Atlantic Cities
Democracy in America

College Kid Will Try to Bring Pa. City Back From Brink

College Kid Will Try to Bring Pa. City Back From Brink
Reuters

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

Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for The Atlantic Cities. He lives in Los Angeles. All posts »

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