Keystone Crossroads

Tax Exemption Payback Could Stabilize PA Communities, Some Lawmakers Say

Mar 10, 2015
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

State Rep. Rob Freeman, D-Easton, wants to use liquor tax proceeds to make up for local government revenue lost to property tax exemption.

Freeman first pitched this to an enthusiastic House Local Government Committee in 2007, but the recession hit before it got any traction.

Snow and more snow leaves some sidewalks unshoveled

Mar 5, 2015
(Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

 

Cities are working hard to plow snowy streets. Sidewalks are an additional challenge. Property owners are generally responsible for clearing walkways and some cities issue fines for uncleared sidewalks.

But Reading has stopped fining residents for not shoveling snow from their sidewalks. Why? Because Reading Public Works crews haven’t been able to clear the mess from the 100 city-owned properties, either.

Gage Skidmore / flickr

Florida Governor Rick Scott came to Philadelphia this week to meet with company heads, to try to lure business to the Sunshine State. Scott campaigned on the promise of growing private sector jobs in Florida and one of his tactics has been to visit other states – including California, Illinois, and Maryland – to recruit job creators.

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said it’s a bit unusual for a governor to show up like Scott did in Philadelphia “but it is not unusual at all for that state government to make calls into other businesses to urge them to relocate into their state. I did it very very often when I was governor.” States, and even municipalities, are competing for companies everyday. 

Six Documentaries Featuring Pennsylvania Cities You Can Stream Online

Feb 19, 2015
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

As a winter cold front settles in over most of Pennsylvania and the eastern U.S., you may find yourself surfing your Netflix queue for something to escape the deep freeze and cabin fever.

May we suggest a few “home grown” documentaries worth watching that you can easily steam online? 

Irina Zhorov / 90.5 WESA

When Ian McMeans became Homestead’s borough manager three years ago the borough had only one email address and the secretary printed the messages and hand delivered them to everyone. “That stopped very shortly thereafter,” said McMeans. Then McMeans built a website. But progress has been slow. The borough is still entirely paper-run. 

Pennsylvania's Income Growth 'Lopsided'

Jan 27, 2015

The Economic Policy Institute and Economic Analysis and Research Network released a report today measuring income growth inequality state by state.

The report looked at Internal Revenue Service pretax income numbers before and after the Great Recession to determine which portion of income earners have benefited the most from recovery.

Auditor General: Pennsylvania Needs to Better Monitor Corporate Tax Incentives

Jan 8, 2015
Marielle Segarra / WHYY

Every year, Pennsylvania gives out hundreds of millions of dollars in grants, loans, and other financial help to companies. In exchange, the companies promise to invest. Maybe they'll build a new office, or create a certain number of jobs, for instance.

The Department of Community and Economic Development gives out this money, and it's also responsible for holding companies to their promises.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

In 2011, a group of designers put together a development proposal to make Pittsburgh’s airport more than just a landing pad. The plan included ideas to transform the airport into a larger transport hub that would attract businesses to the vicinity, making for a dense commercial zone.

One of the theoretical models in the proposal included something called New Town, literally a new town that would absorb the people coming to take advantage of all the new businesses and jobs the future growth of the airport would spur.

Irina Zhorov / 90.5 WESA

This is the third story of a three-part series on the state's bridges.

About seven years ago, the Bridge Maintenance Engineer for the South Carolina Department of Transportation, Lee Floyd, was concerned about one of his bridge’s ability to hold up while a replacement was built. He placed sensors on the bridge to monitor how it behaved and found that actually he could keep it open without any temporary repairs.

The State of PA's Bridges, Part 2: Rebuilding Them Faster

Dec 9, 2014
Keystone Crossroads

This is the second story of a three-part series on the state's bridges.

Twenty-three percent of Pennsylvania's bridges are structurally deficient, and many need to be replaced. But between permitting, design, and construction, building a new bridge takes years.

That's why the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is trying to speed things up.

The State of PA's Bridges, Part 1: How Are They Holding Up?

Dec 8, 2014
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

This is the first story of our three-part series on the state's bridges.

If you drive in Pennsylvania, you've probably crossed a structurally deficient bridge. Maybe you're driving over one right now.

Pennsylvania has more than 30,000 bridges. Some span rivers, like the Ben Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia, and others are much smaller, crossing rural creeks and highways. More than 6,000 of these bridges are structurally deficient. (We put together an interactive map of the state's structurally deficient bridges.)

Regulated Tent Cities for Homeless Pondered But Improbable in PA

Dec 2, 2014
Image courtesy of Eric Weiss

Frank Fairweather says poor health forced him to quit truck driving just shy of his 50th birthday. He kept a roof over his head for a while but then one roommate was jailed for a parole violation, and the other skipped town.

Before he could find replacements, Fairweather fell behind on rent. He ended up joining several others camping under an interstate bridge near downtown Harrisburg.

Fairweather didn’t leave for three years, staying through winters and Tropical Storm Lee, until one night earlier this fall.

An Artist Battles Blight With a Coat of Gold Paint

Oct 8, 2014
Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

To drive through Wilkinsburg is to tour the ravages of a post-industrial Pittsburgh, a suburb of the comeback city that just hasn’t come back, yet. Houses stand empty, there are open lots, drug deals go down in broad daylight. And then, glimmering on a corner lot: a house painted gold.

90.5 WESA hosted a public forum last night along with Keystone Crossroads, a project focused on urban issues statewide.

A New Municipality In Antietam Valley?

Sep 30, 2014
Kate Lao Shaffner / WPSU

Pennsylvania has more local governments than any other state except Texas and Illinois. There are some downsides to this, including the inefficiency and expense of duplicated services, and the potential for competition among municipalities.

State law allows municipalities to consolidate or merge, but it doesn't happen all that often because the process can be fraught with tension. But two communities in Berks County are trying to give it a shot— this November, residents will vote on whether they should consolidate and form a new municipality.

Keystone Crossroads Holds Statewide Town Hall Meetings

Sep 29, 2014
Lindsey Lazarski / WHYY

On Tuesday evening, the third Keystone Crossroads community forum will be held at the Community Broadcast center on the South Side. Titled, “Rust or Revival: Which Way is Our Town Heading?" these evenings are all about community engagement.

Similar forums have been held in Philadelphia and Harrisburg with the goal of parsing out our community problems and potential solutions. 

Johnstown Hosts Its Inaugural Outdoor Festival

Sep 24, 2014

Johnstown is hosting the inaugural Allegheny Adventure X-Fest, a weekend-long event for outdoor enthusiasts in the region. Brad Clemenson is with Lift Johnstown, one of the sponsors of the event. He says the weekend will incorporate Johnstown’s 39th annual marathon, along with a whole host of other activities, including biking, boating, hiking, geocaching, fly-fishing demonstrations, as well as music.

The biggest project yet under the public-private partnership, or P3 law, passed in 2012, will replace 558 of Pennsylvania's 4,200 structurally deficient bridges by 2018. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has released the final list of bridges, whittled down from 2000, and has reached out to private companies to submit bids for the project. PennDOT says this approach will get the job done quicker and more economically. 

Senator Richard Alloway (R) has sponsored a bill in the state legislature that would allow certain counties to increase their hotel taxes. If enacted, Senate Bill 838 would open the door to raising the tax visitors pay for hotel stays from 3 percent to 5 percent in applicable counties. And that’s in addition to the tax the state levies.

Kate Lao Shaffner / WPSU

State College's Highlands residents are used to sounds of partying on weekend nights. The neighborhood borders Penn State's University Park campus and downtown.

It's made up of fraternities and apartment buildings, but also single-family homes ranging from grand stone and brick historic mansions to more modest mid-century houses. The residents are quite the mix—college students, retired professors, and young families all call the Highlands home.

But it's not hard to tell who lives where.

Pennsylvania's cities and towns are full of promise, but plagued by problems. The appeal of urban living is on the rise. Many neighborhoods bustle with new residents and amenities. But issues such as crumbling infrastructure and high taxes linger. What can Pennsylvania's cities, large and small, do to address their problems and fulfill their promise? 

How Church Buildings In PA Are Finding New Lives

Sep 5, 2014
Marielle Segarra / WHYY

Walk a few blocks in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, or any of Pennsylvania's old cities, and you're bound to see a house of worship. In Old City Philadelphia, these could be churches the founding fathers attended. In other neighborhoods, they could be former ethnic churches that served specific immigrant communities.

Pennsylvania's Cities Confront Homelessness

Aug 29, 2014
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

You'd never know it from the road, but in the woods in Allentown, there's a small monument to just how resourceful people can be, when they have to be.

Weeds and wildflowers obscure the path leading to Davina Delor's shelter. She built it herself after landing here in April - her fourth campsite since 2010.

That's when Delor, 42, lost her job, quickly followed by her apartment and car.

"I'm still looking for work. I get little odd jobs here and there, but nothing that pays. Nothing that will get you an apartment or anything like that," Delor says.

Foreign-born students studying in the U.S. spend billions in local economies and their talents should be more deliberately harnessed, according to a new study by the Brookings Institution.

The job market of the 21st Century is increasingly global and focused on innovation. That was one of the takeaways at the Governor’s Jobs 1st Summit in Pittsburgh Monday.

Kelly Tunney / For WPSU

Oil City suffered the fate of many other Pennsylvania communities that were once driven by prominent industries. It was once the hub of the nation's oil production and home to major companies like Pennzoil and Quaker State.

But the companies moved away and the days of Oil City's prosperity are gone. Oil City has had to find ways to reinvent itself. And it's chosen to embrace art—and artists.

Councilwoman Wants Inquiry Into Real Estate Deals

Aug 7, 2014

Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak is asking Mayor Bill Peduto to look into the sale of an apartment complex. She said how the sale happened could lead to a loss of tax revenue to the city.  

The Cork Factory Lofts in the Strip District were recently sold to GMH Capital Partners for an undisclosed sum. But instead of buying the converted lofts outright, GMH purchased the two companies that previously owned the converted lofts and associated properties. The sale included three buildings.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

 

When the lush, green curves of Route 403 give way to the expansive brick buildings of Johnstown's steel mills, innovative economic development is not the first thing that comes to mind. The city's landscape is industrial, full of cement, and accented generously with blight. Its population sits at about 20,000, down from a high of around 70,000. The last time it was this low was in 1890, and people continue to leave.

Irina Zhorov / 90.5 WESA

Property taxes are considered a relatively stable, easy-to-collect tax. In many states government officials conduct regular property reassessments, which help calculate accurate tax bills, without much to do. Not so in Pennsylvania, where reassessments can cause upheaval and dramatic political wrestling matches.

With the heavily boarded up community of Homestead as a backdrop, the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania released a toolkit to fight blight today.

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