Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse's State of the City address, Sept. 8, 2015
For Immediate Release
Contact: Joyce M. Davis
717 255 3015
717 836 9555
Below is the full text of Mayor Eric Papenfuse’s 2015 State of the City
State of the City Address
Mayor Eric Papenfuse
Sept. 8, 2015
Hilton Harrisburg Hotel
(Annual Breakfast of Greater Harrisburg Chamber of Commerce and
Some of you may know that – long before I decided to run for elected office, or
start a bookstore, or teach Latin to seventh graders – I went to graduate school
to study the motivations of politicians.
Despite what you may hear in the midst of the National Civil War Museum’s
controversies, I have always loved American history.
When I was in high school I won an award from the National Endowment for the
Humanities to study the ratification the United States Constitution in my home
state of Maryland. Later that year, I attended the Bicentennial celebrations in
The keynote speaker was James Earl Jones. He gave a moving talk about how
our government is fallible. Even our nation’s founding document, the Constitution,
is sometimes fallible. It is not written in stone. It is meant to be “used, protected,
and expanded by the people.”
Jones was an amazing orator. I was transfixed by the power of his words.
Afterwards I braved the crowds to meet him. But I was so awe-struck that when I
asked him to autograph my program, I accidentally walked off with his remarks,
which he had mistakenly handed to me!
The pages of his speech were covered with his pencil markings, reminding
himself to emphasize certain words and phrases as he spoke – most notably the
“we” in “we the people.”
Today I want to talk about how WE the people of Greater Harrisburg all benefit
from the City’s accomplishments, how we all have a stake in its successes, and
how we all must share in its challenges.
I believe that NOW is the time for the wider community to contribute decisively to
our capital city’s ongoing recovery.
What lessons can history offer us in this regard? A historical understanding of the
workings of government can help us see the possibilities even in the midst of
The Constitution remains a contested document today, just as it was 230 years
ago. As Jones told us, it was intended to be a living document, something for
future generations to improve – and amend.
In 1787, the great political controversy was between Federalists who advocated
for a strong central government, and more radical voices who were concerned
about the consolidation of power and so opposed the Constitution’s ratification.
In graduate school I published a prize-winning essay on how the Antifederalists,
as they were called, came to terms with a plan for a union they believed was
simply too “strong.”
The Antifederalists were among America’s earliest grass-roots political activists.
Some of them rallied people in the streets, to demand a pathway for
Some of them believed that it would only take a new President’s “good
administration” to counteract the Constitution’s defects. Others put their trust in
leaders like Thomas Jefferson, who famously said that “Half a loaf is better than
no bread.” Though amendments were needed, they could be put in place later,
after the states had adopted the Constitution.
And that’s exactly what happened. Three years after the Constitution was ratified,
three years after America’s “Great Experiment” of a democratic republic began,
Congress adopted the Bill of Rights. Thanks to these amendments, many of the
new government’s initial detractors eventually became its staunchest supporters.
Today, in Harrisburg, it is with a reminiscent nod to our nation’s contested
founding that I say to you this morning: now is the time for we the people to work
in unison to amend the Harrisburg Strong Plan.
Let me explain why this is the most urgent question facing us.
Three years into our city’s “great experiment” of the Strong Plan, it has become
clear that, despite the state’s earlier assurances to the contrary, Harrisburg will
not have sufficient revenues in 2016 to meet its required operating expenses.
This defect in the Strong Plan’s framing cannot be remedied by cost-cutting
The City now employs just 369 workers – down from a high of 667 positions less
than a decade ago.
And while the City is starving for capacity, we have already cut discretionary
funding to the bone. 2015 will mark the second year in a row that we have
significantly underspent our adopted budget. That is simply not a sustainable
The bad news is that, without amending the Strong Plan, our revenues next year
look to be six million dollars beneath the recovery plan’s projections.
To put that six million dollar number in perspective, that represents nearly 10
percent of 2015’s adjusted budget. In addition, our fixed costs are rising quickly
– from pensions to healthcare to insurance.
So where did the Strong Plan go wrong?
Estimates were essentially too optimistic for both the Earned Income Tax and the
new parking revenues.
Yes, hundreds of millions of dollars in long-term debt was triumphantly wiped
from the City’s books. But unfortunately, years of irregular city accounting
masked a long-standing structural deficit that was years in the making, and far
more insidious than the Receiver’s team realized.
Now that the accounting has been done, my commitment to true transparency
and responsible civic planning dictates that we the people must come to terms
with this deficit without delay.
Ultimately, I believe I was elected to ensure that Harrisburg never again falls prey
to the mistakes of the past – never again spends irresponsibly without a means
of paying its bills – and never again postpones hard truths by putting a financial
burden on future generations.
The GOOD NEWS this morning is that it is NOT TOO LATE for corrective action.
Last year I described the state of our city as resilient. Ever resourceful, we
remain engaged and up to the challenges that confront us. In a word, the state
of our great capital city today in 2015 is can-do!
If we come together in the face of adversity, we CAN solve this crisis! It will
require continued sacrifice, straight talk, and collective action. But it can be
It is, therefore, with unrelenting optimism that I offer this three-point plan to
secure our future:
First, we must amend the Strong Plan to raise the Local Services Tax from $1
per week to $3. This is the fairest tax increase we can propose because it will
not burden the working poor, seniors on fixed incomes, or the unemployed.
Recent changes to Act 47 allow distressed municipalities to petition the court for
an LST increase, and we must take advantage of this additional revenue stream
immediately. It should bring in over four million dollars annually.
To all the employers in this room, here’s what you can do: help me convey the
message to each and every worker within the City limits that Harrisburg’s
recovery - and indeed the region’s stability - requires this additional sacrifice of
just $2 more per week. That’s less than a cup of coffee at the Hilton or even the
Sunday Patriot News.
Second, we must continue to invest in and improve the City’s sanitation services.
That is the one revenue source for the City which is currently out-performing
expectations and has room for growth.
By expanding sanitation operations, we, as a City, will be able to build capacity in
much-needed neighborhood services. Adequately staffing sanitation will allow
more pot-holes to be filled, trees to be trimmed, and parks to be maintained. In
fact, sanitation is the one area of the budget that can afford to see new hiring in
By rejecting privatization and rethinking what it means to be a clean and green
city, we can simultaneously reduce general fund obligations and also save for
much needed long-term capital improvements like a new public works facility.
The sanitation fund, if carefully managed, can even serve as a low-interest
means of lending to the general fund, which will help the city become ever more
self-sufficient in the future.
Again, to all the City businesses in this room, here is what you can do: if you are
currently using an unauthorized private hauler or know a company that does,
please help us transition these accounts back to the City’s sanitation
department. This includes, I am sorry to say, CREDC’s own Front Street offices,
along with over 350 other large accounts that are right now defying City
ordinances and draining much needed revenues from the system.
I appeal to every City business to support our recovery. Rather than contesting
trash rates or suing the City, we need business owners to recognize that – by
increasing your recycling, which is free, you can essentially control your costs.
That is exactly what the School District has done. After years without a recycling
program, the City’s rates adopted in 2013 have spurred them into action, and
taxpayers are benefiting from the results.
Finally, as a can-do city, Harrisburg is full of ideas. I am pleased to report this
morning that, through the comprehensive plan’s engagement strategy, the public
has already voiced over 842 specific suggestions on how to make our City
Just like the Antifederalists who mobilized ordinary citizens to push for a Bill of
Rights, WE need to harness the vox populi and engage the public directly, as we
work for amendments in the Strong Plan’s recovery process.
To this end, my third proposal to move the city forward is to shift to Home Rule.
Next year I will introduce an ordinance in City Council to begin the process by
placing on the ballot the question of establishing a government study
commission. We need to transfer basic authority back from the state to the
municipality. It will take time but the discussion must start now – because,
ultimately, Home Rule is Harrisburg’s only real way out of Act 47.
These three bold, clear initiatives will get the Strong Plan back on track. And lest
you think it cannot be done, let me tell you why I believe it can!
Time and again over the past year, even when it seemed impossible, our City’s
can-do spirit has triumphed.
Take the 14th Street sinkhole. When the estimates came in that remediation
would cost millions of dollars, the City never lost hope.
First, we organized and hosted a Sinkhole Summit, which prompted the Federal
Emergency Management Agency to change their policies regarding sinkhole
Then we worked tirelessly for many months to apply for a Federal Pre-Disaster
Less than two weeks ago, against all odds, the City received a letter from the
Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency informing us that our application
has been ranked “#1 in the State.”
Cooperation with Dauphin County on this effort continues. And, while there is no
guarantee of funding, by never giving up we have revealed our determined and
compassionate character as a City.
Now that’s can-do.
Even as we were receiving the good news about our sinkhole mitigation
application, the City also won a decisive, game-changing ruling from our newly
established mercantile license and tax appeals board.
The Board thoughtfully weighed all the evidence in its first appeals case, and
then voted unanimously to revoke the license of a “nuisance” business. Another
problem business simply shut down with the threat of City action pending.
This important ruling, issued just a few days ago, will continue to have a
measurable ripple effect throughout the community. It is helping us at last clean
up problem businesses that detract from our City’s quality of life.
I say - Can do!
In another example, we recognize that we have to make Harrisburg more
conducive to responsible development projects. Over the past year, my
administration has worked successfully to pass a tax abatement program. Our
carefully crafted plan will serve as a model for other Pennsylvania municipalities.
The bill that City Council passed in May after months of debate contains
provisions for job creation, the hiring of City residents, and the participation of
minority businesses, as well as protections for organized labor – while also
providing up to ten years of full abatement of new taxes on improvements to
properties as well as on new construction.
The City urgently needs this initiative, and I need your help to encourage the
County Commissioners to stop delaying and pass LERTA.
What say you? Can do?
Many individuals have been DOING a lot on behalf of the City. I want to take a
few minutes to acknowledge some of the people who have aided in Harrisburg’s
recovery at the grass-roots level, on the streets and in our neighborhoods.
Who would have thought we would have both city pools open for the first summer
in seven years? Though the pools have each outlived their useful life
expectancies, we scraped, patched, painted, rewired, fixed leaks and eventually
got both open in time to provide a useful respite for our youth and families during
a hot summer.
I want to applaud Tarik Casteel and TLC Construction for donating their services
to re-roof the Hall Manor Pool. This represents an estimated $25,000 cost
savings for the City. Tarik, please stand.
How about that gentleman for can-do?
Let me also thank Jamal Jones, Manager of Young Adult Programs with ResCare
Workforce Services via Pennsylvania Career-Link.
This summer, working with Karl Singleton, Jamal assisted in the Mayoral Call to
Action for Summer Employment by engaging twenty businesses. This led to the
hiring of 42 young people between the ages of 14-23.
Jamal, please stand and be recognized for all that you can – and did - do.
Having participated myself by sponsoring a 15-year-old student’s paid internship
at the Midtown Scholar Bookstore, I have seen first-hand what a difference this
program is making to our youth. It is absolutely essential that we, as a
community, resolve to expand the number of openings next year.
Will every employer in this room pledge to give one Harrisburg teen or young
adult an opportunity for eight weeks’ employment next summer?
Let me hear you say it all with one loud voice – can do!
You have seen how the City is getting cleaner and greener, thanks to the roll-out
of new trash cans and recycling. We have taken a recycling rate that was
abysmal and increased it considerably – more than doubling our numbers since
the last year.
With larger bins and the easy-to-use single-stream concept, business and
residential recycling is still growing exponentially. In May 2015 we recycled 67
tons, in June we recycled 78 tons, and in July we recycled 106 tons. And by
addressing some compliance and reporting issues, we are still on track to hit the
City’s annual put-or-pay minimums.
This very night, the City’s LED streetlight conversion project will be voted on by
City Council. After reaching out to dozens of financial institutions, I’m glad to
report that M & T Bank stepped up and agreed to finance the three-million-dollarplus guaranteed-energy-savings project.
M&T representatives told Council they believed in and wanted to be a part of the
City’s recovery. So let’s pause to thank M&T Bank for saying can-do.
Last year, we promised the 311 system would be ready to go. Not only are we
the first city in the region to have implemented it, but operators are fielding an
average of 150 calls a day.
The City website now offers a searchable knowledge database, a popular live
chat feature, and an internal ticketing system. Together this has led to greater
accountability and better communication with residents.
The best part is that we did all this in-house, with a shoestring budget. In other
cities 311 systems have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to implement.
Next year, thanks to our sanitation fund, we should be able to hire another helpdesk operator, which will further speed up the City’s response time.
I said get it done, and our communications team said can-do. That’s how my
We weren’t looking for a fight with the NRA and other gun lobbyists, but the City
stood firm when the state legislature passed an unconstitutional act allowing
groups without standing to sue us to repeal gun-control ordinances and collect
Other municipalities throughout the state caved to the enormous pressure of
powerful special interests, but the City defended its laws –one of which, the
discharge ordinance, dates back to 1821. Given the recent Commonwealth
Court ruling, we expect to prevail.
The moral of the story is… when other cities said we can’t, Harrisburg said cando!
I bet no one in this room thought we’d be able to lower parking rates. But the
City pushed to lower rates by a dollar from 5-7 pm on weeknights, and offer a 4hour coupon code for free parking on Saturdays.
We bet that rates could be lowered and meter income would increase. And to
date, we are winning that wager.
Meter revenues are currently one of the bright spots for the parking system. The
City hasn’t had to spend a penny of its guarantee, while we have brought a small
measure of relief to hundreds of parkers every month since April – including
festival-goers this past Kipona weekend.
Dave Black, admit it! When I first suggested using hotel tax dollars to backstop
the parking system and lower meter rates, you thought I was crazy. Now what do
Last year, we promised to ensure all City festivals were budgeted in a
transparent manner by bringing them on the books instead of paying for them
through off-budget T&A accounts, as had been the practice for decades.
We also pledged that the festivals would not become a burden on taxpayers. I’m
very grateful to the corporate donors who have helped us raise the necessary
funds to make this a reality.
Let’s take a moment to thank leading sponsors such as Highmark, PHFA, and
Pinnacle Health, which have stepped forward repeatedly to support the City in its
time of recovery.
They show others what we can do together.
Big changes require a spirit of collaboration.
A year ago we had an insurance lobbyist as the Chief Recovery Officer for the
Harrisburg School District – a man who had essentially given up on students’
making any measurable academic progress.
This year, working closely with Senator Rob Teplitz, Representative Patty Kim,
the School Board, and the Department of Education, we have an experienced
educator in Audrey Utley. She understands the needs of urban school districts
and is eager to collaborate with the City administration.
Now we must roll up our sleeves and do what is in the best interests of our youth
– work we must and can do!
At the same time, my administration’s relationship with City Council continues to
improve. Three new voices will bring energy and renewed commitment to their
positions as Councilors next year. Soon we will cut the ribbon on the Council’s
newly relocated third-floor City Hall offices.
Their old offices, with funding from the City Hall Beautiful Fund, will be renovated
into a community room for youth mentoring and other much needed
Let me thank the Harrisburg Rotary as well as the family of Governor George
Leader for having already helped us completely renovate the former Victims’
Room in the Public Safety Building as well as the Police roll-call and break
Today, these spaces are much more welcoming for families – a better, less
stressful environment for Harrisburg’s Finest than anyone could have imagined
when I led my inauguration-day tour of City Hall less than two years ago.
In case you missed it, something amazing happened at a Public Safety
Committee hearing in Council’s chambers last week.
A representative from This Stops Today Harrisburg /Black Lives Matter engaged
Police Chief Thomas Carter in a dialogue about the need for a citizens review
board – a conversation that might have turned heated and accusatory in many
Instead, Chief Carter shook hands with the young man, listened respectfully, and
went on to outline his vision for compassionate policing, in which officers work
daily to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the community through
positive interactions. The two agreed that Harrisburg has much to be proud of.
Then City Risk Manager Carlesha Halkias explained how the City was looking to
re-write Civil Service requirements to bring greater diversity to our police force.
And Community Policing Officer Dave Botero noted the police department’s
cooperation with the YWCA and the Criminal Justice and Community Relations
Task Force, which has resulted in a series of successful and well-attended police
diversity training workshops.
My point is that despite the negative headlines that echo throughout the nation,
the Harrisburg Police Department continues to make news for all the right
Chief Carter, Captains Moody and Wetzel, Dave Botero, Officers Hammer and
Diaz, please stand and accept a well-deserved round of applause.
Whether it is Chief Carter’s talking yet another suspect into a peaceful, personal
surrender, or Officer Josh Hammer’s playing a pick-up game of hoops with a few
kids in a video that goes viral, the Harrisburg Police Department’s can-do spirit
constantly shines through.
Officer Hammer took time out to join me on Channel 20 to discuss how racial
perceptions differ between police and the public at large and how we must learn
to walk in each other’s shoes. We aired that particular show while other nearby
cities were streaming violent images of rioting and racial strife.
Let us not forget, as well, that young officer Angel Diaz showed superior
judgment in not returning fire while in pursuit of a suspect. In April I
commended such restraint as the better part of valor. We have too often seen
how violent escalations in other cities have only led to greater conflict.
Throughout the City our can-do spirit is leading to measurable improvements in
Last winter, for instance, the Fire Bureau was dispatched for a seemingly routine
call for a carbon monoxide alarm sounding.
Our firefighters responded quickly and, upon investigation, found that the
occupants were in danger due to a faulty furnace.
This simple call for service resulted in a chain of positive interactions between
various city departments that led to the homeowner getting a new energyefficient HVAC system installed in their home by the City’s Department of
Building and Housing at no cost to the family.
And let me tell you another thing that Fire Chief Brian Enterline can do – that’s
manage a budget. Thanks to the hiring and training of new firefighters, overtime
is down from 2.8 million dollars just two years ago to under $900,000 today. Let’s
give Chief Enterline and Deputy Chief Souder a round of applause.
In January 2014 Building and Housing Director Roy Christ called the City’s
contact at HUD, Yolanda Brown, to introduce himself and learn how he might
begin to address the many years of negative findings that had been piling up
against his department.
She responded that Harrisburg had been so mismanaged that nothing could ever
make up for the past. Yet Roy slowly went to work to address the historic
problems, one by one.
Just two weeks ago, Yolanda was the first to call and congratulate the City on
securing a new HUD grant for 3.7 million dollars to combat lead poisoning and
develop a healthy home initiative. That is as much funding as was received by far
bigger cities like New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia. In fact, Harrisburg is by
far the smallest municipality to win this highly competitive award.
Then, there is the story of Ms. Layla Abdullah. Through the City’s Home
Improvement Program, her home has been fully renovated with a new furnace,
new electrical systems, a new roof, and new plumbing. New sidewalks are
outside her house and the abandoned building next door has been demolished.
She’s seen the City’s can-do spirit first hand.
Ms. Abdullah is here today, to thank the City for a job well done. Let’s thank her
Slowly but surely, our economy continues to improve. The average sales price of
a house in Harrisburg has jumped by over $10,000 in the past year alone. As
confidence builds, more and more businesses are expanding.
Chef Obi and Nicole Linton started Soul Burrito out of a food truck, which had so
many hundreds of thousands of miles on it you wouldn’t believe it could still run.
They later expanded to the business incubator of the Broad Street Market, where
they perfected their recipes. Now, they have opened a full-scale restaurant on
Walnut Street with plans to continue to grow their business by offering city-wide
Let’s recognize this extraordinary couple’s can-do spirit and commitment to
building their business right here in Harrisburg!
When Ivan Black saw a building in Midtown Harrisburg that had been one of
those “nuisance” businesses the City helped shut down, he saw new
possibilities. He wanted to be part of the neighborhood’s revitalization and has
established a bright, brilliant fitness studio in a building that once trafficked in
anything but a healthy lifestyle.
Ivan, we wish you continued success with Next Step Performance and thank you
for investing your time and unlimited can-do energy in Harrisburg.
This past Labor Day weekend, Brian Labine and Francine Walker, moved their
chemical laboratory business from Mechanicsburg into a beautiful, newly
renovated warehouse on 7th Street. There they burn argon at the temperature of
the sun to determine whether substances as varied as department store
cosmetics and pineapples contain traces of lead, arsenic, cadmium, or mercury.
With them, they bring 23 full and two part-time new jobs to Harrisburg and they
hope to hire another ten employees over the next year.
Brian and Francine, thank you for your can-do vision.
I also want to recognize the exemplary work of the Harrisburg Regional Diversity
Coalition and Juanita Edrington-Grant. I concluded last year’s State of the City
address with a challenge. How would we ensure that the rising tide of economic
development would lift all boats?
The HRDC is doing just that by ensuring impartial access to contracting and
employment opportunities for historically hard-to-place citizens and MBEs
throughout the Capitol region.
Juanita has labored tirelessly in leading her organization, CRAM, which helps
meet the needs of ex-offenders and their families. The City has used CDBG
dollars to support these important efforts.
The Harrisburg Uptown Building, or HUB, represents the culmination of Juanita’s
vision. Formerly used by the Hamilton Health Center, the property offers 18,000
square feet of building space as well as 1.4 acres of vacant, once-blighted land.
By creating new, affordable residences in uptown Harrisburg, the HUB will
engage minority and women-owned business enterprises and address critical
needs in our community.
Juanita, you are truly can-do.
Will you all HRDC members please stand and be recognized?
I want to conclude my remarks by returning to where we started, with my
graduate research on the Antifederalists and the essay I wrote nearly twenty
years ago. The title, incidentally, was “Unleashing the Wildness.” It seems
particularly apropos given the “wilding out” our City experienced last Saturday
At the very end of Philadelphia’s 1787 Constitutional Convention, Benjamin
Franklin, mindful of the political opposition, said to a constituent – you have a
republic – “if you can keep it.”
To the grass-roots leaders I studied then, “keeping it” meant amending the
government’s defects. They faced manifold challenges, both political and
financial. But they never gave up and realized that “the squeaky wheel gets the
The new nation, like Harrisburg, would need new sources of revenue.
The new nation, like Harrisburg, would need effective administration and
But most importantly, the new nation would need to embrace the democratic
spirit of the age by expanding on the very meaning of that we – in “we the
people” – and welcoming all-comers.
Whether inside this room or out, we will all need to come together, to restore
And I, like Franklin, am an indomitable optimist.
On the last day of the Constitutional Convention, when the Antifederalists had
walked out in protest even as other delegates were signing the document,
Franklin looked at the half-sun carved on the back of a chair in Independence
Hall and famously remarked that, while he had looked at the chair many times
before, he at last was certain it was “a rising and not a setting sun.”
So, too, I am confident that Harrisburg’s best days lie ahead.
Thank you for your time this morning. Thank you for your trust. And thank you for
your ongoing commitment to our great City.