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Harrisburg budget includes police gear, needed citywide improvements

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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- If Harrisburg's City Hall seems slightly more jolly this December, it could be because of the giant Christmas Tree in the middle of the atrium.

Or possibly due to the budgetary peace between Mayor Eric Papenfuse and city council.

Next Tuesday, council is expected to approve of the mayor's $65 million budget proposal, which includes no tax increases for 2017. It also sets aside around $7 million for improvements to multiple departments citywide, including police safety and public works.

"We're spending money on a variety of things I wish we had the chance to do sooner but we're doing now," Mayor Eric Papenfuse said Wednesday, prior to a second round of public hearings with city council on the proposed budget.

Papenfuse says the city has gone through three years of "belt-tightening" as a result of Act 47 financial recovery.

The most important area of spending, he says, will be to improve the city's police department. Of the $627,754 proposed for public safety projects, $215,000 is expected to go towards four new patrol cars. More important, however, Papenfuse says, is the $79,920 directed towards giving Harrisburg police body cameras for the first time, and the $47,834 to ensure every cop is equipped with a TASER.

Papenfuse says he was not aware that not every officer had a stun gun.

"It wasn't a matter of training," he said. "We hadn't had money to invest in them. We're changing that now."

The most costly improvement is for a new public works building, which the city is setting aside $2.5 million. Currently, the public works facility on Paxton Street is run out of an old car sales lot, and is not adequate to house all the department's vehicles and equipment, says councilman Ben Allatt.

A number of public works improvements, including money for a new facility, will come out of a Neighborhood Services fund. The city wants to spend more than $4.5 million on the department, which includes adding a dozen new trucks.

Of the new vehicles, Papenfuse budgeted $374,600 for seven new trash packers, and $250,000 for a quartet of single and tandem axle dump trucks with spreaders and hooks. The city also wants to buy a new pick-up truck with a plow attachment, and a tow truck with a roll back.

The mayor also plans to set aside money out of the public works general fund to work on the 3rd Street repaving project. The busy two-way street is a center for road and foot traffic, and is a hotspot for potholes during the winter and spring months.

All told, the 3rd Street project is expected to cost the city $500,000, which includes updating sidewalks to meet ADA compliance.

"As a community, I think people want to see their tax dollars are going towards something that will impact them in a positive way," Allatt said. "The 3rd Street area and that pathway will open up as a tangible location people can see, and will open up as a shopping district for the city that people can take part in. That's a real positive."