Altoona’s finances concerning

Altoona taxpayers, as well as taxpayers throughout the rest of Blair County, have good reason to be edgy these days.

Since Jan. 31, the financial news emanating from Altoona’s city council chambers and from the county commissioners’ meeting room has been unsettling, not only for the short term but for the distant future as well.

What is positive amid all of that, though, is that officials are facing the facts in a proactive way rather than merely hoping that what is wrong will magically cure itself.

Over the past half-century, proactive responses to needs and evolving financial dilemmas have not always occurred, neither at the county government level nor in the city.

That is why the city spent some time under the state’s Act 47 distressed status; that is why the county has needed so much courthouse repair and renovation work; and why the prison is such a serious matter of concern, going forward.

Too often over the years, officials were content to avoid tough decisions on the revenue, services, facilities and equipment fronts. They opted to relegate hard and costly choices to officials who would succeed them, whenever that might be.

Current officials are among the dubious beneficiaries of such shortsighted procrastination — not just recent procrastination but weak decision-making going back years, even decades.

However, it is human nature for taxpayers to advocate that officials look the other way regarding certain needs that might necessitate a tax increase — preferring that officials “kick the can down the road” to sometime in the faraway future.

Taxpayers as well as officials, then, are to blame for the troubling situations that have evolved, now necessitating the best financial instincts current leaders and the officials under them can muster.

“City finances not so robust,” “Blair faces fiscal issues” and “Council seeks to borrow $7.7M” were Mirror headlines since Jan. 31 that should have sparked more than a modicum of local interest.

While financial crises are not at the doorstep of the city or county, the money challenges at hand, nevertheless, need tough scrutiny, open-mindedness, courage and unrelenting determination to overcome the hurdles that they represent.

New county commissioner Amy Webster alluded to that kind of needed mindset when she spoke the following regarding the county prison during the Feb. 13 meeting of the Blair County Chamber of Commerce Breakfast Club:

“It all comes down to how long can we continue to support this building that has limitations and is beyond full.”

A similar mindset already is in play — and still expanding — within the city government, as demonstrated by new City Manager Ken Decker’s observation that although the city no longer is under the Act 47 umbrella, it is not out of the financial woods.

“The city is not where it should be as a financially viable entity,” he said.

The city is in the process of prioritizing needs, as reported by the Mirror on Feb. 3. Meanwhile, the need for better controls on county spending has been a topic since the beginning of the year.

All considered, there is plenty of fodder for taxpayer edginess, but there is no room for the do-nothing option anymore.

From the financial standpoint, 2020 could be a turning point, for better or for worse.


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