As chair of the Harrisburg City Council Budget and Finance Committee, Ben Allatt presided over the public hearings on the Papenfused Administration proposed 2014 Budget.
The 2014 Budget was originally passed in December as proposed by former Mayor Linda Thompson. Unanimously approved by City Council after one public hearing, then-B&F chair Brad Koplinski said it didn’t require much deliberation because it would be reopened in the new administration.
And it was.
However, changes reflected a governmental restructure rather than extreme adjustments to department budgets. In the end, five management positions were introduced with raises; a reorganization of the Bureau of Codes from Public Works to Public Safety; the Bureau of Building and Housing moved to Community and Economic Development; and a new Director of Sustainability position.
There were two meetings for a total of seven and a half hours public review of the budget.
Below is a post-budget process Q&A with Ben Allatt.
Why didn’t you conduct a line by line Budget hearing?
Parts were what they were. It was my position from the start that the legwork was done in December. What I felt we should concentrate on were the changes [Mayor Papenfuse] made. It was important to me to spend our time looking at what changed, what’s new, what’s remotely controversial. I wasn’t going to revisit what they had passed.
What is Harrisburg City Council’s role in the budget process?
It’s not City Council’s role to micromanage the executive branch. It’s not our job to manage departments. That’s not under Council’s purview. We are concerned with what is legal. We are in place to look for legal issues. Our duty is to pass a budget that is sound, a budget that is balanced, and legal. How much is being spent, the day to day is the duty of the executive branch and managers. Not City Councilors.
What did you think of the budget the Papenfuse Administration proposed?
We can’t ignore core city services, and I didn’t think this budget did. Overall, I thought the structure of the government was good. I think Eric was really smart to focus on economic development. Tax revenue does not exceed expenses. So we have to get more money into the city. Jackie Parker will be a true asset for the city in this.
I did think, though, that we couldn’t give raises to people when public safety—the chief and the captains—weren’t getting raises. When that information came to me, that the Strong Plan didn’t allow for the police raises, then that’s when I decided I couldn’t vote for any of the raises. I felt it would be a slap in the face. The only difference for me was the Community Police Coordinator. That position is rooted in the community. Everyone likes him and wants him there.
I was concerned with the positions in the Mayor’s Office specifically. What was the reason for it? What was the specific reason for it? That’s what I struggled with when it came down to it. I couldn’t justify it.
I also split with some of my colleagues on the position of the Director of Sustainability. I voted for that.
What are your thoughts on the new administration?
Here’s my approach to government—it’s not about me. My job is to listen to the people I serve. My job is to hear what’s happening within the government and evaluating what’s best. I didn’t agree with what was amended, how the votes went down, or the aftermath. My initial approach was to let the Mayor’s vision take place.
What about the pressure of Harrisburg politics? The expectations and maneuvering?
You gotta take some of it with a grain of salt. Some you don’t.