Tag Archives: Dauphin County Bar Association

Home Sick: Harrisburg residents face eviction, unpredictable future during the pandemic

Greater Harrisburg Area Tenants United

When the pandemic hit, all Bobby Mitchell wanted to do was stay home.

He would be considered at-risk for many reasons. He’s 61 years old and has various health issues, including diabetes and high blood pressure, not to mention the kidney transplant he underwent.

Mitchell was receiving Social Security disability benefits, but it wasn’t enough to cover rent, utilities and other expenses.

Before the pandemic, Mitchell collected aluminum, copper and other materials from nearby scrapyards to make up the difference. With help from his friend, he made around $500 in a “good month.”

As March ushered in COVID-19, he couldn’t collect anymore. His son was out of work, and his son’s mother wasn’t working due to mental health issues. Mitchell fell behind on rent.

“You’ve got to think about your family,” he said. “I had to take care of his needs, her needs and mine.”

All Mitchell wanted to do was stay home, but that grew increasingly uncertain as back rent piled up and an eviction notice loomed.

However, after working with Kay Pickering at The Center for Peace and Justice in Harrisburg, armed with a federal document, Mitchell was able to postpone his eviction.



When the pandemic hit in March, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court halted evictions, which Gov. Tom Wolf extended through the end of August. In September, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control picked up where the state left off, declaring a ban on evictions through Dec. 31. This applied to evictions for non-payment of rent, as in Mitchell’s case.

Although the moratorium protected these residents from a lockout, landlords could still file for eviction.

In Harrisburg, between Sept. 1 and Dec. 7, there were 528 evictions filed, according to data from the CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon University and Philadelphia Legal Assistance. Of those, 151 tenants were protected under the CDC’s declaration and could stay in their homes, at least through the end of December. There were 171 cases with scheduled hearings, and in 206 cases, landlords were granted possession.

Caleb Cossick, a volunteer with Greater Harrisburg Area Tenants United, which advocates for renter’s rights, explained the reason behind lockouts happening despite the moratorium.

“People aren’t being told their rights,” he said. “Information just isn’t shared.”

There were some people who weren’t aware of the moratorium or the declaration that they were required to fill out in order for it to apply, Cossick said. There were others who were evicted due to a month-to-month lease, in which the landlord can cancel whenever they want. Some were evicted because they only had an “oral lease,” which is less likely to hold up in court. Cossick calls these “loopholes.” With the declaration being relatively vague, he said that a magisterial district judge was often left to interpret the rules how they saw fit for each case.

“If a landlord wants to get around it [the declaration], they can try,” he said.

Throughout the pandemic, Greater Harrisburg Tenants United has set up tables outside court offices and at community events with the hope of stopping evictions by educating tenants of their rights.

In the declaration, the tenant had to certify that they had “used best efforts” to obtain all available government assistance, that they were unable to pay their full rent, but were paying as much as they could. They must also be facing homelessness if they are evicted, the declaration form said.

According to Harrisburg attorney Jordan Cunningham, this is one of the biggest issues. Renters are not paying anything even if they are able to.

“Zero isn’t what you can afford if you are still working,” Cunningham said. “My concern from the aspect of the landlord is, if we are going to have a moratorium in place, the landlord needs to have some way to enforce the lease and receive some rent, if not all of the rent.”

After all, landlords have obligations, as well. They have mortgages and taxes to pay. They also have a responsibility to keep up with the maintenance of the building, Cunningham said.


Planning Ahead

Angela Parker-Quarles’ phone has been ringing nonstop lately. She estimated that her phone calls have increased by 45% over the past months.

People call Parker-Quarles at The Fair Housing Council of the Capital Region frantic and desperate for help. When contacted recently, she was working with a 70-year-old resident in Steelton who was facing eviction.

The Fair Housing Council tries to bridge the gap between landlords and tenants, Parker-Quarles explained. They provide education on renters’ rights and responsibilities.

During the pandemic, she has tried to help clients think long-term. She’s afraid some people aren’t preparing for what happens after the moratoriums end.

“You can flash that declaration, but if you’re doing that without a plan, they’re just going to be at your door when it ends,” she said.

She’s been helping people find employment and other support services in order to get back on track with rent. However, rental assistance is in short supply, she said.

For people like Bobby Mitchell, that would make all the difference.

With no one in Mitchell’s household employed, they couldn’t pay their full rent. Eventually, his son and son’s mother found employment. While the family is able to keep up now, they have three months’ worth of back rent.

Christian Churches United of the Tri-County Area is able to help families facing homelessness find shelter, Executive Director Darrel Reinford said. They also have some funds for rental assistance through their homelessness programs.

In December, the city of Harrisburg also launched a rent relief program to provide funds for those struggling to pay rent. They offered up to $5,000 per household.

According to Sandy Ballard, public services coordinator for the Dauphin County Bar Association, one of the biggest issues is a lack of communication between landlords and tenants.

“What’s surprising is people get an eviction notice and won’t even call the other side and say, ‘Hey, can we talk?’” said Ballard. “It’s in both parties’ best interests to come up with a plan.”

Ballard worked with Matt Rich of MidPenn Legal Services, Reinford and others to come up with a plan to try to help stop evictions. They are hosting free mediation sessions for landlords and tenants.

Every Tuesday at 9 p.m. on Zoom, volunteer attorneys work with landlord-tenant pairs from Dauphin County to provide education and assist them in agreeing on a payment plan to avoid eviction. While there had only been a few sessions by early December, Ballard said that they are going well.


Uncertain Future

Mitchell has boxes packed around his house. He fills a few, here and there, “just in case,” he said. When I called to check in on him on a mid-December morning, he said he was “hanging in there.” But as a wet snow fell in Harrisburg, Mitchell said that he was worried. He still had around $4,000 of back rent to pay. “It’s cold out there,” he said.

That same night, Harrisburg City Council voted to impose a 30-day moratorium on evictions for non-payment of rent and lease expiration. Through mid-January, Mitchell was safe again, possibly longer, if the city or federal government chose to renew the ban on evictions.

“Prolonging this will probably help us,” he said. But in this case, time isn’t money, and Mitchell expected the debt would still be there once the moratorium ends, like the last one.

While moratoriums like the CDC’s and Harrisburg’s deal with the immediate need of shelter during a crisis, Cunningham said that extending them too long is “really just kicking the can down the road.”

Parker-Quarles expressed a similar sentiment, adding that a moratorium should go hand-in-hand with some sort of payment plan requirement for the tenant.

“I’d like to see some kind of plan in place to get these individuals out of the situation,” she said.

For now, Mitchell’s family will keep saving a bit of money from each paycheck and keep some boxes packed, just in case they need to find a new place to live.

“All we want to do is have a roof over our heads,” he said.


Eviction and Rental Assistance Resources

Center for Peace and Justice: 717-233-3072

Christian Churches United of the Tri-County Area: www.ccuhbg.org, 717-230-9550

Dauphin County Bar Association Mediation program: https://forms.gle/egB7ZQSXQU92zCeP8, ProBono@DCBA-PA.org

Fair Housing Council of the Capital Region: www.pafairhousing.org, 717-238-9540

Greater Harrisburg Area Tenants United: www.harrisburgtenants.org, 717-461-2096

Mid Penn Legal Services: www.midpenn.org, 800-326-9177

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February News Digest

Delay in School Board Appointment

It may be months before Harrisburg residents learn who will be the newest member of the district’s school board, as a court hearing in the matter isn’t slated to take place until late April.

Court of Common Pleas Judge John McNally has scheduled an April 23 court date to hear a citizen’s group response to a petition supporting Ralph Rodriguez, a city resident who wants to fill the vacant seat.

The group known as Concerned about the Children of Harrisburg (CATCH) responded to the petition filed on Jan. 24 on behalf of Rodriguez. As part of its response, CATCH asked the court to appoint its own preferred candidate, Cornelius Chachere.

This petition response appears to have triggered a series of events that will take several months to resolve.

The parties now have until mid-March to finish their discovery processes, followed by the April 23 court hearing.

Jayne Buchwach, a member of CATCH, said that her group opted to respond to Rodriguez’s petition, as opposed to filing an original petition in support of Chachere, after they saw that Rodriguez’s supporters had filed first.

“The response states our objections,” she said. “It also tells the court—this is who we think should be on it.”

The response touts Chachere’s qualifications and, like an original petition would, asks the court to appoint him.

To add further complexity to this issue, former school board Director James Thompson also has filed a petition with the court for the seat. Technically, this makes four candidates for the seat: Rodriguez, Chachere, Thompson and Marva Brown. In their petition, Rodriguez’s supporters mention that appointing Brown also would be acceptable to them.

The board seat became empty following the Dec. 16 death of school board Director Melvin Wilson. The remaining board members, split between Rodriguez and Chachere, failed to muster a majority of five votes to replace Wilson within a 30-day time period, throwing the matter to the court.

Buchwach said that she wasn’t concerned about having only eight members on the board for an extended period.

“The board is contentious,” she said. “So, having eight there or nine there—it really doesn’t matter.”

Meanwhile, five of the nine school board seats will be up this election year. CATCH has vowed to put up its own slate of candidates for the board seats.


Fetterman Starts Listening Tour

A packed room and dozens of speakers greeted Lt. Gov. John Fetterman in Harrisburg last month, as he kicked off a statewide listening tour on the proposed legalization of recreational marijuana.

Some 300 people filed into the auditorium of the Harrisburg Jewish Community Center for the first of 67 such events, as Fetterman began to wind his way through every county in the commonwealth.

For about two hours, Fetterman listened patiently and respectfully as speaker after speaker rose either in support of or in opposition to the proposal, often sharing with him emotional stories from their lives.

One young man named Darryl said that he was arrested and jailed for possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia and now can’t find a full-time job because of those convictions.

“That’s why I’m struggling so badly, because of a stupid possession charge,” he said. “It’s time to end this.”

To that end, a few speakers recommended not only legalization but expungement of criminal records for those previously convicted.

Les Stark, executive director of Reading-based Keystone Cannabis Coalition, a pro-legalization advocacy group, said that, in Pennsylvania, about 25,000 people a year are arrested for marijuana possession.

“How many lives have been ruined in Harrisburg alone?” he asked. “Over the next 10 years, will we ruin the lives of 250,000 more Pennsylvania citizens?”

Several speakers identified themselves as users of medical marijuana, which is legal, and testified to the effectiveness of cannabis for treating their conditions.

While most attendees spoke in favor of legalization, some did not.

Several speakers said they feared that legalizing recreational marijuana would lead to greater threats to public safety—from the potential of more car accidents to the possible greater use of harsher drugs.

“My main concern is that I have a grandchild turning 16,” said one man. “My concern is that I believe recreational marijuana is a mind-controlling substance. I’m afraid for her to be driving out on the highway when some other driver’s mind is being controlled by marijuana.”

Other speakers accused the state of wanting to legalize recreational marijuana as a revenue-raising tool.

“I’m not against medical marijuana, but I am against use of recreational marijuana,” said one man. “I believe the administration just wants to create a new revenue source to tax and spend.”

Throughout the lengthy event, Fetterman said little from his seat on the stage, listening attentively as people spoke their minds.

At one point, he asked would-be speakers to allow a woman, who was holding an infant, to move to the front of the long line. The woman, who said she drove in from Hummelstown, offered a moving story about surviving AIDS then, relatively late in life, giving birth to her baby.

“Medical cannabis helped me survive by the skin of my teeth,” she said. “It can’t be denied to others.”


Illegal Guns Seized

Harrisburg police have seized hundreds of firearms over the past few years, following a department-wide push to take illegal guns off of city streets.

At a press conference last month, police lined three long tables with handguns, rifles and shotguns, which they said was a small sample of the 646 illegal weapons confiscated from 2016-18.

Capt. Gabriel Olivera said that, in 2016, city police Commissioner Thomas Carter instructed officers to focus on the epidemic of illegal weapons in the city.

“All these guns were seized mostly without officers engaging these individuals with gunfire,” Olivera said. “Our officers have shown great restraint.”

According to Olivera, 196 guns were seized in 2016, 252 in 2017, and 198 in 2018. The far majority of these weapons have been handguns.

Carter said that, even before 2016, his officers routinely seized illegal firearms. But he wanted them to be more mindful of illegally owned guns, most of which have been stolen, as they patrolled and made arrests.

“I work with these amazing men and women on a day-in and day-out basis, and I know their capabilities,” he said, referring to his officers. “It’s something the entire agency bought into.”

Olivera mentioned that, for 2018, Harrisburg had about a 10-percent drop in “Part 1” offenses, which include the most serious crimes like murder, robbery and aggravated assault, compared to 2017. He also cited a 5- to 6-percent reduction in “Part 2” crimes, such as simple assault, disorderly conduct and most drug possession offenses, which are generally considered to be less serious.

“I can’t tell you that the number of guns has reduced the homicide rate,” Carter said. “But I can tell you that it has reduced violent crime.”

Olivera said that, after police seize a stolen gun, officers try to determine the rightful owner, so it can be returned. If no owner is identified, the gun eventually is destroyed, he said.


ICA Board Complete

A Harrisburg resident and former media executive has secured the final seat on Harrisburg’s new financial oversight board.

David Schankweiler, former publisher of the Central Penn Business Journal, was appointed to the five-member Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (ICA) by state Senate Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati.

Schankweiler joins UPMC Pinnacle executive Tina Nixon, nonprofit professional Audry Carter, attorney Kathy Speaker-MacNett, and property developer Ralph Vartan on the newly created ICA, which will oversee Harrisburg’s finances for five years.

Until 2016, Schankweiler was the CEO and owner of Journal Multimedia, which published the Central Penn Business Journal and other publications. Since his retirement from the publishing industry, he has served on numerous nonprofit boards.

The board met for the first time last month for an organizational meeting.


New Police Gear

Harrisburg police last month showed off a pile of new protective gear, equipment it purchased with a grant from UPMC Pinnacle.

At a press conference, the city’s police bureau shared samples of new vests, helmets and steel plates, part of about 120 pieces of protective gear that will help protect officers from lethal, high-caliber weapons, according to police Commissioner Thomas Carter.

In total, UPMC Pinnacle donated more than $40,000 for the equipment purchase. That figure includes about $20,000 raised last June from the “3.2 to Protect the Blue” race, which was organized by UPMC Pinnacle emergency room nurses, with the UPMC Pinnacle Foundation donating much of the remainder.

“I had no idea of the dedication and love that these people showed our officers,” said Carter, flanked by UPMC nurses and Harrisburg police officers.

The new gear includes 60 helmets, 40 “body armor level 3 ballistic” protective vests with steel plates and 20 additional steel plates. The vendor, Royersford, Pa.-based Body Armor Megastore, contributed another 10 armor body vest sets.

Carter said that the need for the equipment arose last year following the death of U.S. Deputy Marshal Christopher Hill during a raid on a house in Allison Hill. The bureau realized that its helmets and vests were not adequate to protect against today’s powerful firearms, he said.

Deputy Police Chief Deric Moody said that his officers will not wear the equipment regularly, but will keep it nearby in case it’s needed.

After the press conference, Mayor Eric Papenfuse stressed that the equipment was not the full body armor “riot gear” that the bureau requested in 2017 after high-profile clashes throughout the city between “anti-Sharia” protestors and “antifa” counter-protestors. That gear was already purchased following a $68,000 allocation from City Council, he said.


Teachers Protest Pay

A sea of teachers dressed in red and carried homemade signs at a Harrisburg school board meeting last month, protesting what they perceive as unfair pay.

Hundreds of teachers flanked the standing-room-only gymnasium and wore “Red for Ed,” demanding to know why the school board denied a grievance settlement that would have raised the pay of veteran teachers.

In response, the district claimed that the pay raises would be prohibitively expensive for the struggling district, saying, in a prepared statement that “the settlement costs would run into the millions of dollars because of its continuing impact on salary costs in the district.”

At the heart of this fight is a set of intersecting problems: the Harrisburg school district’s budget issues, complaints of low pay and high teacher turnover rate. Veteran teachers demand that their pay reflect the time they’ve invested in Harrisburg schools, but the district asserts that veteran teachers are already being paid competitive wages.

“The more veteran the teacher is at Harrisburg, the more competitively they are paid under the negotiated salary schedule,” the statement read. “The board also believes that if the [Harrisburg Education] association was so concerned about the turnover problem in the district, it would have recommended that this be addressed in our ongoing labor contract negotiations where the teachers have refused to make a salary proposal after 14 months of negotiations.”

“We haven’t refused anything,” Barksdale responded. “We have to settle this before we agree on anything.”

The events culminating in the protest began in August when the Harrisburg Education Association filed a grievance against the board, claiming that veteran teachers were underpaid.

In it, they stated that the district had hired new teachers at rates higher than veteran teachers with equivalent experience, violating their contract. In January, the union reached a verbal agreement to raise the salaries of some of the lowest paid veteran teachers, but the board voted down that contract.


2019 Arts Awards Announced

Theatre Harrisburg has announced the recipients of the 2019 Awards for Distinguished Service to the Arts in the Capital Region (“Arts Awards”).

Ronnie Waters, a jazz musician, arranger, composer and educator, will receive the “Award to an Individual,” and The State Museum of Pennsylvania will receive the “Award to an Organization, Company or Group.”

The awards will be presented on Sunday, June 2, in a theatrical gala at Whitaker Center in downtown Harrisburg. The event is open to the public, and proceeds benefit Theatre Harrisburg.

For more information about the awards, including banquet reservations, visit www.theatreharrisbug.com/artsawards.


Mural Fest Returns

The Harrisburg Mural Festival is returning for another round, as Sprocket Mural Works last month announced a 2019 festival.

Co-organizer Megan Caruso said that Sprocket will oversee the creation of 10 murals over 10 days, from Aug. 30 to Sept. 8. The purpose, she said, is to add density to Harrisburg’s existing “mural trail,” which runs mostly along 3rd Street in downtown and Midtown.

“We want Harrisburg to be a mural-dense city,” she said. “So, they have to be concentrated.”

Sprocket also plans to mount a mural in Allison Hill, Caruso said. The organization created 18 murals during its first mural festival, which was held in 2017.

Lobbying Contract on Hold

Maverick Strategies will need to wait until mid-month to find out if its lobbying contract with Harrisburg will be renewed.

City Council was expected to vote on a one-year, $60,000 contract with the city-based lobbying shop last month, but pulled the resolution at the start of a council legislative session.

Earlier, council had asked Maverick for detailed billing statements for their prior contract, which ended Dec. 31. That information was received just before February’s legislative session, and council needed time to review the bills, said President Wanda Williams.

“We need clarification on these invoices,” Williams said. “City Council has additional questions they want to ask.”

Williams said that they’ll request that Maverick appear at the next council work session, which is slated for March 5, with a contract vote likely at the following legislative session on March 12.

So Noted

Brooks R. Foland of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman and Goggin has been named president of the Dauphin County Bar Association for 2019. The rest of the 2019 executive committee includes Lisa M. Benzie of Navitsky, Olson & Wisneski LLP; Paula J. McDermott of Post & Shell P.C.; Scott B. Cooper of Schmidt Kramer Harrisburg; and Thomas P. Gacki of Eckert Seamans.

D&H Distributing plans to move its headquarters from Harrisburg to Lower Paxton Township later this year, it was announced last month. The century-old company will relocate from the 2500-block of N. 7th Street to a 50-acre campus near I-81.

Harrisburg University has named former professional player Alex Chu to coach its “League of Legends” e-sports team. Chu joined Giuseppe Gramano and Chad Smeltz to round out the e-sports coaching staff at the university.

Joyce Davis has left her position as Harrisburg’s communications director to take a post as the new opinion editor at PennLive. At press time, her replacement in the city had not been named.

National Association of Collegiate Esports last month announced that it had selected Harrisburg for its 2019 annual conference. The July 17-19 convention will attract 300 to 400 attendees, with most events taking place at Harrisburg University and Whitaker Center.

Wildheart Ministries is seeking skilled artists to do small art installations for its third annual Summer Project in Allison Hill, June 9 to Aug. 3. For more information, contact Serena Viera at serena@wildheartministries.net.


Changing Hands

Berryhill St., 2156: M. & J. Rider to V. Marsico, $42,500

Bigelow Dr., 37: BSR Rental Trust to L. Pate, $67,500

Briggs St., 2018: D. Patterson to Cohen Altman Properties LLC, $40,000

Brookwood St., 2202: D. McCahan to Z. Hess, $80,000

Calder St., 517: R. Godshall to PA Deals LLC, $80,000

Crescent St., 332: Dynaspek Holdings to K. Stoute, $55,000

Croyden Rd., 2963: M. Thomas to D. Jamison, $49,900

Emerald Ct., 2450: S. Manly & J. Ebenezer to J. Gilliam, $80,000

Emerald St., 235: R. Valentine & C. Frater to R. Liddick, $35,000

Green St., 1022: Dilks Properaties of Harrisburg LLC to S. & J. Toole, $100,000

Green St., 1605: C. Frater to Fratelli Property Investments LLC, $110,000

Green St., 1609: C. Frater to Fratelli Property Investments LLC, $110,000

Green St., 2035: G. Neff & City Limits Realty to Heinly Homes LLC & W. Hoover, $55,000

Green St., 2037: WCI Partners LP to D. Ranson, $219,000

Green St., 3224: Wilmington Savings Fund Society FSB & Selene Finance LP to C. Wise, $51,500

Greenwood St., 2516: W. & C. Davenport to R9 Holdings LLC, $33,000

Hoffman St., 3010: Innovative Devices Inc. to R. Wiley, $122,000

Hummel St., 250: Y. Martinus to M. Fragoso, $150,000

Kensington St., 2135: A. Segin to L. Scott, $61,000

Lenox St., 2011: R. Volcy to N. Burrell, $162,000

Logan St., 2303: M. Arnold to S. & S. Stridiron, $30,000

North St., 251: Peleton Investments to Trip Aces 251 LLC, $135,000

N. 2nd St., 719: J&S Estate LLC to Hasan Properties LLC, $265,000

N. 2nd St., 1937: M. Horgan to B. & A. Klinger, $201,000

N. 2nd St., 2449: L. Lee to J. Reed & M. DePhilip, $120,000

N. 2nd St., 2739: S. Staub & E. Adler to K. Werner & D. Neyman, $242,000

N. 2nd St., 2953: PI Capital LLC to V. Edwards, $272,000

N. 3rd St., 1931 & 1933: C. Frater & R. Valentine to GMG Harrisburg A LLC, $350,000

N. 4th St., 1729: J. & E. Lonon to C. & E. Little, $142,000

N. 4th St., 1924: Equity Trust Co. Custodian Julie Burns IRA to C. Williams, $117,500

N. 4th St., 2030: I. Alderton to B. Russ, $87,000

N. 4th St., 2448: A. Barber to S. Lewis, $84,000

N. 6th St., 1002: A. Antoun to N&R Group LLC, $31,000

N. 6th St., 2933: C. Wise to J. Ryan, $134,900

N. 6th St., 3105: M&T Bank to K. Kissam, $52,000

N. 18th St., 59, 61& 63: MSP Associates Inc. to Shutter Real Estate LLC, $85,000

N. Front St., 1525, Unit 314: D. Forney to A. Winch, $90,000

Paxton St., 1626: S. Reed to D. & B. Chisolm, $55,000

Penn St., 1933: D. Ranson to J. Hunter, $149,900

Race St., 600: D. Korlewitz to K. Douglas, $135,000

Randolph St., 1416: A. Campbell to N. Tran, $74,000

Reel St., 2742: L. Polite to W. Edgerton, $58,900

S. 13th St., 401: N. & A. James to C., A., F. & S. Weaver, $59,000

S. 17th St., 1112: Wells Fargo National Association to HT Properties LLC, $35,920

S. 18th St., 1039: Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to T. Bilbo & J. Seay, $42,200

S. 19th St., 1141: Z. Robinson to PA Deals LLC, $42,000

S. 20th St., 512: GKT Enterprises LLC to Equity Trust Co., $34,000

S. 25th St., 448: J. & J. Nuhfer to K. & M. Stone, $100,000

S. 26th St., 737: S. Wedemeyer to W. Quezada, $33,000

S. 27th St., 728: E. Patterson to H. Alcantara, $33,621

S. Front St., 577: M. Kuhns to E. Stover, $138,000

State St., 1816: M. Ochoa to H. Plaza, $50,000

State St., 1900 , 1902 & 1904: D. Kapp & W. Cupp to Cassiano Properties LLC, $175,000

Wiconisco St., 523: N. McCoy & M. Gordon to Equity Trust Co., $42,000

Wiconisco St., 623: V. Rivas to L. Cruz & I. Perez, $55,000

Wyeth St., 1405: J. & M. Reis to L. Stamm, $115,000

Harrisburg property sales for January 2019, greater than $30,000. Source: Dauphin County. Data is assumed to be accurate.

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December News Digest

Harrisburg Weighs 2019 Budget

Harrisburg City Council last month delayed a vote on the 2019 municipal budget, citing unresolved disputes with the mayor’s office over spending proposals.

The seven-member council voted unanimously to table the budget bill proposed by Mayor Eric Papenfuse in November.

The mayor’s $70.8 million balanced budget called for slightly less spending than last year, flat tax rates, and more than $7 million in capital improvement projects.

The budget was the subject of almost eight hours of public hearings in December, when council members raised questions about proposed salary increases and the reorganization of city hall departments.

Council budget and finance chair Ben Allatt said on Dec. 18 that the administration would not budge on those proposals, or grant council’s requests to amend capital spending plans.

The mayor’s original capital spending plan called 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

An additional $2.5 million in the proposed budget would 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 river walk, 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 last year by heavy summer rains.

As of press time, the council budget vote was scheduled for Dec. 27. Allatt declined to describe the specific changes council sought.
Recycling Fee Hits Harrisburg

Harrisburg will start paying a new fee for single-stream recycling in 2019, but ratepayers won’t see any changes to their municipal waste bills.

Beginning in January, Harrisburg will pay trash collector Penn Waste $40 for each ton of recycled paper and plastic taken to its materials recovery facility, where refuse is sorted, baled and prepared for export.

Harrisburg has used Penn Waste’s recycling facility since 2014 but did not previously pay for recycling.

Due to recent federal trade disputes with China, however, consumers across the country are now paying for a service that waste management companies traditionally offered for free.

As the world’s largest importer of recycled goods, China took the American waste industry by surprise earlier last year when it announced a temporary ban on all American imports, claiming that they contained too many contaminants—non-recyclable plastics and food waste that made their way into recycling bins.

The country later imposed new contaminant standards that all but disqualified American recyclables from import.

The announcement led to a meltdown in the American recycling industry, as waste companies began hemorrhaging money on a previously profitable service.


Higher Water, Sewer Rates in 2019

Water and sewer rates will rise this year for many people in the Harrisburg area, as Capital Region Water set its new rates for 2019.

Under the 2019 budget, CRW’s drinking water customers will pay $9.65 for 1,000 gallons, an increase of 19 cents, or 2 percent, over the 2018 rates. These customers also pay a $7.62 “ready to serve” charge.

Wastewater rates will go up more substantially. For 2019, these customers will pay $7.65 for 1,000 gallons, an increase of 66 cents, or 9.4 percent, over the 2018 rates.

An average, full-service residential customer who uses 4,500 gallons of water monthly will pay an extra $3.98 per month, according to CRW.

CRW stated that the rate increases were necessary, in part, to fund ongoing capital improvements in its service area. The company has committed to some $40 million in capital projects to repair and replace its aging infrastructure.

For 2019, CRW’s water projects include lining a major water main on Cameron Street, replacing several aging water mains, and evaluating the DeHart Dam spillway. Wastewater capital improvements include updating treatment systems at the wastewater treatment facility and repairing major interceptor sewers along Paxton Creek and the Susquehanna River, according to the company.

CRW has increased its water and sewer rates for several years in a row. For 2018, drinking water rates went up by 7.5 percent and wastewater rates by 7.1 percent.


Charter School Proposed

A new elementary charter school could open its doors in Midtown Harrisburg next year, if it gets the approval it seeks from the Harrisburg school board.

The Pennsylvania STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) Academy last month presented a charter application to the school board at a public hearing in the district’s Lincoln Administration Building.

Only three board members attended the hearing, which was recessed after 90 minutes and will reconvene in January.

The presentation was led by former Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq, a founding board member of the PA STEAM Academy. Dumaresq explained that the school would offer small classes and a rigorous curriculum in STEM fields, as well as a deep emphasis on language arts and literacy.

If Harrisburg grants the five-year charter application, the STEAM Academy would open at the HACC Midtown 2 Academic Building, 1500 N. 3rd St., in fall 2019 for grades K-2. The school would add a grade of instruction every year, allowing the incoming cohort of 2nd-graders to progress through 6th grade by the time the charter expires in 2024.

If their charter is granted and then renewed, they hope to expand to 8th grade.

HACC currently occupies Midtown 2, but the 15-year lease on the building expires in June 2022, and HACC announced in March that it would not renew it. The college plans to start moving some programs out of the building as early as this year.

As a public charter school, enrollment at PA STEAM Academy would be free for students, paid for by contributions from its students’ school districts. Harrisburg students would have first priority for the 120 enrollment slots. If the school received applications for more students than it could serve, it would select students through a lottery system.

Enrollment would only be open to students from other districts if the school could not fill its seats from within Harrisburg.

The school would also have a research component, Dumaresq said, serving as a testing ground for innovative curriculum programs that could raise student achievement across all of the Harrisburg school district.

“We would be able to look at our programs, look at student achievement, and say ‘this works’ and take the model [to other schools],” Dumaresq said. “A school district the size of Harrisburg can’t implement things this big all at once.” 


UMC Churches to Close

Ten Harrisburg-area United Methodist churches are slated to close as their congregations consolidate, it was announced last month.

The Susquehanna United Methodist Conference cited declining membership and the high cost of building maintenance in its decision to shutter and sell the churches. Several churches are historic structures that date back more than a century.

The churches set to close are:

  • First Harrisburg UMC, 260 Boas St.
  • Riverside UMC, 3200 N. 3rd St.
  • Rockville UMC, 4386 N. 6th St.
  • Mark’s UMC, 3985 N. 2nd St.
  • Camp Curtin Memorial Mitchell UMC, 2221 N. 6th St.
  • Grace Harrisburg UMC, 216 State St.
  • Derry Street UMC, 1508 Derry St.
  • Twenty Ninth Street UMC, 750 S. 29th St.
  • Grace Penbrook UMC, 25 S. 28th St., Penbrook
  • Trinity Penbrook UMC, Canby and N. 25th St.

The conference stated that the congregations will consolidate into a smaller number of newly constructed campuses. Sites in Harrisburg and Penbrook are being considered as locations for the new campuses.


County Tax Unchanged

Dauphin County last month passed a 2019 budget that will keep the county’s portion of the property tax unchanged.

The $247 million budget retains the county rate of 6.87 mills, plus a .35 mills library tax.

This marks the 14th straight year that the county tax will not increase.

Additionally, the budget includes $11 million for the county’s municipal bridge project. Under the program, Dauphin County will use state transportation-related funds to cover 40 percent of a municipality’s cost to repair or replace a bridge. The rest of the money can be borrowed via low-interest loans from the Dauphin County Infrastructure Bank.

County officials said they are working with municipalities to determine an initial list of bridges.

“Without this program, township and boroughs would be forced to either close or weight-restrict bridges or raise local taxes to fix them,’’ said Commissioner Mike Pries. “We’re looking at long-term solutions and working with our municipal partners to improve the quality of life in the county.”


Robinson Regains Board Presidency

Danielle Robinson returned to her post as president of the Harrisburg school board last month, ousting incumbent Judd Pittman in a 6-3 vote at an annual reorganization meeting.

Lola Lawson, a board veteran who was appointed to a temporary seat in August, will serve as vice president.

A member of the school board since 2012, Robinson served as its president from 2015 to 2017, when she lost her leadership role to Pittman. She was subsequently elected vice president for the 2018 calendar year.

Robinson and Pittman found themselves in opposite factions throughout most of 2018, as the board decided whether to retain Superintendent Sybil Knight-Burney or conduct a nationwide search for her replacement. The board frequently split along slim margins on questions related to Knight-Burney’s tenure and administration, with the majority supporting her.

In other school board news, board member Melvin Wilson died suddenly last month. The board now must appoint a replacement by mid-January.


Study: Dauphin County Most Like “Middle America”

A research firm last month named Dauphin County the most typical county in the nation.

Alexandria, Va.-based Echelon Insights released the results of its “Middle America Project,” which ranked Dauphin County as, statistically, the “closest to resembling America as a whole.”

The firm used a variety of demographic and other data, including income, employment, church attendance and voting tendencies, to compile a “Middle America score” and rank more than 3,000 counties.

Another Pennsylvania county—Lehigh—took second place nationwide, with Scott County, Iowa, Shawnee County, Kansas, and Peoria County, Ill., rounding out the top five spots. Webster County, W.Va., was ranked as least resembling the nation as a whole.

Locally, Lancaster County came in at No. 51, Cumberland County at 109, York County at 318, Lebanon County at 533, Adams County at 633 and Perry County at 2,024.


So Noted

Adam Porter was named last month as president of the executive board of Harrisburg Young Professionals for 2019. Porter is co-owner of both the st@rtup Harrisburg co-working space and Provisions, a downtown grocery. In addition, HYP named Jeremy Scheibelhut and Brandon Boring as vice presidents, Sydney Kyler as treasurer and Mary Kate Grimes as secretary.

AutoZone passed its first significant hurdle last month, as Harrisburg City Council voted to void several “paper” alleys on the proposed site at N. 7th and Maclay streets. Before the auto parts company can build a retail store on the Vartan-owned parcel, the city still must approve its land use plan.

Beth Taylor resigned last month after more than three years as manager of the Broad Street Market in Harrisburg. At press time, the market board had not yet named a replacement.

Harrisburg City Council last month unanimously passed a resolution opposing “conversion therapy,” a controversial treatment that claims to be able to change one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Council passed the measure, which contains no sanctions, as a public statement of opposition.

Harrisburg University has been named U.S. STEM University of the Year by United Kingdom-based Corporate LiveWire. Corporate LiveWire is a networking platform that allows individuals and organizations to find other professionals in the corporate finance and business community.

Lindsay Helsel has been named vice president of Team Pennsylvania, a nonprofit dedicated to innovation and entrepreneurship in the commonwealth. Helsel previously served as the group’s director of international initiatives.

Patrice Merzanis will serve as the new executive director of the Dauphin County Bar Association effective Jan. 1. Merzanis, who most recently served as a consultant with the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors, replaces Elizabeth Simcox, who served in the position for seven years.

Radish & Rye Food Hub plans to open a second location this summer on the 1300-block of N. 3rd Street in Harrisburg. Owners Dusty and Julia James will open a seven-day-a-week grocery store, complementing their Broad Street Market stand, focused on local, organic and prepared foods. Radish & Rye has received a three-year, $333,410 federal grant to help fund the expansion.
Changing Hands

Berryhill St., 2163: G. Garmin & D. Hart to International Union of Elevator Constructors Local Union #59, $140,000

Boas St., 223: Clionsky & Keys LLC to C. & K. Kelley, $142,800

Boas St., 257: F. & J. Beskind to R. Lowery, $116,900

Boas St., 261 & 263: C. & M. Frater to Alex Manning Enterprises LLC, $194,000

Boas St., 1816: D. Schultz to Harrisburg Properties LLC, $39,000

Cumberland St., 224: A. Karns to A. & A. Chaplin, $114,000

Derry St., 2423: E. Gmys to S. Bello, $78,000

Duke St., 2438: M. & K. Morris to K. Morris, $30,000

Fulton St., 1722: PA Deals LLC to Pedavelis Properties LLC, $109,000

Green St., 1102: LHRE LLC to W. Hoover & Heinly Homes LLC, $50,000

Green St., 1820: C. Edwards to Jhonleo Home Renovations LLC, $45,000

Green St., 2212: T. Treece to E. Villavicencio, $55,000

Harris St., 226: P. & T. Davis to V. Parades, $74,500

Herr St., 1611 & 703 N. 18th St.: WK Rentals LLC to Henry & Sons Property 2 LLC, $119,800

Locust St., 115 & 117 N. River St.: Allis Revocable Trust to M. & D. Williams, $287,000

Locust St., 119: D. Shatto, S. Shatto & A. Rhoads to G. Rhoads & M. Beamer, $95,000

Market St., 1827: 2103 Central PA Real Estate Fund LLC to Henry & Sons Property 2 LLC, $79,900

N. 2nd St., 2131: J. & R. Miller to BCRA Realty LLC, $84,500

N. 2nd St., 2140: M. Price to G. & K. Raser, $140,000

N. 2nd St., 2313: G. Mineur to D. Lehman, $36,700

N. 3rd St., 1614: P. Eusi to D. McCord, $144,500

N. 3rd St., 1800: R. Valentine & C. Frater to 1800 N. 3rd LLC, $174,500

N. 3rd St., 1818: C. Frater to Heinly Homes LLC, $100,000

N. 3rd St., 1724: Y. Farzana to J. Montone, $132,000

N. 3rd St., 1937: C. Frater to Heinly Homes LLC, $130,000

N. 4th St., 3230: D. Garman to C. Sitterly, $132,000

N. 5th St., 2648: R. Walker to R. & O. Hicks, $44,000

N. 13th St., 113: Adonis Real Estate LLC to 77 Estate LLC, $37,500

N. 15th St., 183 & 185: S. Fenton, D. Fenton & Harrisburg Property Management Group to T. Casteel, $58,000

N. 15th St., 1308: Harrisburg Rentals LLC to Henry & Sons Property 2 LLC, $59,900

N. Front St., 1525, Unit 210: N. & D. Burke to R. & L. Mack, $105,000

N. Front St., 2949: Fraternal Order of Police to Vinculum Inc., $285,000

Penn St., 1717: J. Armstrong to N. Houle, $109,900

Pennwood Rd., 3100: C. Pensyl to K. Zuber, $96,000

Reel St., 2433: A. Wood to C. & M. Gentry, $31,000

Reily St., 204: R. & E. Davis to B. Davis, $80,000

Rolleston St., 1235: L. & E. Saunders to ECS Holdings LLC, $170,000

Rumson Dr., 2786: PA Deals LLC to B. & C. George, $79,500

Seneca St., 241: CR Property Group to L. Graham, $71,500

S. 14th St., 1403: J. & F. Scott to City of Harrisburg, $41,000

S. 17th St., 205: J. Tyson, M. Tyson & W. Hill to 205 S. 17th Street LLC, $137,500

S. 23rd St., 605: 2014 LIMG Real Estate Investment Fund LLC to Henry & Sons Property 2 LLC, $64,900

S. 24th St., 705 & 711: C. Dellmuth to R. Hendrix, $95,800

S. 26th St., 655: Twenty Ninth Street United Methodist Church to F. & R. Rivera, $109,900

S. Chestnut St., 100: Dauphin County General Authority to Chestnut 100 LLC, $1,600,000

S. Market Sq.: Skarlatos & Zonarich Real Estate LP to South Second Associates LLC, $1,800,000

State St., 1310: Skye Holdings LLC to M. Maniari & Z. Er Roudi, $30,000

Sylvan Terr., 127 & 134: C. McGraw to Enterprise O LLC, $65,000

Verbeke St., 1418: A. & D. Cruz to J. Reid, $63,900

Yale St., 227: J. & C. Nuhfer to A. De Camacho, $42,000

Yale St., 228: C. Jones to NGDR Company Inc., $45,000

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Brushes and Briefs: Arty types find help from a most unexpected source–lawyers.

Screenshot 2015-01-27 23.53.21Lawyers. Artists.

It’s not every day you think of these two different types of people together, joined in a common endeavor. But that’s what’s happening under a unique collaboration between attorneys, law students and creative folks.

Led by the Dauphin County Bar Association (DCBA) and Widener University School of Law’s Harrisburg Campus, Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts helps artists with the unique legal issues they face. This assistance is provided at no charge to the artist or the arts organization.

“Artists are, for the most part, incredibly resilient people,” said Harrisburg photographer Dani Fresh. “But, sometimes, even we need help.”

Through the program, artists and arts groups contact the Dauphin County Bar Association, which assesses the applicant’s financial eligibility for pro bono (free) assistance. The DCBA then forwards potential cases to Widener Law students, who research the legal issues that artists may encounter.

“As a student, this is a win-win situation,” said Widener law student Victoria Beard, whose mother, a weaver, put together a craft cooperative in Waynesboro, Pa. “We can sharpen our skills as future attorneys, perfecting the art of asking questions and eliciting information. We can provide a valuable service to artists and arts organizations that lack the funds to hire an attorney for the help they really need.”

That help may entail such issues as intellectual property, contract disputes, sales, business information, landlord-tenant law, taxes and the creation of corporations, to name just a few. Students conduct client interviews and develop necessary case files that are passed on to licensed attorneys.

Legal issues can become overwhelming to an artist as he or she attempts to establish a career or continues to pursue a career.

“This is an underserved community with unmet legal needs,” said Widener Law School Associate Professor Michael J. Hussey, who joined Professor Juliet M. Moringiello in helping found the program with the DCBA.

Hussey adds that the program allows artists the freedom to pursue their art while volunteer lawyers and law students help to protect their legal interests.

“This program helps artists identify and avoid legal risks when possible,” said Liz Simcox, executive director of the DCBA. “It raises artists’ awareness of the resources available from the DCBA and other organizations when legal representation is needed.”

Bar Association Pro Bono Coordinator Sandy Ballard plays a key role in coordinating this project.

“This is a great opportunity for artists and small arts organizations to find the help they need to become stronger and more successful,” she said.

However, it also benefits the students, as they learn to apply their education while developing their talents and skills through volunteer opportunities before facing the pressures of working in a law firm.

“Law students learn valuable business skills while working with lawyers and artists,” said Ballard.

Since Sept. 15, Lawyers for the Arts has accepted requests from artists and arts organizations through the DCBA Lawyer Referral Service, which assists individuals in identifying private attorneys appropriate to their needs. Students and faculty of Widener review applications. The DCBA then refers selected applicants to participating local attorneys for representation.

“Through this program, everyone in central Pennsylvania will be enriched by the creativity of our thriving arts community,” said Hussey.

Harrisburg artist Liz Laribee agreed, adding that the need for legal services will only increase as the city’s already-vibrant art community continues to grow.

“With the number of creative professionals and entrepreneurs honing their craft here, it’s encouraging to see efforts to buffer their work against risk,” she said. “I love when concentric circles of the ecosystem work together in such creative ways. It makes for a better outcome and a greater city.”

For more information or to become involved in Volunteer Lawyers for Arts, contact Sandy Ballard at 717-232-7536, ext. 7, or sandy@dcba-pa.org.

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