Holding Firm on Taxes – 14 Years and Counting
Jeff and Mike know the best place for your money is in your pocket – not the governments. When they first came into office they promised to do all they could to hold the line on taxes and it’s a promise they’ve kept for 14 years.
As both will readily say, this unprecedented record isn’t the result of one big thing, but by never stopping to look for a way to deliver services more efficiently and at a lower cost. Because Jeff and Mike are never satisfied with the answer, “we’ve always done it this way,’’ they have made some significant changes resulting in taxpayer savings.
Changing how things get done
In early 2018, for example, they consolidated the county’s Prison and adjacent Judicial Center in Swatara Township, resulting in $500,000 in savings the first year and an expected $800,000 in savings in 2019. The move will allow the county to more efficiently link arrestees with addiction treatment and other services and place those posing no risk on supervised release – saving more taxpayer dollars by avoiding expensive and unnecessary incarcerations.
Other ways Jeff and Mike are saving taxpayer dollars include:
- Reducing healthcare costs by $7 million since 2009 by self-insuring.
- Saving $1 million by hiring only once a quarter instead of immediately filling vacancies.
- Continuing efforts to make county buildings more energy efficient, which are expected to save $80,000 in electricity next year.
Creating Parks and Preserving Farmland
Preserving Dauphin County’s natural beauty for today’s residents and future generations is a priority for Jeff and Mike. In 2017, they opened Detweiler Park in Middle Paxton Township, which at 411-acres is the largest of the county’s eight parks. Already boasting nine miles of walking trails and some of the best fishing around, Jeff and Mike are clear that Detweiler is the “people’s park” and are actively asking residents for input in how to make this treasure even better. Let us know your thoughts!
Realizing a Dream
2018 saw the realization of a 30-year dream: the ground-breaking for a 2-mile extension linking Fort Hunter Park in Susquehanna Township to the 20-mile Greenbelt, which until now counted Wildwood Park as its northernmost edge. In addition to the much-anticipated expansion, which will allow hikers and bikers to travel along the beautiful Susquehanna River safely, it was part of a larger project that made safety improvements to six major intersections.
“More than 100 years ago, our civic leaders had the foresight to create the Greenbelt,’’ Jeff said at the historic Heckton Church on Front Street as he lifted a ceremonial shovel. “This extension is our gift to generations to come.’’
Protecting our farms
Jeff and Mike are also committed to saving our farmland and actively work with farming families to purchase development rights that ensure agricultural will continue for future generations. Since 1992, when Dauphin County’s Farmland Preservation Program began acquiring easements, the county has preserved a total of 16,832.83 acres on 173 farms.
As Mike is fond of saying, preserving the county’s natural beauty make good economic sense as well.
“Providing recreational opportunities not only makes a community more livable,’’ Mike says. “It helps attract new businesses who want a good environment for their employees.’’
Fighting Urban Decay and Spurring Development
Throughout Dauphin County, towns struggle with abandoned homes that can hurt an entire neighborhood and larger, vacant commercial or industrial sites that can drag down an entire community. Over the last several years, Jeff and Mike have unveiled first-of-their-kind programs that are providing help – and hope.
Transforming Industrial Blight to Might
Plans to turn six blocks of former steel mill land in the heart of Steelton a mixed-use development featuring a grocery, brewpub and more than 75 apartments is the latest win for Jeff and Mike’s Transformation Initiative. The initiative coordinates the efforts of Dauphin County’s Redevelopment Authority along with a $400,000 EPA grant to conduct environmental assessments of former commercial and industrial sites that are needed before building can occur.
In Steelton’s case, the Steel Works project benefited from $230,000 of the EPA grant money and an additional $500,000 in gaming grants and federal block grants were used for nearby Front Street improvements to enhance the downtown area.
Jeff and Mike’s work to make once proud commercial sites community assets again include turning the once-vacant Lykens Hotel and Israel Building and the 5-acre Verdelli Farms in Hummelstown into first-class apartment complexes and the demolition of the former Millersburg Reamer and Tool Company to spur new development.
Creating Jobs and Investing in Our Communities
Since 2008, Jeff Haste and Mike Pries have invested nearly $68.7 million in virtually every community in Dauphin County.
From helping to upgrade water and sewer systems to buying new firefighting and police equipment, Jeff and Mike used gaming revenues from the casino to pay for 852 critical projects or programs that otherwise would fall on property taxpayers. Many times, these grants are the seeds that help additional development take root – more than $340 million in additional investment has resulted from the program.
The millions in investment also led to the creation or retention of 10,136 permanent or construction jobs in connection with projects since the 2011-12 grant cycle.
Banking on Our Future
A big part of keeping the lid on property taxes for 14 years is Jeff and Mike’s ability to look challenges facing our communities and think outside the box, asking two important questions: “What if?” and “Why not?’’
That’s the approach they took in creating two Pennsylvania’s firsts that others are looking to emulate: the Dauphin County Land Bank and the Dauphin County Infrastructure Bank.
In 2013, Jeff and Mike were the first to seize on a new state law allowing the creation of the Dauphin County Land Bank, which is dedicated to the buying and restoring of run-down properties. In addition to $250,000 in gaming grants as seed money, the bank supports itself by getting the municipalities and school districts where projects are done to waive half the real estate taxes on properties once they are sold, allowing that money to fund future bank projects. Proceeds from the sale also go to the bank. The bank’s projects include the restoration of a single-family home and the creation of five duplexes in Susquehanna Township, as well as a duplex in Steelton built in cooperation with Habitat for Humanity.
Also, in 2013, Jeff and Mike realized the careful maintenance of the county-owned bridges over more than 30 years made it possible to use roughly $1 million received annually in liquid fuels money (generated from taxes on petroleum products) to leverage $30 million over three years from PennDOT’s Pennsylvania Infrastructure Bank.
In another first for Pennsylvania, Jeff and Mike then offered this money at extremely low rates – 10-year repayment at .5 percent interest – to municipalities needing help with road improvements and other transportation-related projects. Among the projects the bank has helped fund are fixing a dangerous West Hanover intersection, significantly repairing three Harrisburg streets and helping Middletown’s downtown revitalization efforts.
Keeping All Our Bridges Safe
Building on the successful maintenance of the county’s bridges, Jeff and Mike turned to the problem our municipalities are having maintaining their own spans. Too many times a lack of money causes bridges to either be weight restricted or closed – at times creating dangerous situations if emergency responders are forced to take long detours.
Again, thinking creatively, Jeff and Mike were able to leverage state and federal dollars to absorb 40 percent of the bridge repair or replacement – and municipalities can finance the rest through Dauphin County Infrastructure Bank loans of less than 1 percent.
In a time when the news almost nightly reports on problems caused by deteriorating infrastructure throughout our country, Jeff and Mike are solving the problem in Dauphin County – and keeping our residents safe.