Harrisburg City Council had a fine plan on Tuesday night to tie up some loose ends and then clock out for seven weeks for summer recess.
It didn’t work out that way.
Instead, council members will need to return to work at least twice over their summer break or risk losing millions of dollars in federal housing money that funds everything from low-income home repairs to at-risk youth programs to paying off a federal loan.
The city blamed the change of plan on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which issued its notice of funding to Harrisburg on June 10, several months later than usual.
The late notice gives the city just two months to scramble to work with a new technical consultant, determine allocations, hold a public hearing, have a month-long public comment period and finalize its ordinances, all before a mid-August deadline.
“We are under a crunch that is substantial,” said Mayor Eric Papenfuse.
The city now must prepare three ordinances by Friday, including one for the popular Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program.
The city uses this grant, which, in recent years has totaled about $2 million, for city-run housing rehabilitation projects, to help support social service groups and, in recent years, to help pay off the outstanding federal debt associated with the disastrous Capitol View Commerce Center project.
The Friday deadline is necessary so that the city has enough time to properly advertise the meeting for Tuesday evening, when both the action plan will be introduced and a mandated public hearing will be held.
A 30-day comment period will follow, leaving council with just days to meet again on Aug. 6, pass a final ordinance and send it to HUD to make the federal agency’s deadline.
“It’s an all-hands on deck situation,” said city Solicitor Neil Grover.
Papenfuse is holding out some hope that HUD may extend the deadline, but said that the city can’t count on that.
“We’d be asking you to come back twice during your recess,” he told council. “If the federal government would extend the deadline, then you wouldn’t have to come back in August.”
Tuesday’s lengthy, three-hour meeting was marked by periods of bickering between the administration and some council members, especially over the process for re-appointing finance director Bruce Weber to his position.
Council members objected that they needed to act immediately on Weber’s appointment, as his 120-day period serving as “acting” director, following an administrative restructuring, was expiring. After heated exchanges between Papenfuse and several council members, the appointment was approved by a 6-1 vote.
However, in the case of the CDBG funds, both the administration and City Council were on the same page, agreeing that HUD deserved the blame.
“A lot of this is coming down from the federal government,” said Councilman Westburn Majors. “We are acting as expeditiously as possible on this HUD CDBG funding.”