No action was taken on the proposed 2021 budget at Harrisburg City Council’s special legislative session Thursday, the group’s third of the week.
President Wanda Williams, who made her intentions clear that she is indeed running for city council again in May 2021, received a lot of attention. A number of residents who watched Wednesday’s second public hearing submitted public comments that questioned her behavior.
Council members during the second budget hearing had a few heated exchanges over wanting to delay the budget vote until Monday. Some residents said they were upset by Williams’ strong approach to control the meeting, and they said she was abrupt in tone with councilman Westburn Majors and councilwoman Danielle Bowers.
Williams apologized Thursday night. She also insisted that her passion comes from a place of putting Harrisburg residents’ safety first.
“On the demand for cutting monies to the police budget, I feel any forms of cuts to public safety puts all of our residents at risk,” Williams said. “It may not be practical, but it will grossly affect the health, safety, and welfare of Harrisburg residents. I’m not saying we don’t have some issues with public safety, cause we do, that need to be corrected. But not having public safety is not good for the Harrisburg area. Harrisburg City Council body serves an entire city, not just a handful, and the decisions we make are for the greater good of the entire community.”
The tension has been caused by a proposed $1 million that would be spent on creating a new Community Services Division. The division would employ 23, of which 21 would be civilian-based jobs. Overall, next year’s budget could increase police funding by $3 million.
Residents who submitted public comments said they don’t feel like they are being heard. And, that they want that money to be spent elsewhere in the community.
“Eight years ago, this city was on the brink of financial ruin to the tune of $638 million — deficit,” Williams said. “Long days, many hours, negotiating with numerous officials and attorneys, the city was able to resolve the debt. There have been many concerns, comments regarding the budget. First, and foremost, I want to say to the residents of the city of Harrisburg, members of the council would never rush or make a hasty decision.”
The community has had the same amount of time that council members have had to review the budget, she said.
“Having some people threaten not to consider voting for anyone on this council because you are upset is offensive,” Williams said about the proposed new division and police jobs. “And, I will not be intimidated. I have sat on this council for 16 years and never slacked on my responsibilities to this community. I have people coming to my residence unannounced, calling my phone from sunup to sundown, stopping me in my private time at the grocery store, or sitting in a restaurant. I don’t complain about these things because I’m here to serve the residents of this city.”
There wasn’t a lengthy discussion about the budget Thursday during the virtual special legislative meeting. Council members said they will pick up where they left off on Monday, which is when they anticipate they will vote on the 2021 budget.
Ben Allatt, vice president and the chair of the council’s budget and finance committee, on Thursday thanked everyone who worked on the budget. He mentioned that at least one amendment is most likely going to be introduced; however, its merits will be discussed on Monday as well as any other amendments.
The amendment Allatt referenced would reduce the 12 community service aides to as few as seven. That number would represent each Harrisburg district.
Read more from PennLive
Harrisburg council expected to vote on budget amendment to cut number of proposed police jobs
Several Harrisburg residents say ‘no data, no dollars’ to city budget that increases police department funding