CHESTER — The receiver for this financially troubled city is working on a 2021 budget that should be made public before the new year, his chief of staff said Tuesday at a municipal meeting.
“We hope to have the 2021 budget approved by the end of next week,” said Vijay Kapoor, chief of staff for receiver Michael Doweary’s team, at a financial recovery committee meeting.
“Our primary focus, certainly for the past couple weeks heavily so, is the budget,” said Kapoor.
The chief of staff said that renegotiation of city contracts with the teamsters union “will definitely need to be done in the new year.”
In August, Doweary revealed he wanted to renegotiate with unions on collective bargaining agreements, as well as tackle abuse of fire and police pensions and restructure city departments. The austerity plan was expected to result in job losses.
The city passed a $55 million budget for 2020. Chester has been suffering from financial issues since Pennsylvania placed it under “Act 47” supervision — which allows the state to make financial decisions for financially distressed cities. The coronavirus crisis and the business restrictions that came with it, particularly tax money anticipated from Harrah’s Casino, created much bigger problems.
Gov. Tom Wolf declared a fiscal emergency for Chester in mid-April, which put the city into receivership.
In November, receiver Michael Doweary said he had to turn to the Pennsylvania State Police to protect residents from crime. “The city had experienced 33 murders to date, which was significantly more than the 18 experienced in each of the two previous years,” he wrote in a November status update.
On November 17, Doweary said in a status update that the Chester Stormwater Authority tried to use overdue payments as leverage to get the Philadelphia Union soccer team to help build a basketball gym.
“The Stormwater Authority, through its solicitor, contacted the Union with an offer whereby the Authority would reduce stormwater fees it believes the Union owes, if the Union provided the Authority with land on the Union’s campus to build a basketball facility,” the update read.
“Whether we move forward with the development of a basketball facility in Chester is quite frankly not within the receivership’s oversight,” solicitor Joseph Oxman for the stormwater authority replied. “You do not have oversight over the Chester Water Authority and you do not have oversight over the Stormwater Authority.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, Doweary said he has received a number of communications on the city’s discussion with the water authority. “That matter is not a primary focus.”
Still, other elements show that a power struggle continues below the surface.
In a court filing from last week, Doweary and his attorneys at the Department of Community and Economic Development asked a judge for a firm ruling on whether the receiver has the power to hire and fire, to shift some full-time positions to part-time, restructure departments, and create the office of chief operating officer.
Aigner Cleveland, press secretary for the City of Chester, said the city is pressing its rights to maintain what it sees as its lawful authority through the process.
“The city of Chester is a unique municipality that is governed according to the Third Class City Code and our Home-Rule Charter,” Cleveland told Delaware Valley Journal. “As such, there are certain powers within those guidelines that cannot be superseded by the state.”
“Mayor Kirkland and the rest of Chester City Council want to ensure that all parties are operating within their scope of authority, with respect to both our Home-Rule Charter and the Third-Class City Code.”