Altoona leaves Act 47

City leaders praised for ‘tough decisions’

Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec / Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Davin (center) shakes hands with Altoona Mayor Matt Pacifico as Deputy Secretary for Community Affairs and Development Rich Vilello applauds after the signing of paperwork that signals the end to Altoona’s Act 47 status Wednesday at the Devorris Downtown Center.

At a ceremony Wednesday in which Altoona became the fastest city and largest municipality ever to exit Pennsylvania’s Act 47 distressed municipalities program, state officials praised local ones for having made the necessary “tough decisions.”

Actually, once Altoona approved its distress recovery plan in late 2012 under threat of insolvency, it had no choice regarding the toughest of those plan-mandated decisions — raising the earned income tax, applying that tax to nonresident workers and freezing employee wages, conceded City Manager Marla Marcinko afterward.

Nevertheless, those actions still qualify as tough, Marcinko insisted.

The plan may not have afforded much flexibility, but imposing those measures on residents and employees wasn’t comfortable, according to Marcinko. “Not a good feeling,” she said. “When, bottom line, it impacts people’s lives.”

Initial entry into the program was not universally popular, according to Deputy Secretary for Community Affairs and Development Rich Vilello — who spoke before Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Davin signed the document that freed Altoona.

People were thinking that distress would be a longstanding “black eye” for Altoona, based on other municipalities’ remaining in the program for decades, Vilello said.

But council members from the first said they wanted to get out quickly.

A change in the Act 47 law provided impetus for that by setting the maximum stay in the program at five years, with one three-year extension permitted.

The city complied with the early deadline because all parties — the state-appointed coordinator team, council, staff and the unions — began “rowing in the same direction,” Vilello said.

Such “communication and cooperation” is unusual, he said.

Typically, elected officials and administrators have multiple agendas, there are objections to the recovery plans and those who resist making hard decisions, he said.

The city is now on strong financial footing, said Mayor Matt Pacifico, who — as is his habit at big moments — grew teary when Davin signed the exit paper.

Act 47 “rescissions” tend to be emotional for mayors, Davin said afterward.

Pacifico’s response showed just how big a deal the exit was, Vilello said.

Despite it, the state remains willing to help, Vilello said.

“We’re still going to be your partner,” he said. “We’re just a phone call away.”

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.