Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Harrisburg lifts hiring freeze, acts to extend lobbying effort as it prepares for Act 47 exit

Harrisburg city hall

After a brief period of austerity, Harrisburg is hiring again.

Mayor Eric Papenfuse said today that he lifted a five-month hiring and spending freeze on Oct. 24, the same day that Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill designed to release Harrisburg from state financial oversight.

Papenfuse declared a moratorium on hiring and non-essential city spending in June. At the time, he said that the freezes would prepare Harrisburg for the eventual loss of $12 million in tax revenue, which would accompany its Act 47 exit in 2021 unless state lawmakers intervened.

The hiring freeze affected 14 unfilled positions in city hall, half of which were represented by bargaining units.

As of Monday, the city was advertising six vacant positions on its website. Papenfuse expects the other unfilled positions to be posted in batches.

The non-essential city spending freeze was also rescinded in October, Papenfuse said today. It did not interrupt any grant funded capital improvement projects, but did lead city officials to re-evaluate in-house spending.

Papenfuse declined to say in June which programs, if any, were curtailed by the freeze.

The bill that Wolf signed in October, House Bill 2557, will temporarily spare Harrisburg the revenue losses that normally occur when a city exits Act 47, as it surrenders the augmented taxing power it exercised under state oversight.

Harrisburg officials have long said that the city cannot survive without its current local services and earned income tax rates, which were both increased under Act 47.

At a House committee hearing in September, Papenfuse testified that the city’s commuter population creates an irreparable structural deficit for the city, since the demands on its infrastructure and emergency services are too great for its small, largely impoverished residential tax base to afford.

House Bill 2557 let Harrisburg retain its current taxing authority for five years under the guidance of a five-member governing board. City officials expect to exit Act 47 in the spring, once the board adopts an agreement with the city granting it oversight powers.

House Bill 2557 won’t allow Harrisburg to keep its current taxing authority in perpetuity, as city leaders initially wanted. But they hope Harrisburg can push for even greater reforms in the future.

Papenfuse also is asking City Council to extend Harrisburg’s contract with the lobbying firm Maverick Strategies, which worked throughout the year to make the city’s case in the statehouse.

The current contract with Maverick was set to expire in December at the end of a one-year, $60,000 term. Papenfuse said today that he hopes to retain their lobbying and intelligence gathering services for at least another year.

City Council will consider a motion to re-hire Maverick at its legislative session tomorrow, which begins at 6 p.m. in city hall.

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