Harrisburg took the next small step forward in its long fiscal recovery process today, as the state board tasked with overseeing a five-year financial plan met for the first time.
The five-member Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (ICA) held an organizational meeting in city hall, articulating its broad goals and appointing member David Schankweiler as chairman.
“I know we take our charge very seriously,” said Schankweiler, former CEO of Journal Multimedia, following the unanimous appointment.
Nonprofit consultant Audry Carter was appointed vice chair, and Tina Nixon, an executive with UPMC Pinnacle, was appointed secretary/treasurer. The authority’s other two members are Harrisburg attorney Kathy Speaker MacNett and Ralph Vartan, CEO of real estate company Vartan Group.
According to Schankweiler, the authority’s first job is to hire a part-time executive director. In addition to this position, the authority’s $100,000 annual budget must pay for legal assistance, an annual audit and website design, he said.
The state legislature created the ICA last year as part of legislation to allow Harrisburg to exit Act 47, the state’s program for financially distressed municipalities, yet retain certain elevated taxation levels for five years.
Now that it’s met for the first time, the ICA and the city have 90 days to adopt an Intergovernmental Cooperation Agreement and a five-year financial recovery plan. After this, the city can petition the state to exit Act 47, which should happen by this summer, said Mayor Eric Papenfuse.
Papenfuse and other city officials attended today’s meeting, which was marked by supportive words from both sides.
“You did an excellent job of getting the city out of a dire situation from a few years ago,” Schankweiler told Papenfuse. “We look forward to working with you and your staff over the coming months.”
Papenfuse thanked the ICA members for committing time to work on the volunteer board and for acting as liaisons between the city and the legislature. He added that he didn’t anticipate any major problems going forward, as the city already expects to have balanced budgets for the five-year life of the authority.
“We are in a solid and sustainable place for the near future,” said Papenfuse. “So, we have some time to work through the long-term strategies.”
Early in the meeting, authority members introduced themselves, with each stating their dedication to the city’s welfare and progress. By terms of the legislation, ICA members had to either live in or own a business in the city—and some qualified on both counts.
“I live in the city, I work in the city, I worship in the city,” said Speaker MacNett, an attorney and managing member with the Harrisburg-based Skarlatos-Zonarich law firm. “I love this city.”
ICA members agreed to meet the fourth Tuesday of each month, scheduling their next meeting for March 26.