School Budget Revised
The Harrisburg school district issued a substantial budget revision last month, stating that the previous administration mismanaged the district’s finances and drastically overstated revenue.
According to Acting Superintendent John George, the district’s 2019-20 budget has been revised downward to $152.1 million, nearly $6.7 million less than the approved budget, which was finalized in June.
The new budget yields a $2.6 million shortfall for the year.
“The amount of errors and mismanagement we have uncovered is egregious and truly unfair to the students, staff and taxpayers of this school district,” George said, in a statement.
Much of the shortfall—$5.1 million—is due to the prior administration overestimating state revenue that would be received, according to the district.
Soon after receivership began in June, the district’s new administrative team began to piece together the district’s finances. At the time George, appointed to his post by Receiver Janet Samuels, told TheBurg that the district’s finances were fragmented and in disarray.
The findings are the result of four months of “painstakingly pouring through Harrisburg’s financial records and systems,” according to the district.
Other results include a $1.9 million underestimation of tuition payments to charter schools and payments to “ineligible employees.”
The district also lost $2.8 million over the past two years in federal School Improvement Grant funding at John Harris High School, a program designed to help failing students get back on track. The district didn’t properly administer the program and didn’t provide documentation to the government of how funds were spent, according to a school district statement.
George stated that the district is implementing “a number of financial strategies” to save money for the remainder of the school year. These include:
- refinancing debt with lower-interest loans
- reviewing medical benefits contracts
- recommitting to the sale of dormant assets, such as William Penn High School and Woodward Elementary
- pursuing new grants and other non-traditional revenue sources
- lowering charter school costs
“Truly, every financial aspect of this school district will continue to be analyzed,” George said.
He said that the district already has begun to put in place procedures and training to improve business practices, approval processes and other financial checks.
The district has also established a fraud reporting hotline. Tipsters should call 717-703-4135 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Election Yields Few Surprises
Harrisburg voters completed the replacement of the school board last month and returned three incumbents to City Council in a general election that held few surprises for city voters.
With no Republicans running, the Democratic nominees claimed all five school board seats with only nominal opposition. Douglas Thompson Leader, Gerald Welch, James Thompson, Jayne Buchwach and Steve Williams all will serve four-year terms on the board.
This month, the five victors will be sworn in as new school board directors. However, their ability to make policy will be limited due to the appointment in June of Dr. Janet Samuels as the district’s receiver.
Under the receivership, the elected school board has been stripped of power except for the ability to levy taxes. Since her appointment, Samuels has run the district largely by decree.
For City Council, Democratic incumbents Westburn Majors, Dave Madsen and Danielle Bowers all will return for four-year terms after facing no Republican opposition in the general election. Majors and Madsen were re-elected, while Bowers won her first competitive seat after appointment last year to fill an opening on council. Incumbent Treasurer Dan Miller, running unopposed, was re-elected to his position.
Races in Dauphin County were more competitive.
Voters returned all three incumbent commissioners to office, but the race was close for much of the evening. In the end, Republicans Jeff Haste (28,080 votes) and Mike Pries (26,560 votes) and Democrat George Hartwick (25,928 votes) each were re-elected to four-year terms. Democratic challenger Diane Bowman came in fourth place with 22,026 votes.
As usual, Republican incumbents won all the row offices in Dauphin County, but several races proved to be competitive.
For clerk of courts, incumbent Dale Klein defeated challenger Brad Koplinski by a tally of 27,147 to 24,326.
For register of wills, Jean Marfizo King topped Democratic challenger Bridget Whitley by a margin of 27,725 to 23,733.
In the recorder of deeds race, Republican incumbent Jim Zugay won another term, defeating Democrat Cole Goodman by a vote of 27,869 to 23,506.
For county treasurer, incumbent Janis Creason prevailed over Democratic challenger Tim Butler by a 27,947 to 23,392 margin.
Several Republican incumbents ran unopposed and will return to office. These include District Attorney Fran Chardo, Sheriff Nick Chimienti and Controller Timothy DeFoor.
City Considers Zoning Changes
Harrisburg is revisiting an ordinance that would allow greater housing density in residentially zoned areas, the latest move by the administration to spur development in the city.
Last month, Harrisburg City Council introduced an ordinance that would remove density restrictions for the city’s two main residential zones—dubbed “residential low-density” and “residential medium-density.” These two zones cover most of the city’s residential neighborhoods.
According to Mayor Eric Papenfuse, this change would make city neighborhoods more attractive to developers and offer a greater variety of housing to residents at a range of price points.
“We need more units of housing developed,” he said. “We don’t currently have a climate in which that is easy to do.”
Under existing law, the low-density residential zone allows four to eight dwelling units per acre, while the medium-density residential zone permits eight to 20 dwelling units per acre. This ordinance would remove those density restrictions.
The proposal also would repeal the current requirement in another zoning district, the “commercial neighborhood” zone, which mandates a minimum of 1,200 square feet per dwelling unit.
The city’s Planning Commission, by a 5-1 vote, recommended against this proposal, citing possible adverse consequences by removing density restrictions, as well as concerns over parking.
This is actually the second time that the administration has proposed the zoning change. Last year, council also introduced the ordinance, but ended up not voting on it.
Business Parking Program Proposed
Which comes first: the parking chicken or the parking egg?
Harrisburg City Council and the administration recently debated this question as they discussed whether to establish a business parking permit program in the city.
The idea would be similar to the current program for residential parking permits, said Richard Kotz, the city’s parking administrator. For a fee, city businesses could purchase annual permits for street parking in designated zones, which would be outside of residential parking zones and outside of any metered area controlled by Park Harrisburg/SP+.
The proposal is meant to be an economic development driver for the city, Kotz said. It might also reduce the need for surface parking lots for businesses, while raising some money for the city, he said.
“These districts would provide another economic tool that would attract new businesses into the city as well as retain existing ones that may be expanding,” Kotz said.
Almost immediately, council members pushed back on the proposal. They asked for greater detail, such as how many districts the administration would propose and where it would locate them.
Mayor Eric Papenfuse said that the first step would be to establish the program, setting up its general structure. Specifics, such as where they districts would be established, would come after and would be subject to approval by council, just like residential districts currently are.
“Whatever proposals we have would come before council,” he said. “There would be a process where they would be vetted and discussed. This is merely allowing us to establish a business parking permit concept similar as what we have with the residential parking now.”
City Solicitor Neil Grover explained that Harrisburg’s residential parking zones have been established incrementally, over a series of many years.
“First, you create a program,” he said. “We’re really at a threshold question of should the city have a business parking permit program. It’s a long-term process.”
Several council members kept pressing the administration for additional detail. Council President Wanda Williams seemed skeptical that the administration didn’t have certain areas or businesses in mind.
“You must have an idea where you want to put particular districts,” she said. “I’m asking you: Where is that information?”
Council member Ben Allatt voiced concern that business districts could encroach on residential areas, creating more difficult parking for residents. He said that he’d like to see a “multi-pronged solution” that addressed both residential and business parking.
“We have multiple issues, and we’re only addressing part of that by this,” he said. “I’d like to see a comprehensive look at how we’re looking at parking also from a residential aspect.”
Papenfuse said that Kotz is “actively working with residents” to improve and change residential parking districts.
“That is going on simultaneously,” he said.
Several council members referred specifically to areas of Midtown, where parking is already difficult due to state workers parking on the street, with the possibility of even tougher parking after completion of the federal courthouse and the new state archives, both on N. 6th Street.
“It’s possible we need a new residential district,” Papenfuse said. “We could expand the existing one.”
Council member Westburn Majors said that he thought that the idea had merit and that the city should consider establishing the program on a trial basis.
“Usually, when you have an idea like this, there’s a pilot of a section or two,” he said. “In my mind, there are one or two areas of the city where an initial pilot like this would work well.”
Williams pushed back repeatedly on the proposal, insisting that she needed more information before casting a vote.
“Obviously, you were sitting around thinking about this,” she said. “Where is the map? Where is the zoning that you’re considering?”
City Plans Sale of Riverside Firehouse
Have you ever wanted to own a fire station—some reassembly required? If so, now’s your chance.
Last month, Harrisburg City Council passed a resolution that the city hopes will result in the eventual sale of the historic Riverside Firehouse, which the close-knit Uptown neighborhood has long used for community events and as a polling station.
The site at 3201-03 N. 4th St. is actually comprised of two parcels. One is owned by the city and the other by Riverside Fire Co. No. 15, one of many inactive volunteer fire companies in Harrisburg.
Technically, the resolution transferred ownership of the city’s parcel to the Harrisburg Redevelopment Authority (HRA). The fire company has agreed to also transfer its ownership to HRA, according to the city.
HRA then is supposed to consolidate the lots and try to sell the property, according to the resolution.
“By doing this, we would allow the Redevelopment Authority to obtain both of these deeds and tie these parcels together so they can be sold for development in the future,” said council member Ausha Green, chair of the public safety committee, before the unanimous vote in favor.
According to Green, Fire Bureau officials supported the resolution, as the building is in need of significant repair. The bureau would like to see the building restored, even if for another, private use, Green said.
Pat Waller, for one, believes the 3,300-square-foot building, built in 1923 and largely empty for decades, would make a great private residence.
“It’s very unique,” said Waller, president of the Riverside United Neighbors community group. “I’m looking forward to when the sales sign goes up.”
As selling points, she pointed to the tin ceilings and historic charm, but added that a buyer would need to undertake a major restoration.
“I’m quite pleased with the effort so far, but the building is in bad shape,” she said. “It needs a lot of work.”
Privatization Halted, Stormwater Fee Approved
Harrisburg is dropping the idea of potentially privatizing its water system, as Capital Region Water (CRW) has agreed to delay the start of a new stormwater fee for six months.
Mayor Eric Papenfuse said that the city would cease any effort to sell the municipal water/sewer system following discussions with, and changes by, CRW to its stormwater fee to implementation schedule and evident progress in finalizing a stormwater plan.
“Privatization is off the table,” he said.
Last month, CRW passed its 2020 rate schedule, which will implement a new stormwater fee, but not until July 1. Originally, CRW had planned to begin the fee on Jan. 1.
The delay, Papenfuse said, will give some property owners “a chance to work through the appeals process” for their stormwater assessments. It also gives CRW more time to get final approval from the federal government for its plan to cut the flow of pollutants into area waterways.
Rate-wise, most of CRW’s residential customers in Harrisburg will begin paying a $6.15 per month stormwater fee beginning on July 1. That amount equates to $74 per year ($37 for 2020). The non-residential rate will fluctuate based on the amount of impervious surface on the commercial properties.
Last month, CRW also approved an increase in its wastewater rate, which will go up 4.5 percent on Jan. 1, from $7.65 in 2019 to $7.99 in 2020 for 1,000 gallons of water.
Similarly, CRW approved a rate increase for the third component of its service—drinking water. For 2020, drinking water rates will increase by 2 percent from $9.65 to $9.84 per 1,000 gallons, plus a 2 percent increase in the “ready to serve” charge.
Sinkhole Street Becomes Park
Five years ago, a sinkhole began to swallow up the 1400-block of S. 14th Street in Harrisburg. Last month, the once-residential area began a new era as a community green space.
City, state and federal officials—and some former residents—gathered at the South 14th Street Open Space, a new, 2.4-acre city park, which, until recently, was occupied by rows of small, 1950s-era houses and a street.
“I just never saw so much open space over here,” said former S. 14th Street resident Rhonda Scott, who had lived in the neighborhood for 28 years. “It’s bittersweet; everybody was over here for a long time.”
In 2014, the disaster affected 53 homes, throwing some residents out of their houses and endangering others.
Roads, sidewalks and yards were damaged as well, making it a problem the city needed to solve. At the time, Harrisburg, just out of receivership, was in no financial condition to be tackling an issue this big, Mayor Eric Papenfuse said.
However, at the urging of state and local officials, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funded much of the sinkhole mitigation project, supplying the city with $1.65 million for it. Never before had FEMA approved a sinkhole project.
“This project changed national policy,” said Steve Ward, a FEMA federal coordinating officer who attended the ceremony.
An additional $4.55 million came from HUD’s Department of Community and Economic Development and Dauphin County’s Community Development Block Grant.
Using these funds, the city was able to buy all of the 53 affected units for their assessed market values. Residents were assisted in finding and purchasing new housing elsewhere. After a tedious, multi-year process, the buildings were demolished last April.
The site was excavated 10 feet deep, backfilled and re-graded to help prevent future sinkholes caused by excessive rainfall, as copious rain from Tropical Storm Lee in 2011, passing through the porous ground in the area, likely caused the initial sinkhole outbreak. The area was zoned as a green space, meaning no future construction can occur there.
“This site will allow folks to reflect on local memories,” said Tom Hughes, state hazard mitigation officer for the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA).
The new park includes a walking path, benches and newly planted trees. A permanent plaque will be installed to serve as a memorial to the neighborhood that once stood there.
Some neighbors do have concerns about how well the park will be taken care of.
“We know the community really appreciates it and because they appreciate it, they are going to treat it well,” said Rev. Roberta Thompson, associate pastor at Mount Olive Baptist Church nearby. “We do have some concerns about how we are going to keep it up.”
Papenfuse assured community members that the city will maintain the green space as it does other parks in the city.
Although devastating to those who lived there, the sinkhole project showed Ward the potential of city, state and national organizations uniting on a job that once seemed impossible.
“This is a perfect example of the community coming together and helping those families,” he said.
Area Home Sales Strong
Inventory dropped and prices rose in the latest monthly accounting of Harrisburg-area home sales.
The Greater Harrisburg Association of Realtors (GHAR) reported last month that, for October, home sales increased by 8.5 percent while the median sales price jumped by 8.1 percent for its three-county region, compared to the year-ago period.
For the area, listing inventory dropped by 10 percent, while the median cumulative days on the market also fell, according to GHAR.
In Dauphin County, sales totaled 302 units, up from 288, while the median price was $171,500, compared to $160,000 last October. Sales in Cumberland County also rose, totaling 324 units versus 290, with the median price increasing to $218,950 from $206,000, according to GHAR.
In Perry County, 37 units sold versus 33 a year ago, while the median price rose to $179,900 compared to $172,500 in October 2018.
As it has in recent months, GHAR primarily credited lower interest rates for the stronger home sales market. In October 2018, the average interest rate for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage was 4.86 percent. In October 2018, the average was 3.78 percent, according to the economic research company Macrotrends.
Doug Hill last month was appointed as a member of the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (ICA), the state-appointed body created to oversee Harrisburg’s five-year financial recovery plan. Hill replaces fellow city resident David Schankweiler, who left the ICA in September.
HACC will end its longstanding “Live at Rose Lehrman” performing arts series with the conclusion of the current season in March, it was announced last month. HACC stated that it could no longer offset the cost of the 35-year-old series, which brought many world-class acts to the college’s Harrisburg campus.
HACC Foundation, a nonprofit educational trust, last month named Robert J. Emrich Jr. to its board of directors. Emrich is president and CEO of Riskcop Advisory LLC and CEO of Gerson Lehrman Group.
Harris Family Brewing last month received a zoning variance to open a brewery at 1721 Holly St. in Harrisburg. The owners, Shaun Harris, JT Thomas and Tim White, expect to open next year, becoming one of the first black-owned craft breweries in Pennsylvania. The owners needed a variance to open the brewery in an area of Allison Hill not zoned for the industrial use. The site will produce beer only for wholesale as the owners continue a search for a retail taproom.
Jason Meckes has been named experience development director by Visit Hershey & Harrisburg. In this role, he will work to develop new products and experiences that enhance the visitor experience and attract new audiences to the area, according to the organization. Meckes previously served as the executive director of the Harrisburg Area Riverboat Society.
Lawrance Binda, co-founder, co-owner and editor-in-chief of TheBurg, has been named to the board of directors of the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, the principal trade association for news organizations in the commonwealth. PNA seeks to advance the interests of Pennsylvania news media companies and protect the free and independent press, among other goals.
Seven Bridges Development has withdrawn its application to change the zoning for a swath of Midtown Harrisburg. The company now says it will engage in greater community outreach before submitting a more detailed development proposal next year. Seven Bridges wants to develop empty lots in the Marketplace neighborhood now owned by the Harrisburg Redevelopment Authority, but has received some resistance from residents wanting more information on the company’s proposed projects.
Soul Burrito opened a standalone restaurant last month at 314 S. Progress Ave., Harrisburg, offering their unique take on the Mexican staple. Over a decade, the husband-and-wife team has built a following through several previous locations and their popular food truck. For more information, visit www.soulburrito.com.
TheBurg and Jeff Woodruff are the two recipients of the 2020 “Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts in the Capital Region.” TheBurg was recognized for its support, promotion and furtherance of the arts in central PA and Woodruff for his long service as executive director of the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra. Theatre Harrisburg has given out the “Arts Award” each year since 1989, recognizing one organization/company and one individual annually for their contributions to the arts.
Apricot St., 1713, 51 Balm St., 2012 Chestnut St., 2406 N. 4th St., 2334 N. 4th St., 1813 Susquehanna St. & 1522 Vernon St.: 1713 Apricot St LLC, SMKP Properties & 2012 Chestnut St. LLC to Three Bridges Holdings LLC, $328,000
Bellevue Rd., 2304: C. Marshall to K. Hurst & C. Reinhold, $314,900
Berryhill St., 2112: B. & B. Lambeth to C. Ankeny, $57,000
Berryhill St., 2146: J. McLaughlin & C. & A. Paveglio to J. Elias Holdings, $32,500
Berryhill St., 2314: R. Dorer to A. & J. Budzinski, $34,498
Boas St., 262: J. & S. Sempeles to A. Ulinfun, $165,000
Boas St., 302: M. Cantwell to R. Lowthert, $159,900
Briggs St., 1509: E. Nugroho & J. Juniana to C. Davis, $155,000
Briggs St., 2028: J. & D. Gravely to AUM Investments LP, $33,000
Calder St., 258: J. Destalo to J. Walters, $167,000
Chestnut St., 1722: J. Alverez to Recycle Bicycle Harrisburg Inc., $65,000
Crescent St., 321: D. & R. McLean to HBK Properties 1 LLC, $42,900
Cumberland St., 258: Z. Blackwell to S. Wood, $162,000
Delaware St., 268: WCI Partners to F. Hamid, $116,000
Derry St., 2457: PA Deals LLC to Two Three Two Investments LLC, $72,900
Dunkle St., 538: W. Birtle to E. Satterwaite, $57,900
Forster St., 1928: Dobson Family Partnership to M. Bair, $50,000
Grand St., 913: A. Harris to E. Dowlin, $90,000
Green St., 1116: J. & B. Rhen to B. Edwards, $205,000
Green St., 1522: G. Jordan to S. & C. Fox, $162,500
Green St., 1619: M. & L. Stednitz to G. Hoffner, $159,900
Green St., 2340: J. Clmens to S. & J. Ojageer, $214,900
Hale Ave., 418: M. Goodson to I. Yolov, $52,000
Hamilton St., 501½: Z. Yap to 88314 LLC, $40,000
Harris Terr., 2461: R. Dressler & E. Knuth to M. Collins, $64,500
Herr St., 1714: SL Realty to Y. Monegro & R. Sanchez, $32,000
Hummel St., 247: A. Jackson & M. Wade to Tri County HDC Ltd., $40,000
Jefferson St., 2512: G. & D. Ebeling to M. Wright, $35,000
Jefferson St., 2975 & 2980: Mitchell LLC to Arko Properties LLC, $725,000
Kelker St., 622: End Properties to C. Moon, $56,000
Kensington St., 2352: V. Nguyen to H. Akhtar, $60,000
Kensington St., 2367: D. Le & V. Tran to P. Webb, $58,000
Kensington St., 2410: J. Lara to DPM Development LLC, $65,000
Maclay St., 416: S. Van Brakle to K. Patterson, $88,900
Market St., 1916: J. Alvarado to E. Chisholm, $120,000
Mercer St., 2422: GCD Properties to Dowling Management Co. LLC, $53,900
Muench St., 232: WCI Partners LP to K. Boyce, $122,500
North St., 1932: J. Ward to Y. Abraham, $39,000
North St., 1938: M. Dunleavy to S. Smith & R. Walters, $32,000
N. 2nd St., 1107: JS Investments Inc. to Inoma Properties East Shore LLC, $178,000
N. 2nd St., 2405: M. & R. Lindquist to M. Kenworthy, $244,900
N. 2nd St., 2406: V. Jenkins to KMM Development LLC, $58,000
N. 2nd St., 2426: Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs to Pennsylvania DUI Association Inc., $115,000
N. 2nd St., 2957: D. Nikovits to Ideal Services Group LLC, $138,000
N. 3rd St., 2223: B. & L. Straub to D. Toro & S. Ortega, $179,900
N. 4th St., 2143: R. Joline to A. Nebbou, $35,000
N. 4th St., 3214: J. Stipe & T. Diaz to S. Roman, $99,000
N. 14th St., 1211: C. McKinney to F. Burgos, $58,900
N. 16th St., 1117: C. Irvin to A.. Anderson, $45,000
N. Front St., 1525, Unit 302: J. Jarosky to S. Schu, $227,939
N. Front St., 1525, Unit 306: J. Batz to G. Vanegas, $97,500
N. Front St., 1525, Unit 403: R. & R. Fried to D. Eberly, $130,000
N. Front St., 1525, Unit 507: S. Kolesar to C. Tomlinson, $116,000
Paxton St., 1723: T. Gilbreath to M. Maniari & Z. Roudi, $59,000
Peffer St., 214: M. Magaro, S. Bishop, R. Brabush & L. Van Swol to JPR Properties, $76,000
Penn St., 1503: J. Adams to C. Anderson, $146,500
Penn St., 1618: J. Tran to S. Martin, $134,000
Penn St., 1810: G. Neff & City Limits Realty to J. Rogers, $78,500
Putnam St., 1620: M. Miller Jr. to A. Adams, $55,000
Reel St., 2446: O. Rosado to E. Johnson, $64,900
Rolleston St. 1233: Chooker49 LLC to D&D Legacy LLC, $40,000
S. 13th St., 30: Round Rock Investments LLC to Lynn & Ryan Investment Properties LLC, $80,000
S. 16th St., 1002: T. & S. Golesich to T. Scott, $119,900
S. 19th St., 1141: 1141 South 19th LLC to C. Dennis, $115,000
S. 20th St., 13: I. & G. Hymon to Scholars Inc., $45,000
S. 21st St., 1000: E. & K. Kohl to K. Roach, $544,500
S. 23rd St., 649: A. & T. Campion & J. Oldaker to Two Three Two Investments LLC, $35,000
S. 28th St., 726: P. & L. Brown to L. & S. Cassel, $108,000
State St., 231, Unit 606: LUX 1 LP to P. Ovide, $130,000
Susquehanna St., 1608: P. Klein to M. Fulton, $162,000
Susquehanna St., 1932: J. Gallant to D. & L. Taylor, $106,000
Swatara St., 2136: L. Geter to M. Camones & E. Salvador, $35,000
Waldo St., 2655: Penn Home LLC to Fowler Investments LLC, $36,000
Waldo St., 2707: M. Cook & E. Jones to S. & T. Johnson, $38,000
Woodbine St., 218: M&T Bank to D&F Realty Holdings LP, $44,500
Woodlawn St., 2609: R. Gross to C. Dell, $40,000
Harrisburg property sales for October 2019, greater than $30,000. Source: Dauphin County. Data is assumed to be accurate.