend the Market board’s by-laws and hopes to dissolve its ownership and become “a friend of the market,” said HHA Executive Director John Campbell. The city’s management lease expires at the end of 2013, and Halkias and Bowser say they’re working together on refinements that clarify responsibilities.

“We still want to have a very strong relationship and partnership with the city but a little more flexibility to manage the way we see best,” said Bowser. For instance, the ability to access funds more quickly would streamline daily operations, he said.

After the contract is finalized—Halkias said the mayor “has not advised me yet” on timing—the board expects an “internal conversation of what we want to look like as an organization,” said Bowser. One strong possibility is restructuring as a nonprofit or community development corporation, capable of seeking federal, state and local grants directly, without having to partner with the city.

Financially, the Broad Street Market earns just enough to pay the bills for its annual $350,000 budget, said Bowser and Campbell. But the market owes NRG an unspecified amount—Bowser said the details are confidential—for past steam bills that, due to an undetected leak, soared as high as $20,000 a month. Today, a gas system, funded by state grants, heats the buildings.

About $220,000 in grant money has been accumulated toward a “cooling mechanism” to remove hot air from the buildings, and Halkias said the city is consulting with contractors to determine the scope of a cooling project.

Vendor Energy

Bowser hopes that board transparency and stronger communications will improve vendor relations, and consistent enforcement of rules and regulations should simplify the manager’s job. Board member Amy Hill sees social media as a “gigantic untapped opportunity” to replicate, in electronic-age style, the word of mouth that once brought customers to the stands.

“It’s still that same sense of community that kept this market alive for 150 years,” she said.

Matthew Hickey co-owns the new Harvest organic foods stand. His co-owner, Joshua Kesler, is developing Stokes Millworks, located just across Verbeke Street, into a farm-to-fork restaurant.

“We know that there’s great potential in the Market, and we know there’s a need for good, healthy fresh food in the city,” Hickey said amid tidy displays of just-picked peaches and tomatoes. “It seems like there’s energy happening within the board, and everyone involved is very progressive. We all have the same vision.”

Vendor Leon Glick, of Two Brothers BBQ, racked up pans heavy with marinated beef and then meticulously cleaned the stainless steel counter while explaining that he invested in stand upgrades to be “courthouse compatible” for the day when a federal courthouse is built at N. 6th and Reily streets.

Some vendors don’t think appearances matter, Glick said, but “just because we have low- to middle-income customers, that doesn’t mean we have to look low class.” Besides, he said, the Market is attracting “a totally different, new clientele here. More people means more business.”

Glick and other vendors have bought joint advertisements, but the market “has not spent anywhere close enough of our rent dollars on advertising,” he said. The motorists zooming past must be convinced to stop.

“I think we’re going to have to spend a lot of money to make money,” Glick said.

###

Addition to the print story: On Aug. 30, the Market announced the exit of HHA as part of its management. The press release follows:

THE BROAD STREET MARKET’S BRIGHT FUTURE

New Governing Structure Announced

HARRISBURG (Aug. 30) – “Fresh start” and “new beginnings” are not words typically associated with an organization with a history more than 150-years old, but that is how leaders of Harrisburg’s Broad Street Market described its new governing structure. The City of Harrisburg owns the landmark brick and stone buildings that make up the Broad Street Market at 3rd and Verbeke Streets in Midtown, but since 1996 the Historic Harrisburg Association has overseen the property and delegated the routine operations to a volunteer board of directors. The new agreement, announced today, simplifies the governing structure. HHA will step aside and a newly formed corporation run by community volunteers will assume direct control of the operational decision making. The city will remain the landlord.

“The change is one step forward in the very long process of revitalizing this community treasure,” said Jonathan Bowser, chairman of the Broad Street Market Board of Directors and Director of Economic Development, Corporate VP for Cumberland Area Economic Development Corporation. “HHA has been a great partner, but the new structure is more efficient. We will be better prepared to leverage funding and other investments to improve the Market when needed.”

HHA’s executive director, John Campbell is equally encouraged by the change. “Historic Harrisburg is proud to continue as an advocate and neighbor to the Broad Street Market; but the time has come for the teenager to leave home and go out on his own,” he joked. “We do not need to be in the managerial position anymore.” Both Bowser and Campbell stressed that the reigns of the Market are not being handed over to a typical private corporation. The Market will be governed by people from the community committed to maintaining its benefit to the neighborhood. Both agreed that change was not getting rid of something that does not work. The mutual decision to restructure will allow the Broad Street Market to focus on meeting the community’s need for a thriving farmer’s market in the city and to free up HHA to pursue its mission of historic preservation and building a sustainable community for the City of Harrisburg.

The Broad Street Market boasts 34 vendors providing fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, cheeses, baked goods and other grocery items as well as diverse, ethnic and fresh prepared foods. It is located at 1233 North Third Street, Harrisburg, PA 17102 and hours of operation are Wednesday: 7a.m. – 2 p.m. (limited vendors); Thursday – Friday: 7 a.m. – 5 p.m.; and Saturday: 7 a.m. – 4 p.m. There is ample free parking surrounding the market. For more information, visit www.broadstreetmarket.org.

# # #

NOTE: Jonathon Bowser and John Campbell are available for individual interviews and guided tours of the market. Contact Amy Hill at abhill@pacatholic.org or 717-343-9475 to arrange.

For more information, contact:

Amy B. Hill, APR

717-343-9475

abhill@pacatholic.org

TheBurg citymap Non Profit Problem: About half the property in Harrisburg is nontaxable. Can anything be done about it?

Non-profits in downtown Harrisburg.

Forum Place. Harrisburg Hospital. The Farm Show complex. The state Capitol.

Four places, four very different businesses, one thing in common—all are regarded as nonprofit entities, so pay no property taxes to their host city, Harrisburg.

According to the city treasurer’s office, Harrisburg is home to 716 parcels that are tax-exempt due to their non-profit status. Making the situation even more difficult: more than 75 percent of those parcels belong to either the government or government-related entities, which by law cannot be taxed, according to the Harrisburg receiver’s office.

So, what’s a city to do?

For years, the answer was “not much,” as the state did with Harrisburg pretty much what it wanted. Condemn and raze entire neighborhoods? Sure. Turn local streets into forbidding, perilous highways to accommodate suburban workers? Why not? Expand and take more properties off the tax roles? OK.

During the past century, the city has toggled between actively participating in its own destruction by facilitating the state’s unquenchable thirst for more land and, more recently, lamely complaining in City Council meetings and mayoral press conferences that the state does not pay its fair share for the services it consumes.

Last month, the situation changed somewhat. The state passed a 2013-14 budget that gave Harrisburg $5 million in “fire protection” funds, representing the largest-ever direct infusion of cash from the state as part of a regular budget process.

However, as it stands right now, that level of funding is a one-shot, one-year deal. Meanwhile, there are numerous other issues emerging that could affect the capital city’s relationship with the many nonprofit entities that call Harrisburg home.

State of the State Funding

To say that John Campbell was surprised would be an understatement.

“I’ll be honest with you—I was shocked,” said Campbell, Harrisburg’s treasurer.

Campbell was speaking of the $5 million the state coughed up to the city, double the amount allocated in the 2012-13 budget. His surprise was heightened by the fact that House Republicans, in their budget plan, had already slashed the allocation to $496,000.

Most city officials, including Mayor Linda Thompson, expected the amount to increase once the budget bill was finalized. In the end, however, it surpassed nearly everyone’s expectations.

“It’s a figure we’ve never received before,” Campbell said.

State Sen. Rob Teplitz said he and Rep. Patty Kim had worked hard to get funding restored, hoping to reach $4 million, a figure most city officials had set their eyes on. Receiver William Lynch lobbied Gov. Tom Corbett and Republican legislative leaders for another $1 million, which is how Harrisburg ended up with $5 million for this fiscal year, said Teplitz.

“It really is a windfall,” he said. “But we’re not asking for extra payment. We’re only asking for fair compensation.”

That fair compensation is, technically speaking, for protecting state buildings from fire, thus the money is accounted for in the state budget’s line item for fire protection. In fact, according to Teplitz, the city had to pledge the money would go only for that purpose.

However, it’s a stretch to believe that 60 percent of the city Fire Bureau’s $8.4 million budget goes to safeguarding the 40 buildings that constitute the Capitol complex. The money, in fact, flows to the city’s general fund, which does include the Fire Bureau, but also includes most other parts of the city government. So, money that goes into the Fire Bureau budget simply frees up funds elsewhere for the financially strapped, indebted city.

In the end, the state uses fire protection as a politically expedient way to compensate Harrisburg. It’s simply easier to fund a single, existing line item for a specific use than to transfer money into the general fund of the much-criticized and ostracized city. Besides, firefighters have hero clout lacking in, let’s say, the city’s IT department.

Harrisburg is happy to go along with this process because the state has habitually underfunded the city for services rendered: use of its roads, its emergency services, its public works and sanitation staff. Each weekday, the population of Harrisburg doubles, largely due to the presence of the state government, with the small population of the largely poor city left to pick up the tab of this white-collar invasion.

Until this year, the state has never owned up to its obligation as, by far, the largest employer and landowner in Harrisburg. Exempt from having to pay property taxes, the legislature allocated whatever it wanted, with the amount bouncing around from year to year. So, under the Reed administration, the state often provided just over $1 million. In 2010, that amount was cut to $987,000 and then to $496,000 in 2011. After the city’s financial crisis hit full-on, the state used the line item to assist the city to the tune of $2.5 million for 2012 and now $5 million.

City officials seem satisfied with that level—that $5 million finally compensates the city fairly. The problem, however, is that the funding level is not guaranteed going forward. It’s subject to the legislature’s annual horse-trading extravaganza known as the budget process. So, will the state reduce funding again once the city’s finances stabilize or when Corbett is no longer governor or Lynch is no longer receiver? No one knows.

Teplitz said he’s introducing legislation in the fall that would stabilize Harrisburg’s state funding, ensuring the city fair compensation in the fire protection line item that also would allow it to plan financially from year to year.

“The legislation would require the actual cost to get reimbursed,” he said.

Teplitz acknowledged passing such legislation would be an uphill climb, but vowed to put in a strong effort.

“Then we wouldn’t have to go begging every year,” he said.

PILOT Programs

In Harrisburg, after the state government, the next largest block of tax-exempt properties in the city belongs to PinnacleHealth System, one of the area’s largest healthcare providers, which is listed as a non-profit 501(3), the IRS’s designation for a tax-exempt organization. In the city, healthcare providers alone account for 11 percent of the non-taxable properties. If taxed, the PinnacleHealth parcels alone would bring in more than $1.13 million in property tax revenue, according to the receiver’s report.

But Pinnacle, like many other non-profits, instead makes Payments In Lieu of Taxes (PILOTs) to the city, amounting to more than $120,000 a year. Pinnacle spokeswoman Kelly McCall said in an e-mail that a 1998 court settlement prevented her from discussing specifics.

“Our PILOT was established through the Settlement Agreement, and the Agreement contains a confidentiality provision. We do make PILOT payments to the City of Harrisburg, Harrisburg School District and Dauphin County,” McCall’s e-mail said.

“PinnacleHealth provided more than $14.8 million in community benefits and reached more than 2.1 million people through programs and services, such as free screenings, community health education and chronic disease management in fiscal year 2012.

In addition, PinnacleHealth has supported numerous initiatives within Harrisburg, including increasing access to healthcare for the underserved through the Keystone Continuum, donating to maintain extracurricular activities and athletic programs in the Harrisburg School District and providing nutrition and physical activity education and meals to Harrisburg School District students,” she continued.

Overall, Harrisburg received a total of more than $420,000 in PILOTs in 2009, $410,244 in 2010 and $420,286 in 2011. According to city records, Harrisburg anticipates, in its 2013 budget, receiving about $425,000 in PILOTs. Next to Pinnacle, PHEAA, the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, state is the second biggest PILOT contributor, sending in $107,444.79 each year for properties in the city.

“Under the Purely Public Charities Act, (Act 55), any PILOT payments are totally voluntary on the part of the non-profit,” said Cory Angell, a spokesperson for city receiver Lynch.

While a noteworthy addition to any municipal budget, PILOTs rarely constitute more than 1 percent of any total budget, according to an exhaustive 2010 nationwide study of the issue conducted by the Lincoln Institute for Land Policy. In Harrisburg, PILOTs account for about three-quarters of 1 percent of the budget, a figure largely unchanged for the past decade.

Tony Ross, president of the United Way of Pennsylvania, which has members who partner with more than 5,000 not-for-profit social service agencies statewide, said that standardizing a definition of what is and what is not a non-profit in Pennsylvania would help eliminate the fear that smaller non-profits—which have fewer assets and resources than the healthcare behemoths—end up bearing an undue share of the tax burden if stripped of their tax-exempt statuses. It would also help clear up the issue of just what qualifies as a non-profit from county to county.

“We’re concerned that non-profits are getting lumped into one group,” Ross said.

Ross explained that many of his affiliates, which tend to be smaller, community-based organizations, lack the assets and resources of the healthcare giants. What is a PILOT to PinnacleHealth could be a life or death situation to a smaller organization, he said.

“From what I can tell, those sorts of distinctions aren’t being made,” Ross said.  “Whatever is done, it needs to be uniform across the state.”

“This tension has been going on for a long time,” said Joe Geiger, who until recently was the long-time director of the Pennsylvania Association of Non-Profit Organizations. “It wouldn’t even be close to enough money to offset the deficit. And there are some unintended consequences that could occur where some non-profits who are currently operating in Harrisburg may decide they need to find a more favorable environment in which to operate.” 

“Poor decisions like that are what happened with the incinerator. That’s where the problem is. It’s not the fact that non-profits aren’t paying taxes,” Geiger said. 

“Very few non-profits are property tax-exempt,” Geiger explained.  “Most of them rent their properties and pay their taxes through the rent that they pay. So, when you look at the amount of debt that Harrisburg is in and you look at the amount of money that they could leverage out of charities, it’s not going to come anywhere close to the solution.” 

“Non-profits and the local government ought to be working together to look at solutions, not taking each other to court,” he said.

Baseball & Bathrooms

After the state and PinnacleHealth, a host of smaller nonprofits dot the Harrisburg landscape (see map). In fact, you can walk through much of downtown and Midtown and hit one after another.

Did you know that Metro Bank Park is still owned by the city, so is tax-exempt even though Harrisburg sold the Senators baseball team in 2007? The team now leases the ballpark from the city.

The restrooms at Sunshine Park on Herr Street are also tax exempt, as is the controversial Forum Place building on Walnut Street, even though it’s valued at more than $63 million.

Rep. Patty Kim, a first-year Democrat representing Harrisburg’s 103rd district, said she thinks it’s time for a public hearing as legislators have been getting lots of mail from the public. She also said she thinks that the non-profit designation should be made closer to home.

“I think it should be a municipal decision if it comes to that because, if the state does it, it’s going to be like a cookie-cutter formula that doesn’t fit with everybody’s unique situations in the city,” she said.

Kim said she was working with Rep. Robert L. Freeman, a Democrat from the 136th district representing Easton and Northampton County, as a future co-sponsor of a proposed bill that would ensure additional resources to cities like Harrisburg that have a disproportionate number of tax-exempt properties.

Speaking of legislation, a legislative solution is brewing that could expand the definition of a non-profit in Pennsylvania, which might further impact Harrisburg.

In June, the House Finance Committee stopped short of a vote on a proposed law that would amend the state constitution to give the General Assembly the power to define a tax-exempt non-profit statewide. The House was taking its look at the proposed new standards, known as Senate Bill No. 4, after the Senate approved it in March.

Pinnacle’s McCall said that Pinnacle is also closely watching the progress of the proposed constitutional amendment, which likely would lead to a more liberal definition of what qualifies to be a non-profit.

“PinnacleHealth supports the legislation, as it will provide clarity and uniform treatment of charities throughout Pennsylvania,” she said.

In Pinnacle’s case, its payments are made as a result of a 1998 settlement reached with the Dauphin County Board of Assessment Appeals after the hospital appealed the county’s decision stripping the hospital’s tax exempt status in 1993. The reason the tax board took the hospital off the tax-exempt rolls? The county was not satisfied that the hospital had continued to meet the five-prong “HUP test”—established by a 1985 court decision to help determine what is a non-profit—because it engaged in competitive practices with other local healthcare providers.

Dauphin County Judge Richard A. Lewis later agreed, ruling that Pinnacle’s acquisition of local private physician practices as part of its expansion of an integrated healthcare system evidenced a private profit motive on the part of the hospital.

“The taxing authorities argue that the physician practices compete with private physicians and that such competition is evidence of a private profit motive. This court finds that [Pinnacle] cannot compete while still maintaining its charitable mission and charitable nature,” Lewis wrote.

Eric Montarti, senior policy analyst with the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, a Pittsburgh-based non-profit taxpayer interest research group, said that hospitals, in a sense, are placed in a vulnerable position since no one wants to be seen as wishing to start taxing churches and schools.

“Take away these things that you’re never going to tax. Take away these things that the politicians are never going to go after, and what are you left with?”

Pittsburgh, like Harrisburg, has an Act 47 problem, the legislative term used to describe when the state appoints an outsider to oversee a city’s finances because the municipality is so far in debt that it has been declared a financially “distressed” city. In 2004, Pittsburgh began grappling with a $34.3 million deficit.

“It obviously didn’t solve the city of Pittsburgh’s issue,” he said.

Harrisburg, a city with a $56.3 million budget, currently faces an operating deficit of about $12 million and a $350 million debt tied to its botched incinerator retrofit, which has pushed the city to the brink of bankruptcy.

Montarti said that trying to, in effect, indirectly tax tax-exempts is the wrong direction to take as nonprofits attract people who, for example, buy properties in the municipalities and therefore later end up paying property taxes. Montarti said that those same people also end up paying taxes on local services while otherwise helping to support the local economy. The city, instead of trying to tax non-profits, should first get its own fiscal house in order, he said.

“Our argument would have been, ‘Well, okay, the city of Pittsburgh really needs to look at what it’s spending and what it’s doing in terms of how many services it provides, how many people it employs, how much cooperation there is between it and the county on similar services,’” he said.

People have made the same point about Harrisburg. Over the past few years, however, Harrisburg has slashed and slashed and slashed. The once-bloated city government now is down to its bare bones, challenged to deliver even basic services.

After years of underfunding its obligations, the state government has finally stepped up—at least for one year. PinnacleHealth also has shown that it’s willing to be civic-minded. Will other nonprofits follow suit? Given the city’s vast financial needs, PILOT payments may never amount to too much. However, Harrisburg does provide these nonprofit organizations with vital services. Given its desperate shape, the city is searching for every penny it can find.

Reggie Sheffield is a freelance reporter in Harrisburg.  He may be reached at troylus@comcast.net.

 

 

Financial Agreement Near

The major parts of a deal to resolve Harrisburg’s financial crisis are nearly in place, receiver William Lynch announced last month.

These include sale of the city’s incinerator, lease of the parking assets, negotiations with creditors and final agreements with the city’s trade unions.

Lynch expects most of the remaining issues to be resolved this month, including the sale of the debt-laden incinerator to the Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority.

“All the stakeholders involved in the sale of the incinerator are in agreement,” said Lynch, who added that the city’s creditors also finally understand that they must negotiate in earnest and might have to accept less than they’re owed.

In addition, the city must finalize an agreement with the firefighter’s union. The city’s police union finalized a new contract in June.

The goal, Lynch said, was to pay off about $600 million in debt, including $350 million related to the incinerator, while allowing the city to regain fiscal solvency over the long-term.

“This plan will create important new revenue streams to help the city reduce its structural deficit and spur economic growth,” said Lynch. “The parking agreement may very well become a national model.”

Many aspects of a final plan must be OK’d by City Council and then approved by the Commonwealth Court, actions that should begin to take place this month.

 

HUD Funds Distributed

The Harrisburg City Council last month dispersed nearly $1.8 million in federal funds designed to assist housing and community development.

In the annual distribution of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds, 13 social service organizations received a total of nearly $500,000. Another $550,000 went to various city housing programs.

Community-based organizations that received funds were:

  • The Fair Housing Council of the Capital Region: $45,000
  • Community Action Commission: $25,000
  • Harrisburg Police Athletic League: $25,000
  • Latino Hispanic American Community Center: $25,000
  • Christian Recovery Aftercare Ministries: $20,000
  • Christian Love Ministries: $10,000
  • Camp Curtin YMCA: $100,000
  • YWCA of Greater Harrisburg: $25,000
  • Broad Street Market Corp.: $47,739
  • Rebuilding Together of Greater Harrisburg: $25,000
  • Habitat for Humanity of Greater Harrisburg: $75,000
  • African-American Chamber of Commerce: $10,000
  • Harrisburg Housing Authority: $65,000

 City programs that received funding were:

  • Homeownership Opportunities Program: $100,000
  • Home Emergency and Lead Repair Program: $100,000
  • Home Improvement Program: $200,000
  • Emergency Demolition: $150,000

Lastly, a large part of the funds were used for administrative/debt obligations. Debt service ate up $367,567 of the CDBG grant, while $353,826 was allotted for administration and “indirect” costs.

 

Auction Proceeds Tallied

Harrisburg recouped about half of what was spent on museum artifacts following a weeklong auction last month on City Island.

Auction sales totaled about $3.1 million for the 8,000 or so items, according to New York-based auctioneer Guernsey’s. Minus the auction fee, the city kept about $2.57 million, money that will pay off a loan taken out in 2006 that used the artifacts as collateral.

Harrisburg had received $1.6 million during two previous sales of another 2,000 items, bringing the proceeds from museum artifacts to $4.17 million. A follow-on auction of historic documents in September should increase that total some more.

Former Mayor Stephen Reed spent at least $8.3 million in public funds on these artifacts in his dream to turn Harrisburg into a museum mecca. Most of the artifacts auctioned were for an “Old West” museum he wanted to build, while some were for a proposed African American history museum.

 

Zoning Board Rejects 3 Projects

The Harrisburg Zoning Hearing Board last month turned down several proposals, all of which had generated neighborhood opposition.

Bethel AME Church had wanted to re-establish a surface parking lot at its site at the corner of N. 6th and Herr streets.

The historic church, located on the 1700-block of N. 5th St., long occupied the 6th Street site, but its building burned down in 1995. It then ran a commercial parking operation there until 2010, when its special exception, under challenge by the community, was not renewed.

The church’s new pastor, the Rev. Micah Sims, pleaded with the board to allow it to resume renting out parking until it could execute a redevelopment plan. The board, however, sided with members of Fox Ridge Neighbors who argued in opposition, stating the church would have no incentive to sell or develop the property.

In other action, the zoning board:

  • Rejected a variance/special exception request by developer Gary Wilson, who wanted to construct two two-family houses on vacant land at 1308 Green St. Neighbors testified in opposition, saying that four rental units were not in the best interest of the community.
  • Rejected a variance request from developer Paul Peffley to locate a convenience store/deli on the ground floor of an historic building he’s redeveloping at the corner of N. 3rd and Hamilton streets. That application met with opposition from residents of Engleton, who feared a negative impact on their neighborhood.
  • Approved a variance to turn the ground floor of the former Barto Building, at N. 3rd and State streets, into restaurant and retail space. Brickbox Enterprises would like a restaurant to locate in the former Barto Building, which the company is transforming into the LUX condominium building
  • Approved a variance to allow a church, Iglesia Pentecostal Jesucristo La Roca, to locate at 913 N. 2nd St., which once housed La Kasbah restaurant.

 

Mayor, Treasurer Clash over Fund Transfers

Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson last month asked for a significant increase in the amount of money her administration can reallocate without approval by City Council, a request that drew strong opposition from city Treasurer John Campbell.

Thompson asked for permission to transfer as much as $50,000 within the approved budget without the consent of council, up from the current level of $20,000.

The request prompted Campbell to write a strongly worded memo, urging council to deny the request.

“While this legislation may seem like an opportunity to allow for great flexibility in spending by the administration, it is my opinion that this legislation will only reduce the proper controls that are presently in place and exercised by City Council,” Campbell wrote. “If this legislation were to be approved, budget transfers would begin to become more frequent and thus negate the importance of passing a proper and reasonable budget annually.”

Every year, the council approves numerous reallocations, as some departments spend more or less than budgeted during the year. Campbell fears that increasing the reallocation threshold to $50,000 would give the administration too much leeway to transfer large sums of money outside of the regular budget process and without proper oversight.

The administration’s proposed ordinance was sent to the council’s Budget and Finance Committee for further review and possible action.

 

$5 Million for Fire Protection, $0 for Revitalization

Harrisburg received a split decision from the state last month, as the legislature approved a record $5 million in fire protection funds, but excluded the city from a new revitalization program.

City officials were pleasantly surprised—even shocked—by the $5 million allocation in the 2013-14 budget, meant to offset the city’s costs of protecting the Capitol complex from fire. That figure is double the amount allotted last year and far more than the $496,000 that House Republicans had approved in their budget plan.

Harrisburg’s state legislators were pushing for $4 million, but late lobbying by receiver William Lynch upped that amount by another $1 million, said state Sen. Rob Teplitz.

The money technically goes to secure the state’s 40 buildings from fire, accounting for the bulk of the Harrisburg Fire Bureau’s $8.4 million budget. However, it actually flows to the city’s general fund, which frees up money for other uses by the highly indebted, insolvent city.

As the state was giving, it also was taking away, as it purposely excluded Harrisburg from participating in a just-launched revitalization program.

The new state budget funded a City Revitalization and Improvement Zone program, which will funnel money to small cities each year to assist in the redevelopment of distressed areas. However, language in the law prohibits any city under state receivership from participating, a designation that applies only to Harrisburg.

 

Kiosks, Online Payments Come to Harrisburg

Harrisburg bill-payers have several new options available to them, as two computerized payment kiosks, as well as an online payment system, came on line last month.

The two kiosks are located in City Hall outside the city treasurer’s office and at the Giant Food Store in Kline Village, said Treasurer John Campbell, who added that a third kiosk would be located in a yet-to-be-determined location Uptown.

Denver-based EZ Pay Corp. is providing the kiosks at no cost to the city, said Campbell.

In addition, bill-payers now can pay online at www.harrisburgpayments.com or by calling 888-243-3456. Campbell said he expected the online bill-paying portal to be integrated with the city’s website soon.

Through these mechanisms, residents can pay most common bills, including for utilities, property taxes and traffic fines. A convenience fee will be added to each payment based upon the amount of the transaction, averaging $3 for most utility bills and $1 for most parking tickets, said Campbell.

Campbell expects the city, the Harrisburg Authority and the school district to save “at least” $80,000 a year by not having to pay the credit card transaction fee.

 

City to Receive State Loans

Harrisburg last month was awarded state funding for two major infrastructure projects, including for utility repair at the Uptown sinkhole site.

Harrisburg received a $900,000 low-interest loan through PENNVEST for repairing water and sewer infrastructure damaged by the sinkhole on the 2100-block of N. 4th Street, said state Sen. Rob Teplitz.

In addition, the Harrisburg Authority received a $26 million low-interest loan, administered by PENNVEST, for upgrading the city’s wastewater treatment facility, said Teplitz.

The improvements will bring the plant’s ammonia and nutrient reduction requirements into compliance with U.S. Department of Environmental Protection regulations. This $53 million project also will receive $26.7 million in outside financing and a $973,000 H20 PA grant, Teplitz said.

 

MLK Street Renaming on Hold

Harrisburg’s financial crisis seems to have doomed another proposal: the effort to supplement the name of N. 2nd St. downtown by adding “Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.”

Last March, the administration made the proposal, which the City Council then sent on to the council’s Public Works Committee.

Committee Chairwoman Sandra Reid said she was in favor of the change, which would give the historic street both names from Chestnut to Forster streets. However, the $6,000 to $8,000 cost of replacing 63 street signs could not be justified, she said.

“We have an ongoing concern that our parks and waterways are not being maintained,” she said.

Last year, park maintenance was transferred from the city’s Parks and Recreation Department to the Public Works Department, which since has been criticized for lax maintenance, particularly in Riverfront Park.

 

Miller: Still In Mayor’s Race

City Controller Dan Miller last month took a step towards running for Harrisburg mayor as a Republican, filing an affidavit affirming his eligibility for the office.

Miller lost in May in the Democratic primary to businessman Eric Papenfuse. However, he won the Republican nomination by gaining 196 write-in votes.

As of press time, Miller hadn’t yet paid the $25 filing fee, which must be received by the Dauphin County Office of Elections and Voter Registration by Aug. 12.

If he decides to run, Miller will face independent candidates Nevin Mindlin and Nate Curtis, in addition to Papenfuse. The general election is slated for Nov. 5.

 

Leak Won’t Close Jackson-Lick Pool

An Uptown pool will be open for the remainder of the summer after a major leak was quickly repaired.

City officials feared the Jackson-Lick pool, located at 1201 N. 6th St., would have to close after it lost about 450,000 gallons of water in a week.

“The city considered closing the pool,” said COO Robert Philbin. “However, we were able to keep the pool open while resolving the problem. City Engineer Paul Francis was able to locate and stop the pool water leakage with the assistance of a diver from the Harrisburg River Rescue.”

The city’s other public pool at Hall Manor on Allison Hill has been shut since last year after persistent leaks led to the finding that its foundation must be rebuilt.

The city’s Engineering Bureau is preparing a maintenance and repair plan to bring both pools back to full operation next season, said Philbin.

 

Farmers Co-op Debuts

Harvest, a new farmers cooperative, opened last month in the brick building of the Broad Street Market, bringing fresh produce and other goods to Harrisburg from more than a dozen area farms.

The co-op is the brainchild of developer Josh Kesler and chef Matthew Hickey, who is managing the business on a day-to-day basis.

“Our commitment is to build a relationship between the farmers and local consumers, providing healthy, sustainable local food, as well as helping to revitalize the Broad Street Market, which we believe will regain its position as the breadbasket of our region,” said Kesler.

The stand itself is unique for the Market, built from reclaimed lumber from the Stokes Millworks building across the street. Kesler recently bought that building and has begun renovating it for a farm-to-plate restaurant, which should open late next year.

 

New School in Strawberry Square

This month, the nonprofit Aegis Education Endeavor (AEE) will open in Strawberry Square, offering a new cyber charter school that “combines art, athletics and industry.”

The 2,800-square-foot facility will take space at 306 Market St. in downtown Harrisburg.  Aegis is partnering with Achievement House Cyber Charter School, a public online school chartered by the state to serve students in grades 7 to 12.

In addition to an education program, Aegis will offer activities to cyber school students and to students learning at home, public or private schools, said founder Denni Boger.

“Strawberry Square is the perfect site for AEE because it is centrally located to be available to students from surrounding school districts who may wish to use public transportation to access the facility,” said Boger.

Aegis will hold an open house and orientation at its new facility on Aug. 7, 1 to 7 p.m.

 

Changing Hands

Adrian St., 2256: Burner Properties LLC to B. Britton, $57,000

Bellevue Rd., 1921: A. & S. Jawhar to CNC Realty Group LLC, $63,500

Cumberland St., 114: B. Cohen to L. Larrieu, $132,000

Green St., 1925: F. Shannon to W. Gonzalez, $215,000

Mulberry St., 1158: E. Grill to S. Elazouni, $59,900

N. 3rd St., 1702: Fannie Mae to M. Mayhew, $75,000

N. 5th St., 1732: Freddie Mac to B. Harris, $100,000

N. 6th St., 2559 & 2561: Deutsche Bank Trustee & Company Americas Trustee to V. Acosta, $31,500

N. 20th St., 32: U.S. Bank Trustee & Pa. Housing Finance Agency to G. Carter & V. Diaz, $52,400

N. Front St., 1705: Rolleston Corp. to WCI Partners LP, $400,000

N. Front St., 2515: Centric Bank to 324 Mishika LLC, $175,000

Penn St., 1716: B. Andreozzi to D. Rhodes, $131,000

Reily St., 311: R. Heath to S. McLearn, $85,500

Rudy Rd., 2465: P. Lemmo to R. Harper, $75,000

Sayford St., 235: R. DeLong to JLS Rentals LLC, $35,000

Showers St., 612: D. & S. Hickethier to M. Murphy & V. Halchak, $166,000

S. Front St., 317: M. & J. Hankins to M. Homa, $115,000

Swatara St., 1321: D. & J. Boyle to J. Rodriguez & J. Vasquez, $33,900

Sycamore St., 1520: L. Miller Jr. to M. Brunner, $97,500

Wallace St., 1529 & 1531; 1513, 1515 & 1517 N. 6th St., $144,100: Buonarroti Trust to U.S. General Services Administration, $144,100

Source: Dauphin County, for sales exceeding $30,000. Data is assumed to be accurate.

Two decades ago, when I was a young pup in the journalism biz, an editor gave me an assignment that I thought the height of absurdity.

I was told to “localize” the Rodney King riots.

I should mention that, at the time, I worked nowhere near Los Angeles or even in a city. I was at a newspaper in north-central New Jersey in a suburban county that was probably 99 percent white.  Essentially, I was being told to go find some black people to talk to.

“I think that this event is as historic to blacks as the JFK assassination was to the country,” said my overly confident, middle-aged white editor, as if he knew what in the world he was talking about.

Since then, I’ve scoffed at the old journalism nugget of localizing national stories, so was hesitant this morning to join the media throng, which was assembling in full force at the LGBT Community Center of Central Pa., to hear the Supreme Court’s decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8.

By the time I got there, satellite trucks already lined N. 3rd Street in front of the center in Midtown Harrisburg. Inside, a large bank of cameras peered onto the rows of folding chairs that the Center’s Executive Director Louie Marven had hurriedly put out. In front, he had set up a screen with a Twitter feed that gave real-time updates of the decisions.

As the 10 a.m. announcement neared, most of the seats were occupied. I sat in the front row chatting with Center board President Stuart Landon about this and that. Then someone said, “Quiet, quiet,” and the buzz in the room silenced.

The decision was in: a split court ruled DOMA to be unconstitutional. A loud cheer went up. People hugged. “Of course, it’s unconstitutional!” one woman called out, expressing her personal belief more than the inevitability of the decision.

For the next 10 minutes, people huddled in groups to discuss specifically what this meant in Pennsylvania. Not too much at the moment, they agreed. Still, it was necessary, they said, both in terms of the continuing battle for equality and for ensuring that Pennsylvania couples are not denied federal benefits once the commonwealth approves same-sex marriage, which they vowed to work hard to make happen.

In contrast, the subsequent decision over Prop 8, which basically sent the matter back to Californians to decide for themselves, was something of a letdown, but generally didn’t surprise the crowd.

“This is what I expected to happen,” said City Treasurer John Campbell, who viewed the day’s decisions as another step forward in the fight.

I can’t say that the day’s events changed my mind about the value (or lack thereof) of localizing national stories. I still think it’s cheap, brainless journalism, such stories assigned by editors who rarely leave their cubicles and know nothing about the communities they allegedly serve.

But, on this day, there actually was a story — and a good one at that — as a roomful of people rejoiced together, believing momentum was on their side, that, some day soon, gay couples in the Harrisburg area would enjoy legal equality in their relationships.