A draft plan, outlining Johnstown’s strategy for exiting the commonwealth’s Act 47 program for distressed municipalities no later than Oct. 28, 2021, was sent to the Department of Community and Economic Development last week.
The city’s recovery coordinator, Deborah Grass from Grass Root Solutions, then presented the nearly 100-page document during a public meeting on Wednesday.
Comment on the proposal can be made through Oct. 5. City Council is then expected to consider the plan for first read during its regular monthly meeting on Oct. 10. If ultimately passed by ordinance – during a later second read – the DCED would need to give final approval.
“I feel good about the plan because I think it basically has a map to an exit and I think a successful exit, so I feel pretty good about the plan,” Grass said.
“It’s a draft right now. The final plan will basically be filed with the city and the department right after Oct. 5, right after we close the record.”
Changes could still be made based on comments from City Council and the public.
“Nothing is absolute because it’s a plan,” Grass said. “We’ll see what happens. But, for the most part, I think all the information in there is going to be really helpful to them. I think they’re going to be on board.”
The exit plan draft includes seven strategies: stabilizing the city management team which, according to the document, has included seven city managers and six finance directors in 10 years; pursuing sale or lease of assets, modernizing form of government; enhancing revenue; containing costs; continuing sustainability and advancing legislative strategies.
“The biggest thing is stabilizing the management team because nothing gets done if all we do are searches,” Grass said.
Johnstown entered Act 47 on Aug. 21, 1992. Participation was previously open-ended.
In 2014, though, the state changed the law, limiting communities that were already in the program to five years membership from when their most recent recovery plan was enacted. For Johnstown, that time period runs out on Oct. 28.
But a provision was also created for municipalities to request a three-year extension.
Johnstown has opted to continue participation.
But the question exists what can Johnstown do to prepare itself for a required exit when the city has not fortified its economic condition enough to leave Act 47 for more than a quarter-century?
“The tax structure has got to change, but we also know that basically we really can’t continue to tax people to get out of this, so it’s got to be a combination of what we’re working on right now – bringing businesses into town, looking at creative ways to do things, cooperation, things like Vision 2025, volunteer work, those sorts of things,” Mayor Frank Janakovic said.
“But it ultimately comes down to really recruiting and bringing new businesses into the city to create the economic base whether that be downtown on the outskirts, looking at the total economic picture in Johnstown. That’s what we’ve got to really improve to improve our tax base.”