FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Matt Maisel
Director of Communications, City of Harrisburg
September 27, 2023
HARRISBURG – For the first time in decades, a City of Harrisburg mayor presented a State of the City address boasting a fiscally strong capital city.
Mayor Wanda R.D. Williams delivered her annual update to the residents of Harrisburg and its business community on Wednesday. The ceremony, hosted by the Harrisburg Regional Chamber and CREDC, allowed city leaders to remind the public of its accomplishments in the past year, and goals for the next 12 months.
For Mayor Williams’ staff, there was no greater accomplishment than eliminating its debt caused by previous administrations.
“One year ago, on this stage, I promised we would be debt free in 2023. We have accomplished that!” Mayor Williams said.
In March, the City of Harrisburg made a final payment of $8.3 million to AMBAC Assurance, wiping away a debt which ballooned to $26 million in 2021. Last September, the City eliminated its Series D&F Bond debt, whose payments totaled approximately $638 million going back to 1997.
“In the process, we saved City of Harrisburg taxpayers millions of dollars,” Williams added. “With those funds, we plan to invest it directly into the city’s growth: infrastructure projects, safer roads, more secure neighborhoods, and modernized parks.”
Thanks to the City of Harrisburg strong financial standing, which includes balanced budgets and annual surpluses, Mayor Williams told the assembled crowd she is confident Harrisburg will be able to leave Act 47 Financial Distress status in the near future.
While residents may not be able to immediately see and feel the benefits of its financial recovery, it has already started to experience a massive undertaking to update the city’s parks and playgrounds.
In June, the City of Harrisburg opened its state-of-the-art Chutes and Ladders Playground in Reservoir Park, where kids get to experience the popular board game in the form of climbing apparatuses and slides. Currently, the Department of Parks and Recreation, under new director Sasha Ross, is wrapping up its public comment period on how to utilize $13 million in grant funding to reimagine and redesign 7th & Radnor Park, Wilson Park, Gorgas Playground, and other parts of Reservoir Park.
“Part of making Harrisburg a safe place to live is giving our kids a safe place to play,” Mayor Williams said.” These parks will be complete by the end of next year, and in the Spring of 2025, when our children are out playing in our new playgrounds, it will be a beautiful sight to see.”
Around the same time those playgrounds will be opening, FNB Field on City Island will be reopening following a massive renovation as well, Mayor Williams added. The City and Harrisburg Senators agreed to a deal this summer to keep the ball club on City Island through 2039. Part of that deal, as required by Major League Baseball, was to make certain renovations to Minor League Baseball ballparks, including clubhouse and lighting improvements.
Keeping the Harrisburg Senators on City Island doesn’t happen without the help of state government. The cost of renovations will be approximately $12 million; $6 million of which will be covered by the team’s annual leasing dues to the city, and the remaining $6 million by a Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) grant.
Mayor Williams’ positive relationships with state and Dauphin County officials was highlighted throughout her address, most notably the joint response to the July 10 fire at the Broad Street Market.
“Without the help of our partners at the county and state level, as well as private business partners, I am honestly unsure what would have happened,” she said. “When that fire started, the lives of 22 vendors, and countless Harrisburg residents, changed instantly.”
Within hours of the fire, the mayor said, Governor Shapiro’s office was on the phone, pledging his administration’s full support. Likewise, support came from Dauphin County Commissioners Pries, Hartwick, and Saylor. The City was able to erect a temporary, 5,000 square foot tent at the corners of 3rd and Verbeke Streets, on a plot of land leased to the city by Harrisburg business owner Josh Kesler.
The temporary market will host 16 displaced vendors. It is expected to open in October.
The Broad Street Market fire highlighted the desperate need in the City of Harrisburg for more grocery store options. There currently exists only one supermarket for fresh meats and produce within city lines. In her address, Mayor Williams said it will be a priority to bring more market options to the city.
“I am calling on these businesses to step up for this community. We have handicapped residents who do not have the ability to go to other areas, and therefore rely heavily on the Broad Street Market for fresh food,” she said.
Additionally, Mayor Williams highlighted the strides being made to increase public safety throughout the city. Notably, under the direction of Commissioner Thomas Carter, Harrisburg Police have taken 170 firearms off the streets in 2023, and are using state-of-the-art technology, like Cellbrite systems which help unlock criminals’ phones for encrypted data, and shortly, shot-spotter programs which will help officers pinpoint where shots were fired. The Mayor also highlighted a public safety grant which will help pay for doorbell cameras for residents. The details of that program are still in the works.
Similarly, the Harrisburg Bureau of Fire is at the top of the class when it comes to protecting not only city residents, but neighboring communities as well. In the past two years, Harrisburg firefighters have ensured not a single city resident has lost their life in a fire. Under the leadership of Chief Brian Enterline, Harrisburg firefighters are often times first on the scene when other municipalities need help. They assisted when a building exploded in West Reading earlier this year, and helped when flooding occurred in Berks County. When Florida was in need of help cleaning up following Hurricane Ian last October, Harrisburg fire sent eight people as members of PA Task Force One.
“My friends, our best days are ahead of us, because for the first time in years, all of us in this room have a shared vision together,” Mayor Williams said. “My administration is excited to lead. The train is leaving the station – are you ready to jump on board?”