Pa. reviewing means to help distressed cities

    Pennsylvania lawmakers are discovering more reasons why the state of cities across the commonwealth is so dire.

    Discussions are under way in Harrisburg on ways to revise the Act 47 program for distressed municipalities.

    Leaders of cities experiencing various shades of financial distress say that while the Act 47 program needs revisions, even more urgent are reforms to help them bring down their expenses and increase revenue.

    “Our problems in cities will fester unless we recognize that we’re all in this together and work towards common-sense solutions. A civil society does not discard people or municipalities. A civil society does not discard people or municipalities,” said Reading Mayor Tom McMahon.

    Rep. Jerry Knowles, a Berks County Republican, said Thursday he can think of one borough in his district with the same complaints of so many financially distressed cities: namely, not enough of a tax base to cover costs.

    But he says he’s seen boroughs able to pass moderately higher taxes.

    “Why is it that most of the boroughs and townships do it but yet the cities are the ones who are having the most difficulty?” he said.

    It’s because cities have a high concentration of poverty and tax-exempt properties, responded York Mayor Kim Bracey.

    Other municipal leaders suggest levying additional taxes at the county level that can be shared across a region.

    But one Republican lawmaker said that would just take money from the suburbs and pump it into the cities.

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