NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Harrisburg Is Having a Yard Sale

November 3, 2011

Though almost all cities and states across the country are attempting to cut spending and sell assets in order to weather the economic climate, Harrisburg, Penn., has selected a unique means of dealing with its debt.  The second city in the United States to declare Chapter 9 bankruptcy this year, Harrisburg will auction off Old West relics that it had planned to turn into a Museum of the Old West.  The museum never occurred, due to city financial planning issues and later the economic downturn, and the city council is now seeking to liquidate the historical assets in order to recoup funds that were spent on them by the city's former mayor, says the Wall Street Journal.

  • The city faces $310 million dollars in debt, brought on by ballooning pension costs and other economic woes, in addition to a massive public project to retrofit a trash incinerator.
  • The 8,000-piece collection cost the city approximately $7.8 million.
  • The city already shed a portion of its collection in auctions four years ago, when it was able to take in sales of about $1.7 million.
  • The city of 50,000 residents is predicted to be insolvent within six months.

Much of the criticism for the planned museum that failed to materialize has been leveled at the city's former mayor of three decades, Stephen R. Reed.  A history buff, Reed spent much of his vacation time traveling to local vendors and buying up relics he hoped to place in the city's museum, gaining a reputation as a greenhorn for his spending habits.

The proposed museum was justified by Reed because Harrisburg historically served as a link between the states on the East Coast and the early west (Ohio, Indiana, etc.).  He had hoped that the museum would boost tourism and bring an influx of cash to the city.  However, the museum was never constructed, and the artifacts that would have filled it now join many other initiatives as a package intended to help the city manage its massive public debt.

Source: Michael Corkery, "Harrisburg Is Having a Yard Sale -- Wanna Buy a Stuffed Buffalo?" Wall Street Journal, October 28, 2011.

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