Challengers Sweep School Board Incumbents
Voter turnout may have been light, but the impact on Harrisburg could be huge, as challengers for city school board swept the Democratic primary last month.
The four challengers on the reformist slate known as C.A.T.C.H. (Concerned About the Children of Harrisburg) were all victorious: Gerald Welch, Jayne Buchwach, Steven Williams and Doug Thompson Leader. Challenger James Thompson, a former member of the school board, also picked up a nomination for one of the five, four-year seats at stake.
All four incumbents lost, some by a lot: Lola Lawson, Ellis R. Roy, Lionel Gonzalez and Patricia Whitehead-Myers. Three other challengers, Lewis Butts Jr., Cory X. Williams and Ralph Rodriguez, failed to secure nominations.
The victorious challengers had all run campaigns broadly critical of the policies of the current school board majority and the district administration led by Superintendent Sybil Knight-Burney.
“This feels gratifying. It feels like mission accomplished,” said Buchwach, the top vote-getter for city school board. “But it’s not my win. It’s a win for Harrisburg, and that’s what feels great to me.”
Buchwach said that, once seated, the new board would have to get to work improving the district’s finances, bettering its academics and rebuilding trust with residents.
“We have to be transparent. We have to be accountable in everything we do,” she said. “We have to tell the citizens of Harrisburg, ‘This is what we will do and why.’”
No Republicans ran in the primary election for Harrisburg school board, meaning that the winners likely will prevail in the general election in November.
In the six-person race for Harrisburg City Council, incumbents Westburn Majors, Dave Madsen and Danielle Bowers easily won nomination for three, four-year seats, defeating challengers Christina Kostelecky, Dionna Reeves and Brianna Smith.
No Republicans ran in the primary, meaning that the winners likely will prevail during the general election in November.
In Dauphin County, incumbent commissioners Jeff Haste and Mike Pries ran unopposed for the two Republican nominations. On the Democratic side, incumbent George Hartwick won a spot on the November ballot, as did challenger Diane Bowman, who prevailed over challenger Tom Connolly.
In the general election, voters will select three commissioners from the two Republican and two Democratic nominees.
For other county offices, all of the Republican incumbents had no competition in their primaries, so won nomination: District Attorney Fran Chardo, Sheriff Nick Chimienti, Clerk of Courts Dale Klein, Recorder of Deeds Jim Zugay, Treasurer Janis Creason, Controller Timothy DeFoor and Register of Wills/Clerk of Orphans’ Court Jean Marfizo King.
On the Democratic side, four candidates ran unopposed and therefore won their party’s nominations: Cole Goodman for Recorder of Deeds, Brad Koplinski for Clerk of Courts, Tim Butler for Treasurer and Bridget Whitley for Register of Wills/Clerk of Orphans’ Court.
The general election is slated for Nov. 5.
School Tax Hike Proposed
For a second straight year, Harrisburg property owners would see their tax bills shoot up under a proposed budget by the city school administration.
The district is proposing a 3.4-percent tax hike that would increase the millage rate from 28.8 mills to 29.78 mills.
The average city homeowner, with a median property value of $42.800, would see the school portion of their property tax bill increase by $41.91, according to budget data. The hike would raise $1.37 million for the district.
Property taxes support about one-quarter of the district’s annual budget, with the remainder originating from a variety of other taxes and fees, as well as state and federal government support.
“I don’t agree with raising taxes to make up for the budget shortfall,” said board member Carrie Fowler, who added that she opposes the proposed budget. “We’ve been taxed enough. We don’t need to be taxed more for this over-bloated administration.”
The $155.5 million proposed budget for the 2019-20 school year is about $5 million more than the current, 2018-19 budget and about $9 million more than the 2017-18 budget.
The greatest increases in expenses originate from faculty pay and retirement contributions. The district, which has 6,540 K-12 students and 936 faculty and staff, also proposes dipping into its reserve (savings), reducing that fund by some $3 million.
Last year, school property taxes rose 3.6 percent, the maximum amount allowable under state law.
5-Year Plan Unveiled
Harrisburg officials last month dug into the details of a proposed, five-year financial plan for the city, a critical step to fulfill a state mandate and ultimately exit Act 47.
Mayor Eric Papenfuse made a presentation of what he called a “responsible” long-range budget, which assumes “no significant growth” in the city’s tax base, yielding a flat operating budget of about $64 million through 2023.
“This is, in my opinion, a fiscally responsible plan,” he said. “It doesn’t call for the raising of taxes.”
The commonwealth required Harrisburg to draft a five-year financial plan as part of legislation passed last year that allowed the city to retain its elevated local services and earned income tax rates for another five years.
That plan must be approved by the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (ICA), the state-created body tasked with overseeing the city’s financial recovery.
After the budget plan passes muster, both the ICA and City Council must approve an Intergovernmental Cooperation Agreement. Papenfuse said that he hoped that step would occur by early July, before council takes its traditional six-week summer recess.
At that point, the city would be able to exit Act 47, the state’s program for financially distressed municipalities, Papenfuse said. The city has been in the program since 2010.
While revenues are assumed to remain mostly flat over the five-year period, expenses are expected to increase by several million dollars per year, with the gap made up by tapping the city’s substantial fund balance.
Over the next five years, the fund balance is projected to decrease from the current $21 million to about $3.3 million, leveling out at about 5 percent of the operating budget, which, according to Papenfuse, is the city’s target level.
In recent years, the city has built up a large fund balance mostly by under-spending its budget over successive years.
HMAC Sale Pending
A major arts and entertainment venue in Harrisburg is poised to exit bankruptcy, in a move that promises to bring significant change to the House of Music, Arts & Culture (HMAC).
Judge Henry W. Van Eck, U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, has approved the sale of the sprawling Midtown venue, its liquor license and other assets for $6 million to a new partnership called HMAC LLC. This will enable the current controlling entity—Bartlett, Traynor & London—to exit Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Chuck London, a founding HMAC partner, is a minority owner in the new entity. His founding co-partners, Gary Bartlett and John Traynor, will have no ownership in the new company.
“I feel we’re at a turning point with the promise of a new beginning,” London said, in a telephone interview. “We need to take all the lessons we’ve learned from the past and make them our future.”
Bartlett, Traynor & London LLC entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy last August following a loss of business that Traynor blamed on a social media firestorm directed at the venue. He also said that the bankruptcy filing would allow the company to reorganize its finances in preparation for a sale.
Under the new ownership, Traynor said that he will step down as the day-to-day manager of HMAC, which, until a rebranding, was known as the Harrisburg Midtown Arts Center. He expects to stay on for about six months to help with the transition and to help supervise a period of construction.
That construction will include the renovation of the basement level into a third music space, a rooftop deck and a “major facelift” to the front of the building, Traynor said. Much of the construction will be funded with a $1 million state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) grant that HMAC received in late 2017, he said.
“Now that we have new ownership, it’s going to be a bright new future for this building and for this community,” Traynor said.
In late 2007, Traynor, Bartlett and London purchased the former Harrisburg Jewish Community Center and Police Athletic Club building from the Harrisburg Redevelopment Authority. At the time, the sprawling, 34,000-square-foot building had been long abandoned and was badly blighted.
A lengthy, costly renovation followed that eventually yielded the Stage on Herr bar and performance space on the lower level, a restaurant and bar on the main level and the spacious Capitol Room upstairs.
Area Home Sales Strong
The Harrisburg area’s housing market had a solid start to the spring buying season, as inventory dropped and prices crept up.
For April, the median sales price increased 2.9 percent to $180,000 from $175,000 in the year-ago period, according to the Greater Harrisburg Association of Realtors (GHAR).
The number of unit sales dropped to 573 from 623, which GHAR blamed on a lack of inventory. Indeed, “average days on market” dropped significantly, to 50 days from 67 days in April 2018, GHAR said.
In Dauphin County, the median sales price increased to $168,000 versus $156,450 in the year-ago period, while unit sales fell to 265 from 296, according to GHAR. In Cumberland County, the median price fell slightly, to $200,000 from $205,500, with sales falling to 281 units from 300 units in April 2018.
Perry County saw a significant increase in the median sales price, $189,900 compared to $160,000, while sales were flat at 27 units, GHAR said.
Alexis Singleton-Robinson last month was named the recipient of the Harrisburg Area Civic Garden Center Inc. scholarship. A graduating senior of Sci-Tech High, she plans to attend North Carolina A&T State University.
Fredricksen Library cut the ribbon last month to its new lower-level entrance, which will allow easier access to the children’s library and public meeting rooms on the ground floor, according to the library. It also debuted its new, main-floor Business and Career Center @ Fredricksen, which will bring workshops, programming and technology assistance for employment and career goals. A final phase, a “reading plaza” on the Walnut Street side, should be completed this fall.
Harrisburg University last month named Jay Jayamohan as executive director for its new Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. An engineer, product manager and entrepreneur, Jayamohan brings more than 20 years of experience developing startup companies and tech products, according to HU.
Historic Harrisburg Association last month named two new members to its board of directors: Dr. David Bronstein and Michael Waterloo. Bronstein has practiced medicine locally for more than 63 years and has served on numerous other nonprofit boards. Waterloo works as a content manager for Bravo Group. They join 17 other members of the board of HHA, which is dedicated to historic preservation, urban revitalization and smart growth.
Midtown Scholar Bookstore will be expanding into a nearby storefront located at 1324 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg. Co-owner Catherine Lawrence said that she her husband, city Mayor Eric Papenfuse, purchased the long-time location of Fornwald’s Shades to house their discount book retail operations.
Orrstown Bank last month named Zachary “Zack” Khuri as its new executive vice president and market president for the Capital Region. In this role, he’s responsible for overseeing the bank’s business development and community engagement efforts throughout Dauphin and York counties, as well as the West Shore community in Cumberland County.
The Storm, Harrisburg University’s varsity e-sports team, captured the ESPN Overwatch National Championship trophy last month, defeating three other teams in the inaugural Collegiate Esports Championship. The victory closed out The Storm’s undefeated 33-0 season.
Three Mile Island plans to proceed with a plan to shut down the nuclear energy facility by Sept. 30. In a news release, TMI owner Excelon Generation stated that hoped-for legislative relief would not come in time to save the plant, which is located in Londonderry Township.
Edward “Naed” Smith Jr., the long-time manager of the St. Martin de Porres Catholic Worker House in Harrisburg, died suddenly last month. Smith, 52, was born in Wilkes-Barre, where he began his career advocating for social justice and serving the poor. He moved to Harrisburg more than 20 years ago, serving the Allison Hill community and anyone who needed help. Friends are encouraged to make contributions in his memory to the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, 1439 Market St., Harrisburg, Pa., 17103, or to the St. Martin de Porres Catholic Worker House, 1440 Market St., Harrisburg, Pa., 17103.
Berryhill St., 2306: Jiang Brothers Realty LLC to D. Dang, $43,000
Brookwood St., 2610: University Park Plaza Corp. to Harrisburg Mini Storage LLC, $239,000
Briggs St., 1941: V. Rivas to A. Reyes & F. Narvaez, $65,000
Crescent St. 243: M. Redding to ICE Properties LLC, $32,500
Cumberland St., 261, 263 & 265: J&S Estates to A. Himalaya PA II LLC, $355,000
Delaware St., 263: R. & C. Steele to K. Chaney, $139,900
Derry St., 2505: C. Johnson to M. Ousley, $62,000
Fulton St., 1726: R. & K. Lloyd to T. Reinhart, $110,000
Fulton St., 1939: R. Bowman to Wells Fargo Bank NA, $65,985
Graham St., 304: S. Walther to J. & K. Pianka, $120,000
Green St., 1114 & 221 Sassafras St.: L. & L. Raver to R. Snyder, $148,000
Green St., 1117: PNC Bank NA to A. Nebbou & C. Myers, $55,500
Green St., 1804: C. & R. Stevens to S. Serafini, $140,000
Green St., 2031: WCI Partners LP to M. & M. Doughty, $237,000
Green St., 2046: M. Hochberg to HAMR Property Services LLC, $108,000
Greenwood St., 2239: AADE RML LLC to Rental Link LLC, $33,100
Hamilton St., 232: A. & M. Fretz to J. Serra Jr., $164,900
Hamilton St., 336: S. Heredia to J. Pierre, $35,000
Herr St., 312: M. Kraemer to M. Harris, $133,000
Hudson St., 1131: R9 Holdings to T. Smarsh, $45,000
Lewis St., 228: C. Moss Trust to J. & C. Bisel Trust, $68,500
Logan St., 2222: Jakk B Ventures LLC to B. & K. Saltzgiver, $44,250
Logan St., 2235: Jakk B Ventures LLC to B. & K. Saltzgiver, $44,250
Logan St., 2305: Jakk B Ventures LLC to B. & K. Saltzgiver, $44,250
Logan St., 2157: Jakk B Ventures LLC to B. & K. Saltzgiver, $44,250
Maclay St., 324: R. & S. Keller to J Elias Holdings LLC, $37,500
Market St., 1903: Federal National Mortgage Assoc. to CAR Property Holdings LLC, $62,000
Market St., 2019: T. & T. Black to Harrisburg Community Partners LLC, $140,000
Market St., 2101: E Street Properties LLC to C. Good & B. Mengel, $60,000
Muench St., 273: WCI Partners LP to S. Eicher, $143,000
N. 2nd St., 1205: L. Smith to S. & J. Toole, $80,000
N. 2nd St., 1611: A. Skocik to S. & J. Toole, $140,000
N. 2nd St., 1708: J. Seigle to Harrisburg Redevelopment Group LLC, $176,000
N. 2nd St., 1710: G. Miller to Harrisburg Redevelopment Group LLC, $182,700
N. 2nd St., 2522: A. Graham & J. Hays to G. Narehood, $120,500
N. 4th St., 1911: M. Demeo to D. Bukowski, $80,000
N. 4th St., 2428: D. Leaman to A. Norris, $51,500
N. 4th St., 2635: Jhonleo Home Renovations LLC to A. Sload & M. Drake, $121,000
N. 6th St., 2500, 2502 & 2504: J. & E. Cooper to Harvest DCP of Pennsylvania LLC, $750,000
N. 6th St., 3203: Premier Property Solutions LLC to Wylie and Wylie Enterprise LLC, $41,000
N. 14th St., 228: J. Johnson to G. Brown, $47,000
N. 15th St., 1609: Cama Sidra LLC FBO Shirley Mitrovich IRA to T. & D. Yuncker, $49,000
N. 16th St., 805: Premier Property Solutions LLC to M. Temba, $39,738
N. 17th St., 29: D. & L. Godoy to S. Mercado, $39,485
N. Front St., 1525, Unit 405: S. Freet to C. Crago, $153,000
N. Front St., 1701: R. Simons & T. Bissey to 1701 N Front LLC, $350,000
Penn St., 1908: K. Smyth & D. Smith to T. Palmieri & S. Russell, $172,500
Penn St., 2119: G. Neff to DHS Team LLC, $40,000
Race St., 568: E. Fultz to Green Book Enterprises LLC, $142,100
Rudy Rd., 2406: P. & R. Brehm to J. Cruz & C. Proctor, $195,000
Rudy Rd., 2482: N. Wright to F. Sisuc, $52,000
Rumson Dr., 2965: Reverse Mortgage Solutions Inc. to T. Jones, $52,900
Shellis St., 2102: A. Bintavihok to E. Lillo, $52,000
S. 13th St., 330: A. & R. Stoltzfus to S. Fisher, $35,000
S. 13th St., 421: B. Nguyen to D. Nguyen, $34,000
S. 16th St., 943: L. & D. Burkhart to Dowling Management Co. LLC, $35,250
S. 17th St., 137: D. Peffley Sr. to WH RE LLC, $230,000
S. 25th St., 434: T. Thompson to W. & C. Eubanks, $95,000
S. 26th St., 633: M. Tucci to Q. & L. Tran, $75,000
State St., 1510: J. Ansell to Shizzymac 717 Homes LLC, $36,000
Susquehanna St., 2246: University Park Plaza Corp. to Harrisburg Mini Storage LLC, $114,500
Swatara St., 2039: J. Stoltzfus to JPC Property LLC, $49,350
Sycamore St., 1705: K. Jarrett to C. Faicon, $38,000
Waldo St., 2610: W. Foutres to Tassia Corp., $35,000
Walnut St., 120 & 122: Tang & Perkins Property Management LLC to A. Himalaya PA II LLC, $455,000
Zarker St., 1423: T. Freeman & Habitat for Humanity to C. Waters, $64,000