The state Department of Community and Economic Development hasn't done Altoona any favors with the delays in getting a proposal for recovery from its financial problems.
The department approved Altoona as a distressed community on May 3, the last possible day based on the city's application. DCED then waited the entire 30 days allowed under the law before naming Stevens & Lee of Reading as Act 47 consultant for the city on June 4.
Then as the weeks and months went on, the department delayed finalizing a contract with Stevens & Lee, which would trigger a requirement of having a recovery plan submitted for approval within 90 days. Had the contract been signed July 1, the recovery plan would have been presented about Oct. 1, but, of course, that didn't happen.
Now, with time growing short before a 2013 city budget must be enacted, comes word that the recovery plan will come - you guessed it - at practically the last minute, leaving little time for review and debate.
Stevens & Lee has scheduled a public meeting for 6 p.m. Wednesday in the auditorium of the Devorris Downtown Center, 1431 12th Ave., to accept comments from the public about the recovery plan. But because the plan will not have been presented, the comments are likely to reflect more of a wish list by residents and officials.
Much like a child's Christmas list, it will reflect all of the desires, but not the harsh economic realities.
Stevens & Lee said it will present a recovery plan on Nov. 13 and hold a public hearing on it Nov. 28. City Council is supposed to adopt the plan Dec. 19, a little more than a month after first seeing it.
That's about as close as you can cut it, considering elements of the plan must be incorporated into the city budget, which must be in place by Dec. 31.
The lateness of the recovery plan basically backs city officials into a corner. If City Council fails to accept the plan, Altoona is expected to be $1.5 million to $2 million in the red next year, and the city is required by law to remain in the black. The current schedule provides little time to consider alternatives.
The blame for that falls at DCED's feet.
City Council members did their job by moving early to gather information about the distressed municipalities program and making an application on Feb. 24 for the program. Since then, the city has been at the mercy of action by DCED.
When Altoona applied for distressed municipality status, we envisioned a partnership with more give and take to help the city chart a course out of its financial woes. Instead, given the timing, Altoona seems to be headed for a take-it-or-leave-it situation.
It's definitely not the way we hoped it would be.