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238 Main Capitol Building
Director, Management Services Group
Keystone Municipal Services LLP
Instructor - Contract
PA State Association of Boroughs
To help, Robert Sabatini of Keystone Municipal Services, gave city officials a preliminary emergency action plan, as part of the state's Early Intervention Program.
It focused on revenues because they are easier to enact than making cuts to expenditures, which often involves negotiations, Sabatini said. The first thing the city needs to do is get new accounting software. The current system is too complicated for city administration, so financial data is not reliable, he said. "You need a clear understanding of where you are week to week, month to month, and adapt to any shortfall on a timely basis," Sabatini said. Typically, municipalities should collect 95 percent, Sabatini said. Owners of vacant properties do not have to pay the $176 annual garbage fee, a practice Sabatini said should be stopped because the city can't effectively verify all vacant properties. The recommendation that sparked the most discussion was to schedule regular inspections of rental properties and charge landlords an annual permit fee per unit. The city has an ordinance for property inspections, but the system is ineffective, Sabatini said. A stronger plan with follow-ups would help city officials manage blight, identify properties illegally converted for rental, and help ensure safety, he said.
Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors
Bob Sabatini, Director of Management Services
Keystone Municipal Services, Inc.
Robert Sabatini of Keystone Municipal Services says the city faces a budget gap of more than a million dollars per year by 2013 unless changes are made.
Sabatini says bankruptcy under Act 47 of the state's Financially Distressed Municipalities Act is the only alternative for the city, if they cannot compensate for declining population, higher expenses and shrinking tax base. (Matt Farrand)
"You're going to be out of money by 2015 and have to go into Act 47," said Robert Sabatini, of Keystone Municipal Services Inc.
Act 47 refers to The Financially Distressed Municipalities Act of 1987, which empowers the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development to provide for restructuring the debt of municipalities it declares financially distressed municipalities, but it also limits the ability of those municipalities to obtain government funding. Sabatini, of Mechanicsburg, gave council members a shopping list of recommendations, taken from a 188-page report he prepared for the city. "Third-class city was on the cutting edge in the 1920s," Sabatini said. Home rule charters have been allowed since 1968. According to the Governor's Center for Local Government, home rule has proven to be an effective tool for reorganizing local governments to increase effectiveness and citizen participation, and has enabled local initiatives in procedural and substantive matters. Sabatini said the Sunbury Police Department will need additional staff within two years. But, he said, "a corporal is not just a patrolman with a thing on his shoulder. He should shoulder more responsibility." He pointed out that city records that go back to the 1920s and earlier have no backup. "PDF 'em," he said, "and put them on a disk and into a safety deposit box. Those minutes are your history." Sabatini also offered the following suggestions: "(Advertising) space can subsidize these programs," Sabatini said.
IAFF Local 1400 |
But that means Lebanon might be three or four years from bankruptcy, rather than one or two years, as is the case with many Pennsylvania cities, said Robert Sabatini, the managing director of Keystone Municipal Services Inc.
Keystone, based in Mechanicsburg, has studied Lebanon's government for about a year, and Sabatini told the council, "You folks have a little bit of time." Sabatini then summarized a number of recommendations he said are included in a report to be delivered to the council members in the next few days. "You have the ability to right the ship now to avoid hitting the rocks," he said. The city has been aggressive in controlling costs, but those efforts might have some less-than-favorable long-term consequences, Sabatini said. "You have a thin staff," he told the council. "One or two resignations could have a major impact." He suggested establishing lines of succession and training employees in different jobs. Management salaries are below market rates, he said. Sabatini also advised city officials to spend more on training supervisors. Employee grievances are most likely to be about lower-level managers, he said. Sabatini recommended a more conservative approach in some areas of spending. "I strongly urge you to be very aggressive in negotiations with employee unions," he said. He said arbitrators aren't being as generous as they once were. "We're not seeing 5 percent to 7 percent increases for public safety anymore," Sabatini said. He said the city needs more flexibility to increase taxes.