Entries in Harrisburg (2)


College Student Becomes City Treasurer, Takes on $317 Million Debt

Comstock/Thinkstock(HARRISBURG, Pa.) -- When John Campbell finished class Tuesday at Lebanon Valley College, he had a busy day ahead of him.

In addition to a full course load, the 23-year-old student is juggling two jobs. He is executive director of a nonprofit, and he also just took office as the elected treasurer of Harrisburg, Pa., no small challenge given that the city of 50,000 is saddled with a $317 million debt. Harrisburg's annual budget is about $53 million.

Campbell hit the ground running after taking office Jan. 3. He boldly backed the city's attempt to file for bankruptcy, though it was ultimately dismissed by a U.S. bankruptcy judge. And he opposed the sale of the city's parking garages, against giving up the major cash they generate.

As if wading into the political fray of a struggling city strapped for cash wouldn't be challenge enough for just about any newbie, Campbell also has to deal with concerns about his age and inexperience.

To make matters worse, he looks even younger than he is; he jokes that he "looks like a 12-year-old."

"The initial reaction is, 'How old are you and what are you doing? How did you get to this?'" Campbell said of his reception from colleagues in city government. "But when they get down to it and see what I'm doing, and what I've already done, the reaction totally changes. It starts as caution and the end result is one that is hopeful."

Campbell's resume is hardly ordinary for a man of his age. He has an associate's degree and is hoping to complete his bachelor's degree by 2013, with a double major in business administration and economics. In addition to taking classes and working full-time, he's also served on a number of committees in his community, including as treasurer of some smaller community groups.

But he is not afraid to admit that tackling Harrisburg's big debt is on a whole other playing field.

"It's a challenge, but not one that is insurmountable," Campbell said. "What the community and the constituents were looking for was someone with new ideas and a young face. Regardless of where you come from in terms of experience, there's a learning curve, so I'm coming into the office with an understanding of that and an open mind."

Just three weeks into his new job, Campbell is already receiving positive feedback from colleagues.

City Council President Wanda Williams had worked with Campbell previously and encouraged him to make a run for office.

"He's enthusiastic about being in that position," Williams told ABC News. "He's ambitious and wants to make sure what he does is right."

Williams, who has worked in city government for 22 years -- almost as long as Campbell has been alive -- said her colleagues have been "very accepting" of Campbell.

In addition to his colleagues serving in the city's government, Campbell also will have to win over a state-appointed receiver, David Unkovic, who controls how the city's tax dollars are spent.

Unkovic was appointed to manage the city finances after Harrisburg was unable to provide a financial stability plan to the state due to disagreements between city council and the mayor, Campbell said.

"The receiver has been working with city officials and everyone interested in seeing the city succeed," Unkovic's spokesman Steve Kratz told ABC News. "He looks forward to working with John Campbell as well as other city officials to develop a fiscal recovery plan to get this city back on track."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Harrisburg Joins List of Cities Filing for Bankruptcy

Hemera/Thinkstock(HARRISBURG, Pa.) -- Harrisburg, Pa., facing $458 million in creditors and claims, has declared bankruptcy, becoming the sixth municipality to seek a Chapter 9 filing this year.

Harrisburg’s City Council voted 4-3 on Tuesday to file for bankruptcy, though the city attorney noted that the correct procedure was not followed, and thus the filing would not be binding, according to Bloomberg. Harrisburg, the state’s capital, faces a state takeover of its finances.

The outcome of this filing is uncertain, with court and state action likely to contest the filing, according to a note by Alan Schankel, managing director of Janney Capital Markets.

Harrisburg fell victim to the “incinerator from hell” -- a waste-to-energy incinerator whose renovation caused the town to go $310 million into debt, five times as much money as the city has in its general fund, according to the Stateline newspaper. In December, Pennsylvania declared the city financially distressed.

The state’s Senate is scheduled to vote next week on a bill permitting Pennsylvania to place the city into receivership, which the governor said he would sign, forcing it to follow the state’s proposed recovery plan.

Few cities actually declare bankruptcy protection. Since 1937, when Chapter 9 filings first became an option for municipalities, there have been only 625 filings, according to Chicago attorney James Spiotto, who has written books on the subject. Including Harrisburg, six communities this year have filed for bankruptcy. Six filed in 2010.

Boise County, Idaho filed for bankruptcy in March and Central Falls, R.I., filed on Aug. 1.

Vallejo, Calif., declared bankruptcy in May 2008 and is still emerging from it. Jefferson County, Ala., narrowly avoided bankruptcy after a three-year battle over a $3.1 billion sewer debt. On Sept. 16, Jefferson County Commissioners approved a settlement with creditors avoiding what would have been the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio