311 Help Desk

November 28, 2023

Mayor Wanda Williams made the following remarks to Harrisburg City Council in presenting her 2024 City of Harrisburg budget at Council’s legislative session on November 28, 2023.

President Bowers, Members of Harrisburg City Council: Thank you for this opportunity to present a brief overview of our 2024 City of Harrisburg General Fund budget. The document you are seeing tonight is not a final product. Instead, it is a blueprint; a starting point for how we will continue to move Harrisburg forward together into a safer, brighter future.

            The proposal you have in front of you is the product of months of stressful, hard work by the Office of City Controller Charlie DeBrunner, Business Administrator Dan Hartman, Finance Director Marita Kelley, Budget Manager Tim Brooks, Accounting Manager Bryan McCutcheon, and the dozens of people on their respective staffs. Work started on the budget this summer, and the last few weeks have consisted of long hours, difficult conversations, and even harder decisions to present a balanced budget before you.

            After tonight, we cede the floor to you. Over the next two weeks, you will review this proposal, and be able to ask questions of our budget staff and department heads. Ultimately, Council holds the power of the purse strings, and while I strongly feel this document presents the best path forward, my administrative staff and I look forward to working with you to have a budget completed for the residents of this city by December 31. In the meantime, I want to highlight some areas which we are most proud and confident will set the tone for Harrisburg moving forward, and some of the areas which may cause some of concerns.

            First, the most important part of this budget is this: There will be no tax increases, no layoffs and no cuts in any services to the people of Harrisburg. Thanks to the work we did to eliminate the city’s decades-long debt, our residents won’t be left to pay for the decisions made by prior administrations. If we would have kept the status quo, debt payments would have been so high, we would have had no choice but to either propose tax hikes or cut services. Thankfully, we do not have to do either.

            In fact, not only do we have the highest staffing rates in over a decade, but our retention rates are through the roof. This shows that what we have believed in for so long is working. We need to continue to invest in our employees if we want to make the City of Harrisburg a great place to work.

In addition, we will be able to continue many of the programs and services our residents have grown to love. We will continue our investment into our Parks & Recreation Department, making it better than ever before. Events like the Bash at the Brownstone, Fishing Day at Italian Lake, and all of our summer programs to name a few, are made possible by the continued investments we make in this budget.

Also, our Department of Public Works is working harder than ever, and the large-scale paving projects we saw throughout the late summer and early fall will only grow in 2024 as this budget will allow the city to continue with an expanded in-house paving program, instead of contracting services out and renting equipment from others.

            Next year, we will see our American Rescue Plan funds start to come to fruition. I have tasked Building and Housing Director Dennise Hill with overseeing much of the first steps. Our priorities are the affordable housing program and money for home repairs, and I am excited to announce we just hired two program managers to oversee its progress. Once we get this budget passed across the finish line and we move into 2024, our priority will be to meet with Council to figure out how we want our new South Harrisburg pool to look, as well as our ADA playgrounds.

            From a Public Safety standpoint, we continue to make investments in our police officers and firefighters. We will aim to hire at least 10 new officers in 2024; it is an ambitious but achievable number, keeping in mind last year, we brought in 14 new officers, and promoted another 14. The ability to grow within the ranks of one of Pennsylvania’s proudest units is not lost on our recruits. In addition, our firefighters will enter the new year with a new contract. Four years, with a 3.5% raise in this year alone. Their importance is not lost on us. When someone is having the worst day of their life – be it a house fire or a vehicle crash – they are at their best in saving lives. The Harrisburg Bureau of Fire has not lost a single life in a city fire in more than two years. We are forever indebted to them.

            Lastly, I want to address the challenging decisions we have already made, and that now are presented to you. Whether it is the high staff retention rate, freshly paved roads, or just the general cost of services, a balanced budget comes at a cost, and if nothing else, I promise to always be transparent with you. We are proposing a $3.23 increase to our monthly trash bill bringing it to $35.57 a month. Our rates haven’t changed in over a decade and we have to ensure that this citywide service can operate in a current business world we live in. This still remains drastically lower than our municipal neighbors, where places like Middle Paxton Township are charging $150 per quarter, Derry Township is up to $114 per quarter, and Lower Paxton is nearly $110 per quarter, compared to us which would be $106.72 a quarter. Where rate payers in neighboring communities are just getting trash and recycling, our residents get so much more out of our Department of Public Works each dollar spent, like paving, park maintenance, snow removal and anti-illegal dumping efforts. Again, charging an additional utility cost is not what I want to do. However, we feel this is the best business decision we can make with how hard inflation and rising costs have hit our bottom line. For a point of reference, it was just a decade ago where the city was paid for its recycling, year after year things changed and now we are forced to pay $80 per ton to recycle. The future of rates and how we handle customers outside of the city is something we would invite the incoming Chair of the Public Works Committee to take up with us. The commonwealth’s failure to return workers to the office has cost the city millions of dollars in annual revenue with loss of business tax and parking revenue. Also, not to beat a dead horse, inflation has done real damage to many of our expense lines from fuel to insurance costs, though from the looks of it, things are seeming to level off and stabilize.

            Councilmembers, we have the opportunity with this budget to continue to move the City of Harrisburg forward. This budget is fiscally sound and responsible. There are zero tax increases, and continues to invest in the people who matter most: the residents of the City of Harrisburg. I look forward to starting this important process with you.