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Deficit trash talk

October 5, 2010 - John D'Agostino
Harrisburg, Pa., missed a $3.29 million bond payment over the summer leading to some speculation the capital city of the state may file for bankruptcy.

A big part of Harrisburg’s problem goes back to the 1970s — its incinerator, which was one of the first to burn trash to produce energy. A decision made to spend $125 million to upgrade the facility in 2003 has not gone well — and is not producing enough revenue to cover debt that grew to $288 million, The Wall Street Journal reports.

"For several years, Harrisburg officials knew 2010 would bring incinerator debt payments of $68 million, more than its annual budget," the Journal reported. "The city didn’t plan for that debt in its 2010 budget, though it knew the Harrisburg Authority, the municipal entity that owns the incinerator, couldn’t pay for it. So far this year, the city has made one payment of $637,500."

The local lesson here? Do not bank on the methane plant at our county landfill being some sort of cash cow. Area leaders are planning to spend millions more to add to the plant, which is projected to bring in only $500,000 in revenue — nearly $1.5 million under budget.

The plan is not working in Harrisburg. It does not seem to be working Chautauqua County either.


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