Harrisburg's fiscal emergency declaration to be lifted - abc27 WHTM

Harrisburg's fiscal emergency declaration to be lifted

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October 24, 2011 was a dark day in Harrisburg; perhaps the darkest to many. That was the day Governor Tom Corbett inked a declaration of fiscal emergency.

With the mountain of debt looming over the city, Harrisburg's government risked running out of money to pay bills, workers, or run as a government.

Three years later, state officials are looking to have the governor's declaration rescinded and lift Harrisburg out of its state-appointed receivership.

Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse said Receiver William Lynch informed him a few days ago the motion would be filed in Commonwealth Court. The city's new mayor views the step as nothing but historic and significant for Harrisburg.

"It's a extremely significant day in Harrisburg's history," he said. "I think it's a very positive thing."

According to a spokesperson with the Office of General Counsel, the filing would most likely take place on Thursday. A hearing would subsequently be set for Commonwealth Court Judge Bonnie Leadbetter to determine if the city is financially stable enough for such a move.

On December 23, abc27 was present when Lynch filed the consummation notice to Commonwealth Court, notifying that roughly $600 million of municipal debt was eliminated from the city's books. The Harrisburg Strong court-approve recovery plan came to fruition. The incinerator was sold to the Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority for $130 million. Standard Parking struck a deal on Harrisburg's parking system involving a 40-year lease that paid $270 million up front.

If and when the courts lift Harrisburg's fiscal emergency declaration, the state plans to dissolve the receivership. Lynch would be relieved of his duties and go onto other ventures. While the details of the filing are not readily available, Papenfuse said it was explained to him that a coordinator would be named to guide Harrisburg while the city remains under Act 47.

The coordinator most likely would be pulled from the state Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), according to Papenfuse. The state-appointed coordinator would allow the city to lean on state officials to guide Harrisburg through future negotiations such as the Verizon building lease set to expire in 2016.

Papenfuse said he always viewed Harrisburg's receivership process as a short-term fix for a long-term solution.

"You needed the power of the state and the Receiver's Office to bring everyone together around the table. They did that, they were successful in doing that., and now they're handing the reins back to the local elected officials" he said.

Papenfuse said although the local powers never really fully left, he believes locally elected officials can finally work together to keep city government running efficiently and make fiscally responsible decisions.

"If we are going to be successful we got to work together," he said. "I'm certainty going to put in all the time and energy and effort that I possibly can on my end to make sure that happens."

Corbett's office, DCED, and the Office of General Counsel told abc27 they would hold comment until the filing was submitted. Lynch and former mayor Linda Thompson were unavailable for comment.


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