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Harrisburg mayor proposes balanced 2020 budget, asks for salary increases for police, accelerated debt payments

Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse presented his proposed 2020 budget to City Council on Tuesday.

Harrisburg’s mayor had positive financial news to report on Tuesday night, as he presented a proposed budget that would boost pay for police officers and pay down debt over the coming year.

These were some of the main takeaways as Mayor Eric Papenfuse delivered his 2020 budget presentation at the City Council legislative session.

“We have a lot of exciting and positive news tonight,” he told council members. “I’m glad to be able to present a balanced 2020 budget to you.”

The proposed 2020 budget, which contains no 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.

In contrast, the city’s 2019 budget totals nearly $110 million, which includes a $70.8 million general fund, a $20.6 million neighborhood services fund and a $9.8 million debt service fund.

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

“There are more people working in the city,” he said. “They’re earning more money.”

Papenfuse said that he wants to use much of the budget 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.

Under the proposal, the entry-level salary for a police officer would 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 current levels.

“We put the bump at five years, so they’re more likely to stay for a longer time,” said Papenfuse, who is also proposing to add several new lieutenant and captain positions.

In all, Papenfuse said that he would like to add about 10 to 15 officers to the force, bringing the personnel count to a budgeted 153 officers. That increase, though, will come at the cost of higher salaries, so that officers trained by Harrisburg remain with the city, he said.

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

City Council must approve the new, six-year collective bargaining agreement with the police union, which resulted in the introduction of a resolution on Tuesday.

Papenfuse has also proposed adding four firefighters, 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 introduced a resolution on Tuesday that would amend the city’s agreement with its bond insurer, Ambac Assurance Corp.

Papenfuse would like the city to prepay $5 million in debt using the city’s substantial reserve funds. With Harrisburg pre-paying, Ambac has agreed to a “multiplier” that would actually reduce city debt by $6.9 million, Papenfuse said.

“This is a very big deal for the city,” he said.

He also would like to refinance existing general obligation debt that extends through 2022 at a lower interest rate.

During his budget presentation, Papenfuse emphasized several other points.

First, he said that 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.

Secondly, Papenfuse said that UPMC Pinnacle will increase its PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) contribution by about $150,000 for 2020. As a nonprofit, UPMC Pinnacle is not mandated to pay property taxes, but has long made voluntary PILOT payments to the city.

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, Papenfuse said. 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.

City Council is expected to hold two hearings on the 2020 budget next month, with a final vote on the spending plan expected the week before Christmas.

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