Mayor Joe Schember's administration plans to hire a consultant to help develop long-range plans to manage city finances and operations.
The city of Erie will host at least three public meetings as part of its plan to stabilize the city's finances with the help of the state's Early Intervention Program.
The sessions, which would explain the city's plans to create a long-term financial recovery strategy and allow input from citizens, are among the information outlined in the city's application for the Early Intervention Program, which was submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development on Jan. 2.
The city provided a copy of its application to the Erie Times-News after the newspaper requested it. The program, administered by DCED, provides matching grants to help municipalities hire experts who can help them develop long-range plans to manage their finances and operations.
Mayor Joe Schember's administration is requesting a $162,000 grant from DCED, which would be used to hire a consultant under the auspices of the program to help complete a financial conditions assessment; examine city staffing, policies and procedures; and make recommendations aimed at stabilizing city finances.
Early Intervention grants help pay for the consultants' costs. Schember has said the city plans to match that grant with $18,000 that was included in the city's 2019 budget specifically for the program.
"The recommendations that come out of this will be followed through with, and public money is helping to pay for this," said Renee Lamis, Schember's chief of staff. "The citizens should have some say and some input about what kinds of money-saving measures that we take."
Kathy Wyrosdick, the city's planning director, added: "we can modify the schedule if we need to, but we wouldn't necessarily drop any meetings." Wyrosdick prepared the city's Early Intervention Program application.
The city last worked with the Early Intervention Program in 2006 and 2007 while facing cumulative budget deficits of more than $10 million. Schember wants to participate in the program because the city faced an $11 million budget deficit in 2019, and could face a cumulative deficit of up to $22 million by 2024 if financial practices are not changed.
Schember has said that annual increases in employee-related costs, such as salaries, health care and pensions, as well as a flat tax base, affect the city's budget. Schember has also said he plans to implement whatever recommendations the Early Intervention Program consultants recommend, even if they are unpopular with city workers or the public.
The city has interviewed three prospective consultants for the program: the Pennsylvania Economy League, a public policy think tank for local and state government with offices in Wilkes-Barre, Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh; Grass Root Solutions of Pittsburgh; and Public Financial Management, of Philadelphia, which is helping the Erie School District with long-range fiscal planning as its state-appointed financial adviser.
Lamis said the city will announce its consultant choice after DCED makes its decision about the city's grant request. Erie City Council supports Schember's plan to seek help from the program.
Kevin Flowers can be reached at 870-1693 or by email. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ETNflowers.