Emily Previti

Keystone Crossroads Reporter

Emily Previti is WITF's reporter for Keystone Crossroads, a statewide public media collaboration focused on issues facing Pennsylvania's cities.

Emily previously covered municipal dysfunction and state interventions as a city hall reporter in Harrisburg for the Patriot-News/PennLive, and in Atlantic City for The Press of Atlantic City.

She twice won the New Jersey Press Association's Art Weissman award for public service journalism for two watchdog projects. Before going to work for The Press, Emily covered suburban Chicago for Northwest Newsgroup.

She earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Pennsylvania. As an undergraduate, she worked for WXPN-FM's Morning Show and Kids Corner programs.

Her "off" hours are spent running, swimming, reading and seeking laughter and good music.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

 

In a handful of Pennsylvania communities, it’s illegal for private landlords to rent to people convicted of a felony drug offense within the past seven years.

That could change if one woman’s lawsuit is successful.

Her name is Darcy Smith. She lives in Gallitzin, a 1,600-person borough in Cambria County.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

 

Legislation dealing with pensions has, for decades, received a once-over by actuaries working for the Public Employee Retirement Commission, or PERC.

The point is to have PERC actuaries' objective analysis. That's  apart from information provided by bill sponsors and actuaries working for potentially-affected retirement systems.

Emily Previti / WITF

 

The first thing you see inside Sunbury City Hall is Mayor David Persing's name on an office window.

Today, Persing's got back-to-back appointments running past 5 p.m. He's taking them at a conference table that fits easily in his chambers, along with a large, sturdy desk and ample shelving.

Persing is the part-time mayor of a town with fewer than 10,000 people.

Flickr Creative Commons

 

Many of the commonwealth's roughly 2,000 authorities manage essential public assets like water and sewer systems.

Basically, local governments create the authorities, appoint their boards and delegate responsibility for assets (airports, stadiums, public parking facilities, water and sewer systems), effectively increasing City Hall's taxing power and the community's borrowing capacity.

Matt Rourke / AP File Photo

 

"Regardless of where you come down on that fight, the work needs to get done." 

That's state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale's take on Governor Wolf's push to dissolve the Public Employees' Retirement Commission.

David Goldman / AP Photo

 

Host Guy Raz talks with public officials, academics and an engineer about their ideas for building better cities, and why it matters.

The show aired last week. Listen to it, in full, here.

My takeaways:

Cities can tackle problems, “even when opaque, stubborn nations refuse to.”

Jessica Kourkounis

 

Accountability.

That, to me, is the most consistent theme among different plans and ideas for the upcoming year shared with me recently by my Keystone Crossroads colleagues.

That includes, in no particular order:

City Hall politics

It's not a mayoral election year. But 2016 will be significant for mayors' offices.

Diana Robinson / WITF

 

Many of Lancaster's 70,000 residents take pride in the fact that their city resettled more refugees than 20 individual states last year.

But this weekend, people came from elsewhere all over Pennsylvania to protest aiding some asylum seekers.

About 250 people demonstrated support for refugees outside resettlement agency Church World Service in Lancaster.

Resident Beth Kuttab was one of them.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

 

Laundry in the bathroom corner, baseball cap collection in the living room and a poster of a young woman wearing close to nothing.

Zach Hassinger's apartment is pretty standard for a 23-year-old guy.

But he's here for reasons that are uncommon to most people, if not necessarily to him.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

  The federal refugee resettlement program is concentrated in a handful of states — most with governors who say they don't want newly-arrived Syrians as residents. 

Keystone Crossroads talked about it with Melanie Nezer, Vice-President,  Policy & Advocacy for HIAS — one of the nation's nine resettlement agencies, and chair of Refugee Council USA.

Emily Previti / WITF

 

The exemption would apply to 98 percent of Pennsylvania's municipal retirement systems.

Susquehanna Township's figured out a way to save $40,000 a year, every year.

Without compromising anything for residents, or firing anyone. 

But to public officials in the 25,000 person community, getting there was almost not worth the trouble. 

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

 

More than 15,400 Pennsylvanians experienced homelessness this year. That's up slightly from 2014 - and up 6.2 percent from 2010, despite supportive housing and emergency shelter space increasing 2.5 percent statewide. Meanwhile, nationwide homelessness counts dropped as housing and shelter accommodations rose less than one percent, according to HUD data.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

 

Lawmakers have advanced a proposal meant to address Pennsylvania's multibillion-dollar municipal pension problem — but some critics say it would severely compromise retirement security and fail to adequately address how funds are managed.

Emily Previti / WITF

 

Pennsylvania’s Community Revitalization & Improvement Zone is meant to leverage hundreds of millions of dollars toward new development for communities.

It’s off to a slow start. The program is new, officials say, some kinks are expected, and working them out could make all the difference.

But to state Sen. Lloyd Smucker, there are a couple things that just don’t make sense.

Emily Previti / WITF

 

Municipal pension aid isn’t determined by need.

It’s based on the statewide average funding available per pensioner from a 2 percent state tax on fire and casualty insurance payable to the state Treasury, which diverts the money to the Pennsylvania Employees’ Retirement Commission. PERC disseminates it in conjunction with the state Auditor General’s Office.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

 

The state's Community Revitalization & Improvement Zones (CRIZ) program in a select few cities has created some major competition and a little jealousy. That's because the program allows chosen communities to keep some state tax revenue to reinvest for development. 

But the first year's results are underwhelming.

Foster parents, homeless shelters, families facing eviction – they all depend, to varying degrees, on programs and funding bound to the state and federal government. 

County governments coordinate some of those programs and pass through the money to social service agencies that run others. 

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

 

The report comes from Government Executive, a business magazine for senior executives and managers in the federal government's departments and agencies, and the International City/County Management Association. They released it in advance of the ICMA’s upcoming annual conference in Seattle. 

What’s Next in Local Government? is 24 pages. It’s a quick read, but we'll save you the trouble. Here are the highlights:

•    Case management made more manageable? Maybe.

Diana Robinson / WITF

A judge has ruled the corruption case against former Harrisburg Mayor Stephen Reed will go to trial.

Reed faces corruption, bribery, theft and other charges for allegedly hoarding city-owned artifacts and bribing people to approve public borrowings that, ultimately, nearly bankrupted the municipality.

Pennsylvania's property valuation system is, arguably, the least regulated in the country.

Nearly all state governments either handle valuations themselves or require cities or counties to do them at regular intervals between one and 12 years, according to a survey by the International Association of Assessing Officers.

New York requires municipalities to maintain assessments within a certain range market value.

 

Nanticoke is the first city and 10th municipality in Pennsylvania to complete the Commonwealth's Act 47 program for distressed municipalities.

Matt Rourke / AP

 

At least 50 Pennsylvania municipalities legislate against sleeping or camping in public places.

Emily Previti/WITF

 Some Pennsylvania lawmakers say the rules governing public pensions need to change, but not everyone follows the guidelines already in place.

And it looks like they might not have to.

For example: The state audited 325 public safety retirement funds in the past year. More than one quarter of them were cited for awarding pensions in excess of what the law allows, according to an analysis by Keystone Crossroads.

That’s a problem.  But not much effort seems to go into fixing it.

Commuter traffic in Philadelphia
AP Photo/Joseph Kaczmarek

Compared to commuters in other states, a larger portion of Pennsylvanians commute alone and have relatively shorter trips to work.

Researchers expected that, according to Penn State Data Center analyst Jennifer Shultz.

What they did not anticipate: Pennsylvania workers seem to have an earlier afternoon commute, compared to other states such as New York, Schultz says.

A Look At Governor Wolf's Proposed Budget

Mar 3, 2015
Mike Turzai, Tom Wolf, Michael Stack
Matt Rourke / AP

Governor Tom Wolf's first budget address put on an emphasis on his vision for improving Pennsylvania's present and its future. He is calling for a bevy of tax increases in an effort to generate additional funding for education, property tax relief, and economic development programs in a more than $33 billion state budget proposal. 

Mary Wilson, Kevin McCorry, Marie Cusick and Emily Previti were at the state capitol for the governor's address and take a look at some of the specifics in the spending plan.  

TAX INCREASES & CUTS -- by Mary Wilson

Image of homeless person
Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

 You'd never know it from the road, but in the woods in Allentown, there's a small monument to just how resourceful people can be, when they have to be.

Weeds and wildflowers obscure the path leading to Davina Delor's shelter. She built it herself after landing here in April - her fourth campsite since 2010.

That's when Delor, 42, lost her job, quickly followed by her apartment and car.

"I'm still looking for work. I get little odd jobs here and there, but nothing that pays. Nothing that will get you an apartment or anything like that," Delor says.

Home with "For Rent" sign
Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

Kaylee Swanson is about to become a homeowner.

It's at least a year ahead of schedule for the 27-year-old and her boyfriend, "We're kind of just tired of paying rent, and wanted something to call our own," Swanson explains after an early evening run near her soon-to-be neighborhood.

One in a series explaining key terms and concepts of Pennsylvania government.

Pennsylvania's Act 47 – the Municipal Financial Recovery Act guides how the state intervenes when a local government can't pay its bills or debts.

The goal is "recovery" – pursued through a plan developed jointly by state and local players.

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