Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Mayor proposes 2019 budget with no tax hikes, slight spending decrease from current year.

Harrisburg’s mayor tonight presented a proposed 2019 budget that calls for slightly less spending and no tax increases in the new year.

Mayor Eric Papenfuse appeared before city council tonight to propose a balanced budget with $70.8 million in expenditures and revenues, including $6.8 million in capital improvement projects.

The budget does not radically alter any city programs, but does propose the reorganization of personnel into a new departmental structure.

Capital spending is down by $500,000 from the 2018 budget, and the $64 million operating budget decreased by almost $700,000.

That brings total spending down by a total of $1.2 million from 2018, but it won’t require the city to cut any programs or staff.

The decrease is also a far cry from the $12 million in cuts Papenfuse feared he would have to make back in June, when the state legislature denied Harrisburg a special provision allowing it to keep its current tax rates.

The legislature ultimately passed a similar measure for Harrisburg in October, which will allow the city to exit the Act 47 oversight program for distressed municipalities. Officials expect the exit will be complete this spring.

The legislation will let Harrisburg to retain its current local services tax and earned income tax rates, which both brought in more revenue in 2018 than in the previous year. Indeed, all revenue sources except for property taxes showed marginal year-to-year growth since 2017, Papenfuse said.

Local services tax and earned income tax revenues are projected to increase again in 2019, thanks to a growing workforce and wage gains.

Parking revenues have also been steady, and Papenfuse said he received assurances from parking officials that they will not increase meter rates in 2019.

Capital projects

The mayor’s proposed capital improvement budget calls for $4.8 million in spending from the Neighborhood Services fund, including:

  • $2.5 million for the acquisition of a new public works building
  • $250,000 to outsource the demolition of abandoned buildings
  • $2 million in new equipment for parks maintenance.

Papenfuse said that the city has spent more than $1 million enhancing its parks this year, with hopes for more projects in the future. New equipment will help maintain the park investments for years to come, he said.

An additional $2.5 million in proposed spending will allow the city to finance its share of grant-funded transportation projects. Among them are:

  • $517,000 to construct new sheltered bike lanes and a traffic circle on N. 7th Street
  • $345,000 to repave two miles of Riverfront Park’s lower riverwalk, a segment stretching from Maclay Street to Shipoke.
  • $270,000 for landscaping and construction to complete the MulDer Square revitalization project.
  • $250,000 to complete the 3rd Street repaving project, which was delayed this year by heavy summer rains.

Papenfuse also proposed dipping into Harrisburg’s general fund to cover new equipment in other city departments. Those expenditures include $700,000 for the IT department to replace aging infrastructure and purchase off-site data storage.

The police bureau will also receive $150,000 for the purchase of body cameras, a figure that includes $70,000 in unspent funds for the same purpose in this year’s budget.

Papenfuse said the city can expect to see body cameras in 2019, despite initial promises they would be rolled out this year. Police said this fall that it took longer than expected to identify what kind of equipment they wanted. 

Operating expenditures and reorganization

As always, the city’s largest operating expenditure — $32.7 million — will be on personnel. Debt service and healthcare will eat up $9.8 million and $11 million from the operating budget, respectively.

Even though personnel expenses increased by $500,000 from 2018, Papenfuse said a priority for the 2019 budget is to maintain Harrisburg’s current staff capacity, which his administration has rebuilt after years of austerity.

“We’ve done a lot of growing in the past year, but we’ve gotten to a point where we have a critical mass,” Papenfuse said.

Rather than add new personnel in 2019, the mayor proposes reorganizing the city’s departments to more closely align with the city council committee structure.

A new organizational chart calls for creating seven city departments to correspond with the seven council committees. The chart would dissolve the current Department of Community of Economic Development and replace it with the Department of Engineering and Development.

The reorganization was due in part to the resignation of Community and Economic Development Jackie Parker, who left the city in September for a new job in the private sector.

The reorganization would eliminate Parker’s old position, which has not been filled since she left. Instead, city engineer Wayne Martin would oversee the department of Engineering and Development.

The reorganization would also make the bureau of housing and development its own department, led by the bureau’s current director Franchon Beeks.

The reorganization also calls for the elimination of some obsolete, currently vacant positions and the creation of new ones, mostly at the management level.

Next steps

Council members will discuss the budget at two public hearings on Dec. 11 and 12, slated for 5:30 p.m. in council chambers.

They did not have detailed questions for the mayor tonight, but president Wanda Williams and Public Works chair Westburn Majors expressed concern about the absence of a community and economic development director in the mayor’s proposed reorganization. 

Council is scheduled to vote on the budget at its Dec. 18 legislative session. As in past years, the budget will need final approval from Harrisburg’s state-appointed Act 47 coordinator.

The 2019 budget will also be the first step in a five-year financial plan for the city, which will be adopted by a newly created, five-member intergovernmental cooperation authority (ICA) in the new year.

Members of the state legislature are expected to make their appointments to the ICA by the end of the month.

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