Harrisburg City Council voted tonight to approve a $72 million budget for 2018, which will hold tax rates steady and allocate millions of dollars to capital improvements in the new year.
The budget that passed 6-1 tonight largely resembles the one proposed by Mayor Eric Papenfuse in late November, though council did decide to withdraw an additional $714,000 from the city’s cash reserves for park and playground improvements. That will bring the city’s total reserve spending in 2018 to $9,234,000, since the original budget proposed withdrawing $2 million for debt services and $6.52 million for capital improvements.
“While we’re investing in public safety, blight and infrastructure, we’re also providing nurturing environments for children so they have spaces to grow and play,” Councilman Cornelius Johnson said. “These are lifelong investments that can benefit the citizens of Harrisburg.”
The additional cash withdrawal will finance a new chutes and ladders playground at Reservoir Park, which the city originally planned to build in 2019. The 2018 budget had also earmarked $250,000 for planting meadows at that park, but council reallocated those funds to the playground project. The Department of Parks and Recreation will also receive $450,000 for renovations at five city playgrounds: Norwood-Holly, Cloverly, Summit Terrace, Penn and Sayford and 4th and Dauphin.
Council also authorized a $10,000 transfer from the city’s Host Fund to the Planning Bureau. Councilwoman Ausha Green motioned to reallocate the money so the bureau can hire an outside consultant to edit the city’s draft comprehensive plan. The allocation passed 7-0.
Councilwoman Shamaine Daniels attempted to strike down proposed salary raises for members of the city’s Law Bureau. Daniels said that the raises should be postponed until council considered a salary ordinance in the new year. Her motion to revert the salaries failed after none of her colleagues moved to second it. Daniels then cast the only vote against the budget.
In addition to salary raises for the Law Bureau employees, the budget will also raise salaries for managers in the Sanitation Department and create new pay grades for sanitation workers represented by the AFSCME union. AFSCME members came to Tuesday’s budget vote to advocate for council to approve the raises and the allocations for new sanitation equipment.
“Knowing that someone acknowledges your work and that you’re doing a good job, it makes you want to go to work a little more,” said sanitation driver Jason Jackson after the vote.
The 2018 budget forecasts $65 million in revenue, up $4 million from this year. Papenfuse attributed that increase to a growing tax base, since revenues from real estate, local services and earned income taxes all exceeded projections this year.
The city will end 2017 with more than $20 million in its cash reserve fund. A $7.2 million withdrawal from that fund will finance capital improvement projects in every department of city government. Some of the line items for those projects include:
- $700,000 for the Police Bureau to construct a new substation on S. 15th Street, which will open part-time in August 2018.
- $250,000 for the Codes Bureau to double its in-house demolition capacity.
- $80,000 for the Police Bureau to purchase body cameras.
- $30,000 for the IT Bureau to host Harrisburg police video server
- $1.2 million for the Fire Bureau to replace roofs at three stations.
- $425,000 for the Public Works department to construct ADA-compliant wheelchair ramps throughout the city.
The 2018 budget anticipates a $1 million fund balance at the end of the new year. It also outlines priority expenses for 2019 and 2020, including $550,000 for an Uptown/Midtown police station and $1.3 million for Reservoir Park redevelopment.
The city will balance those priorities while planning for Harrisburg’s exit from Act 47, which could happen as early as 2019. In a budget hearing last week, however, Marita Kelly, a state overseer, told city officials that Harrisburg will likely need to seek a three-year extension to its Act 47 status.
Council members and administrators have acknowledged that the city cannot afford to give up the special taxing privileges that Act 47 confers.