Reuters

Deep in debt, Harrisburg looks to its new 23-year-old treasurer

Harrisburg, Pa., is in rough shape. The state capital has plunged itself into crippling debt, thanks largely to a $310 million trash incinerator project that has failed to cover costs. The outlook is so bad that the city filed for bankruptcy in October. That filing was later voided by a bankruptcy judge, but the financial problems that inspired it haven’t gone away.

Facing these mounting debt issues is the city’s newly installed treasurer, John Campbell, a 23-year-old college student.

Currently pursuing dual bachelor’s degrees in business administration and economics, Campbell will have his hands full collecting the city’s taxes and trying to invest what little money is left to help bring Harrisburg’s coffers back to life. It'll especially be a challenge in this town, where the local politicians barely communicate with each other and the state has recently installed a receiver to determine how tax dollars are spent, as Reuters reports:

Campbell, a former Democratic Party official who earned an associate's degree at a Harrisburg community college and hopes to complete his bachelor's degrees by 2013, is trying to use the power of his office, once considered a backwater of city government, to bridge the financial gap.

But with the state receiver in charge of the city's finances, Campbell's flexibility is limited.

Though he supported the city's bankruptcy filing, he opposes the sale of the city's parking garages, one of Harrisburg's most dependable revenue sources. He wants to sell the indebted incinerator and the city's large collection of Wild West and African-American artifacts, leftovers from a previous mayor's obsession with making Harrisburg a museum mecca.

Campbell is also trying to bring in additional revenue by proposing a tax on commuters who work, but don’t live, in the capital city. State officials are opposed to the idea, but Campbell argues it may be one of the only ways to help the city recover. With an unconventionally young official in charge of bringing the city back, maybe unconventional ideas are just what Harrisburg needs.

Photo credit: Tim Shaffer / Reuters

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A young girl winces from the sting as she receives the polio vaccine in 1954.
    Life

    How Mandatory Vaccination Fueled the Anti-Vaxxer Movement

    To better understand the controversy over New York’s measles outbreak, you have to go back to the late 19th century.

  2. Design

    A New Plan to Correct a Historic Mistake in Pittsburgh

    A Bjarke Ingels Group-led plan from 2015 has given way to a more “practical” design for the Lower Hill District. Concerns over true affordable housing remain.

  3. A photo of a closed street in St. Louis
    Equity

    The Curious Tale of the St. Louis Street Barriers

    Thanks to an '80s mania for traffic calming, the St. Louis grid is broken by hundreds of bollards and cul-de-sacs. Critics say it’s time to get rid of them.

  4. A crowded room of residents attend a local public forum in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
    Life

    Are Local Politics As Polarized As National? Depends on the Issue.

    Republican or Democrat, even if we battle over national concerns, research finds that in local politics, it seems we can all just get along—most of the time.

  5. Life

    How to Inspire Girls to Become Carpenters and Electricians

    Male-dominated trades like construction, plumbing, and welding can offer job security and decent pay. A camp aims to show girls these careers are for them, too.