communities in crisis

Read PEL’s Statewide Municipal Distress Report 

“Communities in Crisis: The Truth and Consequences of Municipal Fiscal Distress in Pennsylvania, 1970 to 2014” looks at the fiscal health of 2,388 Pennsylvania municipalities.

Fiscal decay has accelerated in Commonwealth municipalities over the last 24 years, according to a new Pennsylvania Economy League analysis. The negative trend jeopardizes cities the most but also endangers boroughs, first class townships and even second class townships, whose explosion in wealth and population since the 1970s does not make them immune to the consequences of Pennsylvania’s broken local government system.

The disturbing drift threatens the ability of all types of municipalities to provide even basic services that keep the communities where we live, work, shop and go to school safe, well-maintained, and free from crime and blight. It means core municipalities, whose fiscal health has a direct influence on the financial well-being of the surrounding region as centers of commerce, health care, courts, education and more, are increasingly distressed.

Research Projects

The Pennsylvania Economy League’s professional staff conducts independent, data-driven public policy research that gives stakeholders the information they need to make crucial decisions. Learn More Here.

2021 County Survey on Effects and Reaction from Covid-19: Have county revenues decreased because of the pandemic? What were the biggest changes that counties made? How were federal stimulus funds used? Conducted in partnership with the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania.

PEL’s Fall 2020 Municipal Covid Survey: How did local government operate in the early days of the pandemic? What challenges did they face? What do they anticipate for the future? Conducted in partnership with the Pennsylvania Municipal League.

Structuring Healthy Communities Part 1: Revenue Generation and Fiscal Health: The first of three reports that examine the fiscal health of Pennsylvania’s over 2,000 municipalities (excluding Philadelphia and Pittsburgh), the study found that over half of all households in the state now live in communities suffering fiscal decline. The report debunks the myth that local mismanagement is totally responsible for fiscal distress, finding that a prime cause is limitations in laws enacted decades ago that govern tax levies, pension funding and collective bargaining agreements.

Structuring Healthy Communities: Where Does the Money Go?: A statewide regional review (excluding Philadelphia and Pittsburgh) comparing revenues and expenditures of cities, boroughs and townships in 1970 and 2006. The comprehensive report outlines sources of local government revenues, how local governments spend tax money, and changes in local government finances between 1970 and 2006.

Structuring Healthy Communities: Municipal Case Studies: Case studies of five third-class Pennsylvania cities – Reading, Lancaster, Bethlehem, York and Easton, as well as municipalities in Lycoming County. The report explores the fiscal difficulties experienced by the five cities as they struggle to provide services in the face of shrinking populations and stagnating or declining tax bases. The Lycoming County chapter looks at the differing fiscal experiences of the county’s city, boroughs and townships.

Town and Gown: Impact on the Cost and Financing of Government Services in the Selected Host Municipalities of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education: A study on the economic impact of SSHE universities on the host communities of Bloomsburg, Edinboro, Lock Haven, Millersville and West Chester. The report found municipalities that host a state system university consistently collect less revenue per capita than other municipalities, making it difficult for the host communities to fund services.

Town and Gown Chapters:

Municipal Merger/Consolidation and Sharing of Services: An exploration of municipal and school district merger, consolidation and sharing of services including the history, the process, obstacles and various case studies. The conclusion: “Structural consolidation/merger is a complex and time-consuming process with a high probability of failure based on the historical record. On the other hand, function consolidation presents more realistic and significant opportunities to share services as opposed to structural consolidation.”

Regional Policing: The Case for Increased Police Service Levels and Accountability in Luzerne County: An analysis of regional policing versus individual community policing looking at both costs and the presence of full-time police officers with an emphasis on achieving quality services.

Transportation Benchmarking Study of Transportation Funding and Policy: Examination of transportation infrastructure, physical condition and performance in Pennsylvania and Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Michigan and Illinois. Also compares transportation funding mechanisms.