Mayor Danene Sorace has been sounding the alarm about the financial challenges faced by Lancaster and its peer cities statewide.
On Thursday, two state Senate committees will convene a workshop at Lancaster City Hall to discuss the problem.
The Local Government Committee, chaired by state Sen. Scott Martin, R-Lancaster, and Majority Policy Committee, chaired by state Sen. David Argall, R-Schuylkill-Berks, plan to hear from Sorace, other mayors and the Pennsylvania Municipal League, among others.
The workshop runs from 10 a.m. to noon and is open to the public.
With three exceptions — Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Scranton — all of Pennsylvania’s cities are considered “third class,” subject to the state’s Third Class City Code. Sorace says the rules put municipal administrations in an unworkable bind.
They’re mandated to provide expensive services, including police and fire protection, but apart from property taxes, their revenue options are sharply constrained.
Lancaster, for example, has done as well economically as any city in Pennsylvania since the Great Recession.
Yet despite hundreds of millions of dollars in local private development, it has had to raise property taxes eight times in the past 14 years to close deficits. If nothing changes, another tax hike will be needed as soon as 2021, Sorace said.
All but one of the county’s 17 school districts are raising property taxes in 2019-20, with increases ranging from 1.2% in Octorara Area, which straddles Lancaster and Chester counties, to 3.5% in Penn Manor.
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” the mayor said. “We need help — Harrisburg’s help — to find a solution that works for everyone.”
Martin said local government reform is “long overdue,” and that he’s looking forward to Thursday’s conversation.
When even a city with as much going for it as Lancaster is worried about its solvency, “it's important that we pay attention,” he said.