Roger Hedgecock
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How do Altoona Officials deal with financial distress

What does a city do when
- it’s running out of money,
- facing financial distress,
- can’t pay for a fully staffed police force,
- can’t pay for a fully staffed fire department,
- doesn’t have the money to maintain it’s roadways, and;
- doesn’t have enough money to maintain its parks?
That’s easy! Build a $300,000 park in the most unsuitable location at a busy traffic corner of a well travelled bridge. Then during the same week that Altoona city council discussed the city’s pending financial distress status, hold a ribbon cutting ceremony marking the completion of the new park. Which, by city officials own admission they don’t have the money to maintain. The City has experienced twenty years of population decline and in recent years increased spending levels that exceed revenues.
The new park is located at the foot of the 7th Street Bridge. It is divided with about the park on both South corners of the bridge. If you like listening to large tractor trailers making their way over the bridge or automobiles flying up the avenue to get through the changing traffic light you will love this location. It’s also a great place to fill your lungs with carbon monoxide fumes while listening to ambulance sirens blaring while racing to the hospital or locomotives cranking out the decibels as they pull their freight under the bridge along the railroads mainline.
This isn’t the first project in the city that doesn’t make much sense to me in light of the current city finances. Who can forget members of City council having another ribbon cutting event not so long ago? This time it was for a $300,000 sidewalk along Juniata Gap road that starts at no relevant point and ends at no relevant point and runs for several blocks. And what was the justification for the sidewalk? One elected official claimed “it’s about safety.” I guess that fact that few people use the sidewalk makes it safe. Another politician suggested that “we saved money by building it now.” Let me think, we would have saved a lot more money now and in future maintenance costs if the sidewalk was never built at all. Of course then you couldn’t have a ribbon cutting event.
Then there is the local college educator at the ribbon cutting event who explained that the supersize sidewalk will reduce our carbon footprint. Yes, but I wonder the size of the carbon footprint that it took to build the walkway.
Of course we can’t overlook the colossus of extravagant municipal spending in the City of Altoona, the $7,000,000 (that’s 7 million smackers) office building for the Altoona Water and Sewer authority. Does the building provide better water quality for water customers? No. Does the building result in better sewer service? No. Does the building represent a significant increase in overhead for water customers to pay? Yes of course it does. In my opinion this $7 million over designed, money’s-no-object office building is the height of foolish spending. So I have christened it the Water Palace.
And what was the justification for building the Water Palace? It depends on which authority member or which politician you ask. One reason given is the water and sewer service providers needed more space. Their original building had about 2400 square feet. The Water Palace has 24,000 square feet; ten times the square footage of the original water/sewer building. (I walked through the finished building. I can identify at least 8,000 square feet of wasted space.) Another authority member said the new building was needed to provide a drive through for bill payers. If the drive through was so important why was it not included in the final building plans? I was told something about causing traffic jams. They finally put a glorified mail box outside the building with a sign, drop bills here. 
The city mayor explained that the Water Palace was a great way to eliminate some blighted buildings in the City. If that’s the case we probably need about fourteen more of these buildings in the same neighborhood.
But the story of the palace doesn’t end with its construction. While the palace was being built two of the senior water authority members discovered there was space left on the palace lot and they wanted it filled. What to do, what to do? So the people who are charged with watching over the citizen’s water and sewer system decided that a war memorial was just the ticket. Now, how water and sewer services relate to a war memorial escapes me. It is not listed in the authority’s laws and bylaws. I checked. But not to let a little thing such as laws and bylaws to stand in the way of a lucrative building project, the memorial was built. A short sidewalk here, a little wall there, some name plaques and a few shrubs and what I estimate to be a twenty thousand project cost water customers a hundred thousand ($100,000) dollars . And since water customers have no say and city council has no interest in to top it off a $40,000 a year, plus benefits, janitor was hired to maintain the brand new building. I have been told there is some nepotism involved here. Shocking!
Recently Altoona City Council voted to borrow a million dollars. For what you ask? A large portion of that money is expected to be used to build a (drum roll please) “spray park.” That’s right a spray park. One councilman touting the need for the spray park proclaimed that people from all around central PA will flock to the soon to be built spray park. I guess the councilman doesn’t know about other spray parks that now exist in other areas from which the councilman expects people to flock. So where is the spray park to be located? Not too far from the homes of the same city councilman who pushed to have it built. Just a coincidence I am told. The spray park is planned for a location that is just few blocks away from the $300,000 super sized side walk to no where that few people use, up the road a few miles from the $7 million Water Palace and luxury water billing center which is just over the bridge from the brand new $300,000 carbon monoxide park.
We understand that City Council plans several more meetings to discuss what to do about the City’s eroding financial situation. We’ll keep you posted. 

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Locations : Altoona

10/30/2011 7:53PM
How do Altoona Officials deal with financial distress
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