Sunday, February 07, 2010

Pennsylvania's Capital City, Harrisburg, Faces Bankruptcy

Somehow we missed this news during January. Hopefully it continues to develop toward a filing.

Awesomely, Pennsylvania's capital city - Harrisburg - is insolvent and on the brink of filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy.

As reported in this link to WGAL's website, you can see that Harrisburg's new mayor is dealing with all sorts of tough decisions in her first few weeks in office.

TILB's advice to Mayor Thompson: take a page from Arnold's book and start issuing your own scrip. Seems like s no-brainer.

Emphasis added [and comments added in brackets]
Harrisburg Facing Bankruptcy; Mayor Proposes Tax Hike, Leasing Assets
Official: Incinerator Primary Cause Of Financial Woes

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- After just a few weeks in office, Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson is facing financial problems that could put the city in bankruptcy before the year is out.

City officials blame the incinerator facility, now over $228 million in debt, for the city's financial troubles.

That's not an option she even wants to consider at this point, but any successful plan must solve the financial drain of the city's incinerator.

The incinerator is currently $288 million in debt and is the primary cause of Harrisburg's financial problems.

Officials said it doesn't begin to produce the revenue needed to pay off the debt of repairing and operating the facility over the years.

Former City Council vice president Dan Miller said it's been a financial drain for decades.

"It's such a problem because for 25 years, the true problem of the incinerator has never been addressed," said Miller. "It's been refinanced repeatedly and pushed down the road, always waiting for someone else to solve the problem."

Now, he said, the city must solve the problem.

Miller said he believes the city should consider going into Act 47, the first step before bankruptcy. That would allow the city to negotiate with the people it owes to come up with realistic plans to settle debts.

Miller said raising taxes and other fees, or selling off revenue-producing city assets like the parking garages and water and sewer operations, will only create new problems.

Mayor Thompson Proposes Budget Amendments
Thompson addressed City Council Tuesday night with her own plans to fix the financial crisis.

City council member Wanda Williams said Thompson's proposed tax hike is "an outrageous amount" to increase any taxes. [TILB - I love this! "We can't cut spending" and "we can't sell our precious assets" and "we can't raise taxes"! Guess what you can do, loser: File BK.]

Thompson is proposing to increase water rates by 40 percent and cut overtime funding for the police and fire department.

At the meeting, Thompson also proposed what she called tough decisions, which include:
A 20 percent property tax increase
Cutting costs for trash collection
Merging Harrisburg dispatch with the Dauphin County 911 center

Thompson said her cuts would save the city about $8 million. She said her proposals will close the nearly $4 million gap in the budget, allow the city to make payroll next month and help ease the financial pain of the incinerator debt.

But not everyone is happy with the mayor's recommendations.

"I'm disturbed by it," said one taxpayer. "To me, a property tax increase as well as a water rate increase would be something I find objectionable." [TILB - while we totally agree, Johnny Taxpayer needs to recognize that these are symptoms of the debt and spending problem. It's like getting herpes from unprotected but enjoyable sex and then saying you find the sores "objectionable".]

Thompson said she is also considering selling or leasing the city's assets, including parking garages and City Island. [TILB - Honestly, this is a great idea...I mean, other than the fact that this is a horrible time to sell these sorts of assets. Maybe some public REIT with overpriced equity financing will provide the necessary bid. Why should municipalities be in the business of managing parking garages anyway?]

City council will look into the mayor's budget proposal at Thursday's budget and finance committee meeting.
Expect more of this sort of thing.