Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Peace in Our Time: City, Civil War Museum finalize accord over artifacts, rent.

Harrisburg Councilman Ben Allatt speaks to TV reporters following tonight’s legislative session.

Harrisburg’s years-long battle with the National Civil War Museum reached a permanent peace tonight, as City Council approved an agreement that should allow the museum to own its own artifacts and begin paying rent to the city.

Council unanimously OK’d a deal that will sell the city-owned permanent collection to the museum for $5.25 million. The museum now has five years to raise the money to pay for the purchase of the 25,000-plus artifacts.

“I think this is an important step forward,” said Councilman Dave Madsen in announcing his support for the deal.

The agreement ends a longstanding feud between the city and the museum board.

After entering office in 2014, Mayor Eric Papenfuse strongly objected to deals reached under former Mayor Steve Reed that allowed the museum to display the artifacts at no cost and that charged the museum just $1 in yearly rent to use the city-owned building, even as the city remained on the hook for building maintenance and repair.

The new agreement addresses both those issues.

First, the city will sell the artifacts to the museum for $5.25 million. In turn, the city will put $1 million into a reserve fund to pay for capital improvements to the building, which the city will continue to own. The other $4 million will pay for improvements to Reservoir Park, where the museum is located.

Under the deal, the museum has five years to raise the money to purchase the artifacts. If it fails to raise the money within that time, the city would be allowed to sell 20 percent of the museum’s collection.

“I think this is tremendously positive for the city,” said Papenfuse, emphasizing that most of the improvements envisioned as part of the Reservoir Park master plan would be funded from the museum’s purchase of the artifacts.

Papenfuse previously acknowledged that $5.25 million is below the retail value of the artifacts, which were not appraised for purposes of the agreement. But he said that he believed the price was in the best overall interest of both parties.

The agreement also outlines a graduated schedule for the payment of rent.

For the first three years, the museum will pay the city $45,000 per year in rent. The rent then increases incrementally, capping off at $100,000 per year for 10 years starting in 2029.

However, no money will change hands for the first five years, as the cumulative amount over that period almost equals the amount of money that the museum claims it is owed by the city for unreimbursed building maintenance and repair costs dating back to 2009.

Also tonight, council voted 6-1 to hire Maverick Strategies to represent the city in matters before the state legislature. The agreement retains the Harrisburg-based firm for $5,000 a month, for up to 12 months, to lobby the legislature as it tries to retain its extra taxing authority after it leaves Act 47.

The city also wants to make permanent the state’s annual payment to the city for emergency services. That payment currently is $5 million, but must be renewed as part of the state’s annual budget process, which places it in jeopardy each year. This year, for instance, the legislature twice stripped the payment from its proposed budget, only to reinsert it at the last minute.

“This is an important step for us to take,” said Councilman Ben Allatt. “I think this gives us a first foot forward to achieve these objectives.”

Allatt, in fact, has said that the state’s annual payment to Harrisburg should be even greater than $5 million.

Papenfuse said that, if Maverick is successful, there would be no need for a Home Rule charter, an extensive process that would give Harrisburg more leeway to set its own tax rates apart from those allowed in Pennsylvania’s third-class city code.

Councilwoman Shamaine Daniels was the lone vote against the agreement with Maverick.

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