The leader of the distressed municipalities team that will introduce itself to City Council, staff and the public Monday asked for goodwill and cooperation, as he begins trying to pull Altoona away from the brink of financial ruin.
"The bottom line for the whole community is, if everybody can sort of pull together," said John Espenshade, who will head a group of five municipal experts coming to town for the 7 p.m. meeting in Council Chambers.
Espenshade warned that city government may never be the same again after the team is finished.
"Change is going to be necessary for [solvency to be] sustainable," he said.
That pleases Mayor Bill Schirf.
"Everything's on the table," Schirf said. "We want long-term solutions."
Monday's meeting, however, will be merely preliminary, with the team giving a brief outline of its intentions, while explaining how it has already begun gathering data on the city, according to Espenshade, a lawyer with Stevens & Lee of Reading, the company chosen by the state to develop a recovery plan.
The team will ultimately consist of about 25 people, coming in an out as needed.
The members won't work separately in "silos," however, he said.
"There will be a lot of crossover," Espenshade said.
There will also be interaction with city officials, staff and the public.
His company began the team approach about eight years ago, after realizing how often they had to seek outside expertise to deal with the variety of problems that beset older municipalities, according to Espenshade.
Controller A.C. Stickel is OK with that.
"That means that it's not just one guy's idea," Stickel said.
It also means there won't be a "cookie cutter" approach, Stickel predicted.
Municipalities have lots in common, and plans should too, but there many individual differences among municipalities, and plans need to reflect that, Stickel said.
Altoona's, for example, won't need to rehash the potential fixes the city has already tried, he said.
The recovery team's data gathering so far has been preliminary, Espenshade said.
Asked if he's formed a picture yet of the city's problems, he said no.
"We're asking more questions than we have information," he said.
The company doesn't have a contract with the state Department of Community and Economic Development yet, so the 90-day period for completion of a plan hasn't begun.
But the company wanted to get started anyway, Espenshade said.
That's good, because the city will need the plan this fall, when it begins budgeting for next year, Stickel said.
He agrees with Espenshade and Schirf about the need for changes in the way Altoona runs.
"Some are probably going to be unpleasant," he said. "But when your backs are up against the wall, you don't have many choices.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.