Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

December News Digest

December 2019 News Digest

Harrisburg Approves 2020 Budget

Harrisburg last month passed a 2020 budget that spends more money on police salaries and debt reduction but does not raise taxes.

City Council approved Mayor Eric Papenfuse’s proposed spending plan with no changes.

“I think this is a sign that the government is working well together,” Papenfuse said.

Councilman Ben Allatt, chair of the council’s budget and finance committee, concurred that this year’s budget process was a smooth one.

“We had a lively discussion [during the budget hearings],” he said. “I think there’s general agreement about the budget priorities going forward.”

Council voted 6-1 to approve the budget, with a lone “no” vote by council member Shamaine Daniels.

The proposed 2020 budget, which contains no city property tax increase for a seventh straight year, totals $120 million, which includes a $74.3 million general fund, a $17.5 million neighborhood services fund and a $15.3 million debt service fund.

Papenfuse expects the city to run a 2019 surplus of about $1 million. He has attributed the surplus mostly to earned income and business taxes that exceeded expectations, which indicates a healthy jobs climate in the city.

Harrisburg will use much of that surplus to increase salaries for police officers, with the hope that a pay boost will help the Police Bureau, which has long struggled with retention, keep its young officers.

In fact, City Council last month also approved a new, six-year collective bargaining agreement with the police union to affirm the new pay schedule.

Under the agreement, the entry-level salary for a police officer will remain the same at almost $49,000 a year. However, an officer would be able to move up in pay quickly, so that officers, in year six, would be able to earn as much as $70,000—some $6,000 more than previously.

In all, the city hopes to add 10 to 15 officers to the force, bringing the personnel count to a budgeted 153 officers.

The police union contract didn’t expire for another year. However, the city opened it up early to create the new salary regimen.

“That will hopefully provide an improved retention for our police force,” Allatt said.

The budget also adds four firefighter positions, mostly paid for by reductions in overtime for existing staff. That would bring the Fire Bureau complement in 2020 to 86 total personnel, plus command staff.

Council also approved a resolution that will amend the city’s agreement with its bond insurer, Ambac Assurance Corp.

Under the agreement, the city will prepay $5 million in debt using its substantial reserve funds. With Harrisburg pre-paying, Ambac has agreed to a “multiplier” that would actually reduce city debt by $6.9 million, Papenfuse has said. He also said he would like to refinance existing general obligation debt that extends through 2022 at a lower interest rate.

The budget contained several other notable provisions.

First, the city and the school district have reached an agreement to split the cost of two school resource officers. The district’s SRO program expired in 2009 when funding dried up and was never renewed.

Papenfuse also is proposing renovating the first floor of the MLK City Government Center. Money for that work would come from federal Community Development Block Grant funds.

For 2020, the city is focusing on five capital improvement projects. These include:

  • Beginning the conversion of much of N. 2nd Street to two-way traffic.
  • A roundabout, improved crosswalks and a partially protected cycle track on N. 7th Street.
  • Road and curb improvements to the MulDer Square area.
  • Safety improvements to State Street on Allison Hill, pending cooperation and approval from PennDOT.
  • “East-West connector” project, which consists of improvements to the area around Walnut and Chestnut streets downtown, funded with a state grant.

These debt reduction and capital improvement measures will tap into the city’s budget reserve balance, which now sits at about $24 million, saved up over the last several years. At the end of 2020, the city expects to draw down the reserve to about $15.6 million, Allatt said.


AutoZone, Dispensary Plans Approved

Two contentious building projects are closer to breaking ground after Harrisburg City Council approved their development plans.

Council last month approved the land use plans for both a medical marijuana dispensary on Allison Hill and an AutoZone store in Uptown Harrisburg.

The dispensary generated the most criticism by council members, who passed the building plan by a slim 4-3 margin, with council members Ausha Green, Danielle Bowers and Shamaine Daniels voting against it.

Members who voted in favor stressed that they did so not because they support the dispensary at 137 S. 17th St., but because the building plan itself met all city requirements, which was the issue at stake.

“The project is in compliance with all the city laws and regulations,” said Councilman Dave Madsen.

A company called WH RE LLC plans to build a 3,000-square-foot medical marijuana retail store directly across the street from Hamilton Health Center on what now is an empty lot.

Over a year ago, the state Department of Health awarded a dispensary license to Local Dispensaries, a related company. City Council has no authority over licensing but had to approve the land use plan for the building.

Green said that she voted against the plan to “send a message” that she was unhappy with a process that, she believes, excluded neighborhood residents.

“I would like to see more community input even before the application gets to the state,” she said.

With the approval, WH RE LLC hopes to break ground on the facility in spring and estimates a four-month-long construction process.

Council last month also approved the land development plan for AutoZone, a Memphis-based auto supply chain, to construct a new retail store at the corner of Maclay and N. 7th streets.

Some council members, as well as the city Planning Bureau, had objected to AutoZone’s original proposal for an access point off of N. 7th Street, saying it would create safety issues. AutoZone later agreed to eliminate that driveway, leaving two others—one on Maclay Street and the other on Peffer Street, Madsen said.

Before it can break ground, AutoZone needs to return to council to have several streets vacated on the four-parcel, 1.13-acre site.

AutoZone made its original proposal to locate on the property, now owned by the Vartan Group, about 16 months ago. It plans a $935,280 project consisting of a 6,816-square-foot store and 37 off-street parking spaces.


Development Plan for Bishop McDevitt

A former professional football player from Harrisburg is leading an ambitious effort to build eco-friendly, mixed-used developments in Harrisburg and beyond, with sights first set on the former Bishop McDevitt High School.

Former NFL lineman Garry Gilliam, a Harrisburg native, is heading up a four-person development team comprised of long-time friends who all attended the Milton Hershey School and Penn State.

“We’re going to build what I believe will help a lot of inner city people who don’t have the means or the resources or the education to do something like this for themselves,” said Gilliam, CEO of the company called The Bridge.

Gilliam spent five years in the NFL playing for the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers, which released him earlier this year.

Gilliam’s concept for The Bridge is wide-ranging. In sum, he wants to take existing, aging urban structures, such as obsolete school buildings, and repurpose them for sustainable, 21st-century needs.

For instance, The Bridge first will create co-working, maker and event spaces within the former Bishop McDevitt, which is located at 2200 Market St. in Harrisburg. Gilliam said that he expects those projects to open in 2020.

Other elements of the proposed “Eco Village” project include sustainable, zero-energy housing, commercial areas and indoor urban agriculture. These pieces, which require more planning and engineering, are planned for future build-outs, Gilliam said.

The Bridge is leasing the Bishop McDevitt site from its owner, William Penn Holdings, which bought the sprawling, 115,000-square-foot building last March from the Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg. The building has been empty since 2013, when the diocese moved the school to a new campus in Lower Paxton Township.

Gilliam said that he also has a proposal before the Harrisburg school district to purchase the former William Penn High School, which includes 25 acres of property near Italian Lake.

He said that, over the years, he had thought up the various elements that he combined together for the overarching concept of The Bridge. Then, last year, he discussed the concept with his friend, Corey Dupree, who came on board as chief operations officer.

The pair then brought on two other friends: Dezwaan Dubois, who now serves as chief information officer, and Rob DeJarnett, who is now is chief financial officer. All attended Milton Hershey and Penn State together.

Gilliam said his funding comes from himself and other investors, mostly other “athletes and entertainers.”

The Bridge plans to engage the community before embarking on its plans, said Dupree.

“Having the community input for everything will be very important,” he said.

This is the second time this year that professional football players from Harrisburg have announced plans to develop in the city.

Over the summer, brothers LeSean and LeRon McCoy bought the former Curtis Funeral Home at the corner of N. 6th and Boas streets and are renovating it into three market-rate apartments, with retail space on the first floor. The McCoy brothers have ambitious plans to build dozens of apartments on that block of N. 6th Street and the adjoining 400-block of Herr Street.

The Bridge also has very ambitious plans. After starting in Harrisburg, the partners hope to expand to other cities. On its website, The Bridge lists such cities as Atlanta, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Houston and Seattle as “pending areas.”


Renovations for Midtown Cinema

Harrisburg’s Midtown Cinema soon will embark on a major renovation that will make over the building’s façade, along with substantial changes to the interior.

Cinema owner Lift Development is expected to begin work in February following the theater’s annual Academy Awards celebration, with the project wrapping up in time for the Harrisburg Jewish Film Festival in May, said Stuart Landon, the cinema’s director of community engagement.

“Our owners are looking to see what ‘s next for us,” Landon said. “Six years ago, Lift made a big investment in the theater, moving us over to digital and improving the movie-going experience. This is the next step for us.”

The changes will feature a sleek, modern exterior look designed by Midtown resident Rich Gribble, an architect with Camp Hill-based ByDesign Consultants.

The façade will feature a mostly glass exterior topped by a new marquee and new fiber cement board panels. On the east side, a wood-and-metal trellis will extend the building’s footprint, with picnic tables underneath for outside seating.

The design, Landon said, gives a nod to the look of old-time movie film.

“It’s very subtle, nothing too heavy-handed,” he said.

Inside, the lobby and concession areas will be reimagined, improving the flow for patrons, and the three theaters will get new soundproofing and possibly new seating, said Landon. The restrooms may also be renovated, he said.

“It’ll be very different, but still warm, with the same feeling that people love now,” he said.

Midtown Cinema’s building dates back to 1940, when it debuted as the Acme Self-Service Market, one of the Harrisburg area’s first supermarkets. It replaced the Reily School building on the site at Reily and Susquehanna streets. The cinema opened in the building in 2001.

Landon said that the cinema will remain operating during the renovations, but with an “adjusted schedule,” since construction work may affect theater use and screening times.

“We’re really excited about this,” Landon said. “The building will better reflect the organization we are and what we want to be.”


New School Superintendent

The Harrisburg school district is making a change in its top leadership, as the acting superintendent is stepping down.

Dr. John George announced last month that he will leave his post on Jan. 1, replaced as acting superintendent by Chris Celmer, formerly the assistant acting superintendent.

“[Celmer] has been here, on site everyday,” said George, who will continue to act as an advisor to the district. “He has, for all practical purposes, already been serving as superintendent and I, more or less, have been serving as an advisor.”

The district receiver, Dr. Janet Samuels, affirmed that she approved Celmer’s promotion.

Celmer and George have worked together for about a decade, first at the Berks County Intermediate Unit and then at the Reading school district. George brought Celmer to Harrisburg as his second-in-command under Samuels, who was appointed school district receiver in June.

George said that he planned to serve full-time in his current post as executive director of the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit until September, when he would retire from that job to lead the Pennsylvania Association of Intermediate Units.

George and Celmer both said that they’ve worked to stabilize the district’s finances, hire competent personnel, instill a solid governing structure and make academic reforms since they arrived in late June. Going forward, the district will focus particularly on academic achievement, they said.

“I’m excited about the opportunity, and I’m very confident that we’ll continue to make great strides in the Harrisburg school district,” Celmer said.

In his final public statement, George again took swipes at two entities that he’s criticized in the recent past: the former leadership of the district, which he described as having a “perverse self-interest,” and PA House Speaker Mike Turzai, who has proposed legislation to give Harrisburg students vouchers to attend private schools.

“Harrisburg school district will be devastated for generations if Speaker Turzai’s ill-conceived voucher bill becomes law,” George said. “On the other hand, with proper governance and leadership, and the support and patience of elected officials, community members, parents and faculty, I foresee much better days ahead for the Harrisburg school district.”


Home Sales Down, Prices Up

Home prices rose overall but lower inventory depressed sales activity in the Harrisburg area in November.

The Greater Harrisburg Association of Realtors (GHAR) stated that the median price of a home rose 3.4 percent last month compared to November 2018. Sales volume, though, fell 4.9 percent as listing inventory dropped 15.5 percent.

In Dauphin County, the median sales price of a house increased to $165,000 from $156,000 in the year-ago period and sales also increased, totaling 271 units versus 259 the prior November.

Cumberland County last month saw sales drop to 235 units from 277 in November 2018, and the median sales price fell to $197,000 from $205,000 a year ago, GHAR said. In Perry County, sales inched up to 33 units versus 31 in November 2018, and the median price was $188,000, a decrease of $1,000.

In its press release, GHAR stated that, “the number of sales was restrained by the lack of inventory.”


So Noted

FLTBYS LLC has purchased a long-time restaurant building across the street from Midtown Cinema, with plans to turn it into a skate shop and recording studio. New York-based recording artist KOTA the Friend is behind the new concept for the building at 263 Reily St., Harrisburg.

Harrisburg will provide waste and recycling collection for Steelton through June 2024 under a new agreement that both municipalities approved last month. Harrisburg’s Public Works Department began providing sanitation services for the neighboring borough last July after Steelton did not renew its contract with the private hauler, Republic Services.

Janeen M. Latin was named last month as the new president/CEO of UCP Central PA, which provides programs and services for people with disabilities and special needs. Latin has been with the organization for nearly 25 years, most recently as COO. She replaces Judith McCowan, who resigned the post in early December.

LettUsKnow is slated to open early this month in the ground-floor retail space at the Bogg on Cranberry in downtown Harrisburg. This will be the second location for the York-based soup, salad and sandwich company, which specializes in healthier eating options.


Changing Hands

Bartine St., 923: St. Webb to Wyco Investments LLC, $80,000

Bellevue Rd., 2028: K. Feucht to D. Bencosme, $51,000

Berryhill St., 2032: B. Clemente to D. Mann, $40,000

Boas St., 255 & 1831 Park St.: A. & A. McBarnett to Three Bridges Holdings LLC, $156,000

Boas St., 1947: W. & F. Thompson to T. Smith, $74,500

Brookwood St., 1929: C. Frank Properties to Inoma Properties East Shore LLC, $44,729

Catherine St., 1525: W. & P. Hinnant to D. McKeon, $54,900

Chestnut St., 1810: J. Phillips & B. Rice to CR Property Group LLC, $33,600

Division St., 503: D. Grossman to M. Grossman, $88,000

Fulton St., 1629: W. Snader to A. Drake, $124,000

Graham St., 500: K. Mussomeli to R. Goad, $129,900

Holly St., 1840: Capital Properties LLC to G. Brown, $39,900

Holly St., 1915: E. & C. Smith to A. Ramsey, $70,000

Jefferson St., 2355: R. & P. Porter to Da Xing Cheng Inc., $32,900

Jefferson St., 2613: Wilmington Trust NA Trustee to R. Garced, $45,000

Kensington St., 2314: W. Sieruk to J. Regalado, $40,000

Kensington St., 2435: BSR Rental Trust to A. & M. Padua, $64,000

Kensington St., 2335: End Properties to J. Collier, $54,000

Lexington St., 2735: R. Guzman & J. Castillo to Invicta Investments LLC, $55,000

Market St., 2015: L. Baer to T. Evans, $300,000

N. 2nd St., 1319: A Black to S. Musser, $116,000

N. 2nd St., 1327 & 1329: St. Kermes to E. Telfer, $127,000

N. 2nd St., 2001: J. Benson & F. Felbaum to Capozzi & Ehring Realty LLC, $155,000

N. 2nd St., 2243: CPenn Properties Old Uptown to D. Olmsted, $160,000

N. 2nd St., 2245: CPenn Properties Old Uptown to D. Olmsted, $173,900

N. 2nd St., 3016: D. Marcheski & L. Boykin to P. Bernd, $190,000

N. 3rd St., 1618: J. King Jr. to B. Kurama & J. Jobarteh, $98,000

N. 5th St., 2455: Integrity Investors LLC to J. & J. Jones, $44,000

N. 5th St., 3131: PA Deals LLC & PDL Properties LLC to Wylie & Wylie Enterprise LLC, $72,900

N. 6th St., 2013: Condor Ventures to L. Christopher, $58,500

N. 16th St., 1300: B. Potter to R. Grullon, $66,000

N. 17th St., 77: J. Menjivar to A. & C. Munoz, $50,000

N. Front St., 1525, Unit 606: J. & A. Scarnati to K. & S. Kramer, $112,000

N. Front St., 1525, Unit 607: J. Rensch to M. & D. Mahoney, $114,000

N. Front St., 2837, Unit 301: D. Soybell & S. Kelleher to M. Mull, $258,000

N. Front St., 2837: Unit 302: D. Soybell & S. Kelleher to S. MacDonald & M. Warner, $130,000

Penn St., 1610: L. Long to K. Bueti, $165,275

Penn St., 1826: S. Jenakavich to A. Virant, $147,250

Penn St., 2218: G. Neff to B. Henderson, $50,900

Reily St., 263: Cool2Zap Properties LLC to FLTBYS LLC, $194,500

Rudy Rd., 2460: N. Kim to DPM Development LLC, $57,000

Rumson Dr., 2828: A. Ott to C. Hinman, $76,000

Schuylkill St., 636: R. & T. Speece to Breaking the Chainz Inc., $33,000

S. 19th St., 16: F. & E. Badman to J. Monegro & Residential Mortgage Services, $50,000

S. 24th St., 704: Valley Real Estate Holdings LLC to C. Allen, $33,000

S. 27th St., 802: H. Earhart to J. & P. Calla, $41,500

S. Cameron St., 400: Brittany Capital to Yellowstone Investment Partners LLC, $760,000

State St., 1302: A. Chambers Jr. to TKO Rental Properties LLC, $36,000

Swatara St., 1627: J. Rodriguez to T. Pickren, $58,000

Swatara St., 2331: D. & J. Soulier to J. Dennis, $134,900

Wyatt Rd., 308: A. & M. Johnston to K. Peterson, $96,000

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