Disputes over salary increases and the allocation of surplus funds led Harrisburg City Council to table Harrisburg’s proposed 2019 municipal budget, which is now scheduled for a vote on Thursday, Dec. 27.
The seven-member council voted unanimously to table two bills codifying Harrisburg’s 2019 budget and tax rates. The $70.8 million budget proposed by Mayor Eric Papenfuse in November called for slightly less spending than last year, flat tax rates, and more than $7 million in capital improvement projects.
The budget was the subject of almost eight hours of budget hearings last week, where council members raised questions about the process for awarding salary increases to city officials.
They also scrutinized the mayor’s proposal to reorganize departments within city hall, a move that would have eliminated the department of Community and Economic Development and migrated its programs to other departments.
The reorganization was driven in part by the departure of former DCED director Jackie Parker, who took a job in the private sector in September. Papenfuse said he was unable to replace the private dollars that partially funded Parker’s position, and invited council to apply for a grant from Impact Harrisburg to fund her replacement.
Though the budget hearings last week were relatively uncontroversial, council budget and finance chair Ben Allatt announced tonight that unresolved disputes with the mayor’s office required council to delay action on the budget.
“I am not in a place where we are in agreement between council and the administration,” Allatt said. “Concessions need to be made and we will work towards that end before we vote on Dec. 27.”
Allatt spoke more strongly after tonight’s hour-long meeting ended in a recess. He said that Mayor Eric Papenfuse was “not willing to concede on anything” related to capital spending, salaries and salary increases, and proposed organizational structures.
“We’re at an impasse,” Allat said. “We have a right to appropriate how funds are spent and there is a disagreement over our ability to do that. We have to come to a meeting of the minds and we’re not there.”
Allatt said this is the first time a budget vote has been delayed since he took his seat on council in January 2014.
Council president Wanda Williams also said after the meeting that some of the disagreements were related to proposed uses for the city’s 2018 budget surplus. Council members have advocated using surplus funds to pay down debt.
“There’s a lot of issues we want to address, and one of the things that’s important is the debt,” Williams said. “We have to take our time. They want to hurry us up and pass the budget, and we can’t do that.”
Williams said that council members have been in and out of meetings with city officials over the past few days, trying to reach a resolution.
Papenfuse left the meeting immediately after it recessed and declined to comment by phone tonight.
Council will reconvene at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 27. State law gives them until Dec. 31 to pass a budget.