History was made in Harrisburg on Monday when Pennsylvania's capital city became the first municipality to complete a state-appointed receivership.
Commonwealth Court Judge Bonnie Brigance Leadbetter confirmed Harrisburg Strong, the city's fiscal recovery plan.
"This was the decision I was waiting on," Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson said. "Nothing else, no other decision, no council vote, no nothing; it was a matter of what does the judge say?"
In a 10-page ruling, Leadbetter maintained it was in the best interest of Harrisburg to approve the plan to remove nearly $363 million in municipal debt. Harrisburg Strong also provides the city with a revenue stream to wrangle its wild structural deficit.
Receiver William Lynch has been steering the state-appointed receivership since previous receiver David Unkovic left in spring 2012. Lynch and a team of experts saw Harrisburg Strong come to fruition, which no other American municipality has ever achieved.
"This is an opportunity for Harrisburg to begin again," Lynch said. "I already feel a sense of optimism in the city. People seem happy to put this behind them and get started on the future."
Lynch is hesitant to take a victory lap and gives every ounce of credit to his team, city leaders, and residents of Harrisburg. He said Harrisburg Strong must be implemented and current and future leaders must make responsible decisions.
As for Lynch and the receiver role, he expects to remain on board until the sale of the trash incinerator and the lease of parking assets are finalized and he has successfully negotiated a new contract with Harrisburg's fire union.
Because the receivership process is unprecedented, so are its duties.
"I would expect the governor to rescind his declaration of fiscal emergency, which will probably terminate the need for a receiver, but it won't remove the city from Act 47," he said.
Lynch said state legislators must make changes before a city can officially be removed from Act 47. Of the 26 financially distressed municipalities in Pennsylvania, only six have had their emergency declarations rescinded and none have exited Act 47 status.
In the coming years, Harrisburg could become the first city to achieve both.
As the leaves begin to change, so will the political winds with the mayoral election in November. Whoever residents choose to lead their city into a new recovery phase, Thompson wants people to remember who gave them this "gift."
Thompson acknowledged she has much work to do in the remaining three months of her administration, but she said she cannot help but get emotional over the work she has already done as the public's civil servant.
"When the doors are shut and I don't have to look back, there is a great story to be told under my leadership," she said.