Burns urges Shapiro to reject Johnstown’s quest to maintain high Local Services Tax

Governor also asked to help downsize public housing as condition of supporting $50 million HUD grant application

EBENSBURG, July 25 – Responding to Johnstown’s request for state elected officials’ support for city priorities, state Rep. Frank Burns has asked Gov. Josh Shapiro to join him in opposing a 200-percent hike in the Local Services Tax, and in ensuring that any effort to secure extra HUD funding be predicated on reducing the number of public housing units to match current local need.

“While I am willing to work with Johnstown officials on the other measures contained in the requests for state funding and project priority list forwarded to me and you by Mayor Frank Janakovic and Mr. Mark Pasquerilla, I strongly disagree with two aspects of their plan,” Burns said in a letter to Shapiro.

“First, I cannot and will not support a special exception that would allow Johnstown to continue taxing employees in the city with an increased Local Services Tax (LST) of $3 per person per week…the LST should revert to the non-Act 47 rate of $1 per person per week. Anything more than that amounts to a tax INCREASE.”

Burns further informed the governor, “I urge city officials to abandon this quest for higher taxes, and wish say that if they press ahead with this LST tax plan, and should that effort succeed, this higher tax rate would be implemented without my support and over my protest.”

Regarding the city soliciting Shapiro’s support for seeking a $500,000 U.S. HUD Choice Neighborhood Planning Grant that would set Johnstown up for as much as $50 million in HUD implementation grant funding, Burns sought to educate the governor on the need to right-size the bloated Johnstown Housing Authority.

“While I can agree with the stated goal of transforming public housing in Johnstown, if this effort does not simultaneously significantly REDUCE the number of public housing units in the county, it will ultimately do nothing to address the serious problems Johnstown and Cambria County face by having 1,900 public housing and Section 8 voucher units – a number that FAR exceeds true local need,” Burns said. He then noted:

  • Johnstown has FIVE TIMES the amount of public housing units as other cities its size.
  • 80 families per month (mainly from Philadelphia) are moving to Johnstown just to live in public housing.
  • 50% of the JHA’s 1,504 public housing units are occupied by people who came from outside Cambria County.
  • $12,500 is the average household income of those relocating here for public housing.
  • Many of these residents stay long enough to obtain a Section 8 voucher, then return to where they came from, sticking the Johnstown Housing Authority with a rent bill that has reached $1.8 million per year.

“Now is the time to correct Johnstown's overabundance of public housing operated by the JHA by making sure any transformation includes right-sizing our public housing to meet the demands of our community – and only our community,” Burns told Shapiro.

He added, “Unless this matter is explicitly addressed as a condition of securing huge amounts of additional HUD project funding, I don't think Johnstown or the region will ever be positioned to make a turnaround. We cannot continue putting an imported burden on our police, schools, hospitals and social services. And we certainly cannot engineer any meaningful economic rebirth by bringing in public housing

residents and importing poverty from Philadelphia and elsewhere.”

Burns also sent a copy of his letter to Janakovic and Pasquerilla.