Monday's Altoona City Council meeting to hear and approve staff comments on a consultant's Act 47 recovery plan was practically a roast - minus the humor.
Working from a 27-page list, city officials panned the plan for recommendations they said were based on incorrect assumptions; that contradicted staff advice; that resulted from failure to consult with staff or failure to visit the city; that showed ignorance of the city's optional plan form of government; or that called for changes the city has already made.
"It's a lot of cookie-cutter recommendations from other plans," Councilman Dave Butterbaugh said.
"It sounds like they took a lot of ideas and incorporated them and threw them against the wall to see what sticks," said Bob Gutshall, chairman of the city Planning Commission, who was a member of the audience.
Planning Director Lee Slusser took the consultant to task for not including ideas that the city should explore.
The consultant could have avoided the problem by sharing a draft before going public, City Manager Joe Weakland said.
Altoona City Council will meet at 7 p.m. today at Council Chambers to introduce the 2013 budget and millage ordinance and the ordinance that includes an increase in earned income tax, all of which take account of proposed provisions in the city's Act 47 recovery plan.
The city's Act 47 consultant will hold a public hearing on the Act 47 recovery plan at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in the auditorium of the Devorris Downtown Center. Anyone can speak. City officials don't think the consultant will incorporate criticisms from city officials outlined Monday.
Still, there are good ideas in the plan, Mayor Bill Schirf said.
He didn't immediately come up with specifics, citing the enormity of the 326-page document.
The consultant could probably have reduced that 326 pages to about 30, at less expense to taxpayers, Gutshall said.
The consultant - Stevens & Lee - earned $673,000 from the state for the work, which it began in June.
Among recommendations that city officials don't like:
- The fire department should take over ambulance services from AMED in the city.
It would require up to $2.9 million in startup capital, would cost more, because of higher wages and better benefits and would happen at a time when EMS reimbursements are falling, according to the city.
- The city should pay for items under $50,000, like police vehicles, from the general fund, not through capital borrowing, because it's not fitting to be paying off items for longer than their useful life.
- The city should eliminate incentive payments for workers who reject city health coverage. The shift of workers into the plan would far more than offset the savings, according to the city. "No duh," Councilman Mark Geis said. "That would be false economy."
- The city should stop collecting per capita and occupational and flat-rate occupational taxes, because the cost of collection is high and the taxes are a nuisance to payers. The Altoona Area School District would simply resume collecting them, and they're not costly to collect, because the Blair County Tax Collection Bureau and city workers already on staff do it, Weakland said.
Among ideas the consultant should have recommended that the city explore include: going to a single trash hauler, changing the management setup at the Altoona Water Authority and changing the way the city handles its parks, recreational programming, sidewalks and streetscapes, Slusser said.
The city may be doing all the right things in those areas, but it would be good to check them out, he said.
Officials planned to email the comments to the consultant today and present them formally at a public hearing on the recovery plan Wednesday.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.