WILKES-BARRE — The state has offered to help the city straighten out its financial problems, but provided little in the way of specifics, Wilkes-Barre City Administrator Ted Wampole said Friday.
That offer was made during a conference call with officials from the state Department of Community and Economic Development a week after the city was denied assistance through an Act 47 designation as a financially distressed municipality.
“They didn’t offer a whole lot other than, ‘We’re here to support you,’” Wampole said.
It’s the same message DCED Secretary Dennis Davin delivered in his Aug. 31 letter to Mayor Tony George who asked for a distressed status tag as a way to deal with deficits projected to start at $3.5 million in 2019 and grow even larger from there on. Under Act 47, DCED would have appointed a coordinator to draft a recovery plan that, with council’s approval, would have been followed for up to five years and include such measures as raising taxes. It would’ve also made available a no-interest $3 million loan payable in 10 years.
Davin said DCED “continues to stand ready to work with (the mayor) and city council” on developing the 2019 budget and putting to work the recommendations from the Early Intervention Plan the city is participating in.
“We are at the point now where we want to hear something different,” Wampole said.
Joining him on the call with DCED officials were the mayor, city Attorney Tim Henry, Finance Director Brett Kittrick, city council Chairman Tony Brooks and the city’s financial adviser, Public Financial Management
“It was a good call. It was contentious at times,” Wampole said.
During the call, the city provided a status report on contract negotiations, Wampole said. PFM discussed the deficits and the action plan proposed to stabilize city finances. Wampole added that city officials made it clear most of the points raised in the action plan had been addressed, including attempting to sell or lease parking assets and sewer lines, raising fees to eliminate deficits at the Hollenback Golf Course, and long-term debt restructuring.
PFM, hired with $260,000 in state grants, has been working with the city in the EIP, a program available for financially struggling municipalities like Wilkes-Barre to avoid Act 47. Wampole said the city has approximately another year or approximately $50,000 remaining in Phase 2 of the EIP.
DCED raised the possibility of applying for an additional $200,000 to participate in Phase 3, Wampole said. Just how the city would participate and whether the city will apply are unclear at this point, he noted.
Wampole also hopes to arrange meetings to speak with state Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, and state Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, who also pledged their support.
The lawmakers helped secured funds for the EIP and opposed the mayor’s request for Act 47. They said the city has made progress in the EIP and they wanted the city to continue in it.
Still to be determined is the date and time of a public meeting DCED will hold with city council. Wampole said state officials want to address council following the Act 47 denial.
Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.