Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, About to Go Up in Smoke Due to Incinerator Overruns

From the Wash Post about the Keystone State's capital:

Harrisburg's crisis has been precipitated by a malfunctioning municipal incinerator, whose ill-fated expansion was promoted as a potential moneymaker. But after seven years of cost overruns, construction delays, design problems, financings, refinancings and more refinancings, the city is on the hook. The $68 million bill is part of $288 million in outstanding debt related to the project.

The debacle is pushing the 150-year-old state capital toward default. The fiscal crisis has shaken the city, which over the past decade has spruced up its riverfront downtown and created tourist attractions in large part through low-cost financing afforded by municipal bond sales. In one notorious example, former mayor Stephen R. Reed spent nearly $8 million from the public authority that owns the incinerator to buy wagon wheels, rifles and other memorabilia for a Wild West museum that never opened. And like a homeowner who binged on cheap financing, this city is underwater financially.

You got that, it's this one incinerator project, see, that's got the city in a jam, right? Otherwise everything would be hunky-dory. Oh yeah, and a mayor who dipped into funds for crap...

None of this could possibly point to a long-term pattern of stupidity, corruption, and malfeasance in Pennsylvania's answer to Bonn and Brasilia. The Post notes later in the article that the incinerator debacle comes "on top" of a $9 million deficit in the current budget. How'd that happen if things were going so great except for that friggin' incinerator? It's all so complicated: Who would have thought that spending more and more money independent of the revenue to pay for it could lead to deficits?

The bold recovery plan 21st century Harrisburg?

Not only is the city contemplating layoffs in its 537-employee workforce, it is asking for contract rebates, considering the sale or long-term lease of revenue-producing assets, including parking garages and water and wastewater systems, and asking creditors to restructure and forgive debt.

"We all need to take some hits. I'm not going to let the city sink. I'm not going to let the city auction off all its assets and have nothing while everyone walks away with a sweeter deal just by renegotiating and restructuring and taking us further and further out, and you still get every dime you had in the beginning of the deal," said Mayor Linda D. Thompson.

Contemplation is for monks, Madam Mayor, not chief executives in a part of the country that is losing people along with money. And if Harrisburg is anything like every other city in the country (I'm totally skylarking here, I know), then those "revenue-producing assets" cost taxpayers far more than they bring in. Yes, parking meters and garages and municipal swimming pools and fairgrounds and all the rest bring in the odd dollar and cent; the political and economic infrastructure that supports them always costs far more. Any city that is still running its water treatment plant is in the patronage business, not actually trying to give its ratepayers the best service at the best price.

Whole story here.

For a workable alternative to politics as usual, check out Reason.tv's recent series Reason Saves Cleveland With Drew Carey. Click below to watch the 50-minute, six-part documentary that gives concrete ways to improve public schools, city services, and more. Or go here for an episode guide with mega-links to related materials.

 

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    former mayor Stephen R. Reed spent nearly $8 million from the public authority that owns the incinerator to buy wagon wheels, rifles and other memorabilia for a Wild West museum that never opened.

    And is "former mayor" Reed currently an inmate in a state correctional facility? If not, why not?

  • ||

    Because when Reed took over around 1982, Harrisburg was such a hell hole, the improvements he made to the city were quite dramatic. Most of the residents were willing to accomodate his whacked out ideas because of his earlier successes. He was known as "Mayor for Life". Then the SHTF.

  • Hacha Cha||

    This whole state is run by crooks. The media throughout the state does its best to keep the public uninformed about politics and candidates running for office. The liberty movement needs to unite in PA and kill this stranglehold of the crooks who are digging us deeper into debt and taking away our freedoms every day.

  • Hacha Cha||

    Another shitty thing the state government is doing is trying to kick the last holdouts in Centralia out. And speaking about Centalia, one thing that never gets mentioned is the mine fire was started by the local government.

  • Hacha Cha||

    ^kick the last holdouts in Centralia out with eminent domain.

  • ||

    The town's four cemeteries—including one on the hilltop that has smoke rising around and out of it—are maintained in good condition.

    That's where i want to be buried.

  • Jeffersonian||

    We have a variation on this in St. Louis. Here, the City government concerns itself with stadiums, convention centers, hotels and the odd tax giveaway to the corporate giant du jour threatening to bolt the fold. The basic functions of government - policing crime, paving streets, putting out fires, etc. - are far too mundane for such lofty, cerebral people. They've climbed the greasy pole, now they want to rub elbows and pull wires like the big boys in the private sector.

    So the critical core functions - functions that the private sector is debarred from performing - are left to flounder with brain-dead patronage losers running them while the poo-bahs scheme with the movers and shakers. To the shock of no sensible person, the City is a cesspit of crime, stupidity and squalor.

  • ||

    No offense intended, Jeffersonian, but it is utterly incomprehensible to me why anybody would live in St Louis.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement