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Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

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Meetings Y
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Administrative Officials Y
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Permits, zoning Y
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Harrisburg is the capital city in Pennsylvania. It is one of 57 cities in the state.

Website evaluation

Main article: Evaluation of Pennsylvania city websites

The good

  • City of Harrisburg's bids and RFPs are posted.[1]
  • The budget is posted for fiscal year 2008.[2]
  • Building permit forms and zoning information is available on website.[3]
  • The mayor and city council officials contact information are posted online.[4]
  • The new Harrisburg City Controller website provides additional info including audits, employee benefits and compensation, as well as more in depth information on the 2010 Budget. However, all of the information is provided pdf documents instead of a searchable database.[5]

The bad

  • Information is not available for public records
  • Information is not available for agenda and minutes.
  • Lobbying information and ethics is not noted
  • There is no checkbook register available

Fighting Off Bankruptcy

Pennsylvania put the city under its under its Act 47 law in December 2010 and in June 2011, and the rescue and recovery plan was part of the law. The plan recommended a wage freeze and the sale of the incinerator that caused fiscal problems.[6] The report also recommended streamlining services, downsizing government and increasing certain property taxes if necessary. The report in June 2011 said that the city "teeters uncomfortably on the verge of bankruptcy that could be triggered at any moment by parties outside its control."[7] The City Council voted to reject that state-sponsored Act 47 plan and Mayor Linda Thompson’s followup fiscal-recovery plan.[8]

In January 2014, the Pacific Research Institute, a California-based public policy organization, issued a report on the largest Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcies across the United States as well as other municipalities facing financial straits. The municipalities included in the report were Harrisburg, Detroit, MI, New York City, Stockton, CA, San Jose, CA, and San Bernardino, CA.[9] According to the report, the city was unable to pay debt on a trash incinerator plant due to a financially irresponsible construction plan. The plan faced seven years of cost overruns, design problems, and construction delays that amassed a roughly $68 million bill to the state's outstanding debt.[9]

On October 11, 2011, the city council voted 4-3 to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection.[10] The council members in favor of filing under Ch. 9 hoped it would give the city some relief from lawsuits against it i light of the city's $300 million debt crisis tied to a project to revamp its incinerator.[11] City Council President Gloria Martin-Roberts said filing for bankruptcy would only create more lawsuits against the city.[10]

In March of 2012, the city was forced to skip two debt payments totaling $5.3 million, the first time the city has ever defaulted on general obligation bonds.[12]

A state ban that prevented Harrisburg from filing for municipal bankruptcy protection was set to expire after Nov. 30. Since October 2011 Harrisburg's debt has swelled from $300 million to $340 million. Harrisburg still faced a projected cumulative deficit of $14.8 million by the end of fiscal 2012.[13]

About two weeks after Harrisburg's city council first filed the bankruptcy petition, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett declared a state of fiscal emergency for the city of nearly 50,000 residents, in which about a third of them living in poverty. A federal judge later blocked the city council's Chapter 9 petition after state lawmakers banned it.[14]


In mid 2010, Harrisburg faced a $68 million deficit, more than its annual budget.[15] A large portion of the debt came from a malfunctioning municipal incinerator which faced cost overruns, construction delays, design problems, financings, and repeated refinancing. The $68 million bill was part of $288 million in outstanding debt related to the project.[15] The city considered "cutting 537-employee from the workforce, it is asking for contract rebates, considering the sale or long-term lease of revenue-producing assets, including parking garages and water and waste-water systems, and asking creditors to restructure and forgive debt."[15]

In September 2010, the city would have defaulted on a $3.29 million bond payment.[16] Governor Ed Rendell loaded the city $4.3 million to pay its bills.[17] The money was allocated toward:

  • $1 million for fire protection
  • $3.3 million to pay the bond payment.
  • $850,000 to hire Scott Balice Strategies and create a financial plan.

External links