Harrisburg has a budget, but local services tax hike fight not over

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – The City of Harrisburg has a budget, yet one controversial tax is still up for discussion.

Two Council members voted against the budget, saying there’s a lot of fat included that needs to be trimmed. But it wasn’t enough to kill the plan.

While there are still questions around the necessity of some provisions, it does provide help to Michael Pavone.

The city blocked Market Street in front of his business, the Pavone Marketing Agency, including his parking lot, due to a forming sinkhole in the right lane that the city hasn’t fixed.

“It’s been at least six weeks, maybe more,” Pavone said.

For two months now, he’s had to pay for off-site parking for 20-some employees. Recently, he made the barriers a little more festive. Pavone wrapped Christmas lights and garlands around the barricades and formed a tree out of more lights and stacked wooden barriers in his parking lot.

“We thought it was an opportunity to maybe spread some holiday cheer and maybe get the attention of City Council,” he said.

Tuesday night, he got some help. The budget bill the council passed includes funding to fix up the area.

“I think the residents want more,” Mayor Eric Papenfuse said after the vote. “We want our potholes fixed, we want our trees trimmed, we want our trash picked up, and they’re going to get that with the increase in services.”

It’s also a major increase in the local services tax on people who work in the city.

Council member Brad Koplinski doesn’t like tripling the tax from $52 to $156 per year, going so far as to propose his own tax-hike-free budget in recent days.

“While we didn’t prevail on the budget per se,” Koplinski said, “we’re now going to have hearings on the local services tax in which the people can come and voice their opinion. That is something that was not going to happen.”

That’ll happen in January.

The city still has to petition the court for the tax hike, Papenfuse said, and then the council will have to meet to accept the ruling. Tuesday night’s meeting was the last of the year.

But those public meetings in 2016 will happen without two members who voted against the budget. Both of them, Koplinski and Sandra Reid, are now off the council. Tuesday was their final council meeting.

New faces will join the talks next month, including Cornelius Johnson. He said he’s been following the budget talks and going to the meetings, but hasn’t made up his mind about the local services tax.

“Coming in 2016,” Johnson said after the meeting, “that will give us the opportunity to take a look and see the pros and the cons on whether it’s something that the city needs or it’s something the city doesn’t need.”

The council also voted Tuesday on a loan to get the city through January without a state budget.

The $4.5 million credit line must be paid back by June 30 at 2.53 percent interest.

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