Robert Swift: Capitol Matters: Still more ways to balance the budget
HARRISBURG - The Commonwealth has sold off surplus state-owned property to bidders for decades, but the Corbett administration is calling new attention to the process as a way to help ease continuing fiscal problems.
Approval by lawmakers of the 2012 property disposition plan could net $9.3 million for state coffers and reduce annual property maintenance and security costs by $3.6 million, Sheri Phillips, secretary of the Department of General Services, told a Senate committee last week.
She spoke on behalf of a proposal to put five properties on the market, including a former state hospital and land that was part of another hospital, a former state treatment facility, a former state school for veterans' children and a closed state museum. "We face the challenge of finding ways to increase revenues coming into the state while reducing our costs of doing business," said Ms. Phillips. "This plan presents an excellent opportunity to bring in revenue and return these properties to the tax rolls, where they can contribute to the revitalization of our economy."
The property disposition plan is in a booklet with photos, maps and descriptions of acreage and the number of buildings. Declaring property as surplus is the first step leading to a sale.
The Allentown State Hospital and Scotland School for Veterans' Children in Franklin County are the largest properties.
The hospital which opened 100 years ago has 30 buildings spread over 165 acres. They include administrative centers, chapel, buildings for patients, a kitchen and recreation complex. The downsizing of state hospitals and centers for mental disabilities in recent decades has resulted in huge complexes that were at one time almost self-sustaining communities being put on the surplus list.
The Scotland school opened in 1895 to initially educate orphans of Civil War veterans. It has 70 buildings spread over 166 acres. They include administrative and education structures.
The closing of the Scotland school was approved as part of the 2009 state budget that took months to resolve. It struck an emotional chord with parents and alumni who rallied frequently that summer at the Capitol in an effort to save the school.
The plan includes the sale of a seven-acre parcel on the vast grounds of the former Harrisburg State Hospital across from the Farm Show complex. Several empty residences are located at this potentially commercial location. The hospital was established in the 1840s due to lobbying by Dorothea Dix, a 19th century reformer in treatment of individuals with mental disabilities.
The listing of the Fort LeBoeuf Museum in Waterford illustrates how rapidly the state's footprint is shrinking due to fiscal troubles. The museum opened not that far back in 1970 to tell the story of a young George Washington's diplomatic mission to a French fort in the Ohio Valley. The exhibits were designed by a well-known Pittsburgh architect.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission opened new museums across the state and they were sought after by the host towns. The state started to transfer lesser-known historic sites to local control in the 1980s and the process accelerated in recent years.
ROBERT SWIFT is Harrisburg bureau chief for Times-Shamrock Communications newspapers, of which The Daily/Sunday Review is a part. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.