In response to LNP’s recent editorial maligning Lancaster’s streets (“Fix the roads,” Sept. 26), we encourage the LNP Editorial Board and newsroom to join the city in our efforts to find new solutions. We have two suggestions.
One: Investigate the authority or recourse the city has in working with public utilities that dig up our streets. Hint: We don’t have any. And a recent state Supreme Court decision ensures that we also have no financial reimbursement for the impact public utilities have on our streets.
So, we tried something new and sued the public utilities, and the case went the whole way to the state Supreme Court.
After failing at this “David and Goliath” effort, the best we can do for now is pressure public utilities to complete their work before our resurfacing work. This alignment of utility work has been happening on Walnut Street and is a reason for its overall poor condition prior to resurfacing.
Our alternative would be to resurface without pushing the utilities to do their work. But then they’ll cut up the roads on their own schedule, leaving them scarred and patched for years — and not reimburse city taxpayers for repairs. Which approach do you prefer?
Two: Look more closely at the city budget to see what we’ve got to work with regarding streets. To start with, it costs the city $50,000 to $100,000 to resurface one block, which adds up to $1.5 million to $2 million per year.
The LNP Editorial Board asks for “more focus and urgency toward expediently fixing roads in and around Lancaster city.” In fact, we’re stretching pennies (and asphalt) as far as they will go. We have actually borrowed money to pave our streets with capital bond funds (meant to finance long-term assets), because our operating budget isn’t robust enough to absorb those costs.
Why? Because as a Third Class city, we are handcuffed by the commonwealth to only have one tool in our toolbox to raise revenues: real estate taxes.
In a geographically constrained and aging city where more than a quarter of our residents live below the poverty line, we already have the highest property tax burden on the lowest tax capacity in the county, and we’re unwilling to keep raising taxes.
Add to this that one-third of the properties in the city are owned by churches, schools, government and nonprofits — and, as such, are exempt from real estate taxes.
The icing on the cake is that more than 30,000 people commute into the city daily to work and depend on local services and amenities like fire, police and streets, yet the state limits their contribution to $47 per year. That is not even coming close to covering their share of the costs.
As you know, we are trying to find new solutions to this challenge by lobbying our state lawmakers to give us more tools in raising revenue so we have adequate resources to provide state-mandated public safety services.
We are not willing to accept these limitations in the face of our challenges and opportunities. We welcome LNP to join us in doing something different. Help us help our residents and stakeholders! We want our public utilities to take responsibility for their impact on our roads. And we want the commonwealth to give us the local control and the tools we need to provide the services and amenities our city deserves.
Danene Sorace has been the mayor of the City of Lancaster since January 2018.