Leaving Act 47 Johnstown officially exits Act 47 program for distressed municipalities

Apr. 28—JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — Johnstown City Manager Ethan Imhoff smiled on Friday, raised his arms and proclaimed "We did it, right."

It was a statement that members of the community had been waiting to hear ever since the city entered Pennsylvania's Act 47 program for financially distressed municipalities on Aug. 21, 1992.

Generations of elected officials and administrators came and went, all trying to steady the city's economy and government enough to make leaving the program possible.

Finally, Imhoff and other local officials, along with Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Austin Davis and Rick Siger, the Department of Community and Economic Development's acting secretary, gathered on Friday to celebrate Johnstown's exit from Act 47.

Speeches were given at the Frank J. Pasquerilla Conference Center. Photos were snapped. Congratulations were offered.

Shortly after 10:30 a.m., Siger signed a document that officially removed Johnstown from the program.

"It's just a tremendous amount of work that local government leaders here in the community — in partnership with our state officials and DCED — have put in to get to this point," Davis said. "It's a turning point in the city of Johnstown that their better days are still ahead. Today marks a new chapter in Johnstown's history."

Siger said DCED will continue to partner with the city to help "ensure that this positive momentum continues."

"While the formal relationship of the Act 47 arrangement will cease today," Siger said, "we want to continue to partner and invest. ... We're here for the long haul and excited to see what Johnstown does next."

He added: "It means a lot to us because cities like Johnstown are important to regional economies. It's important to the success of the state. What I'm so exited about here is Johnstown's got a great plan."

Johnstown joined Act 47 when the city was reeling from the collapse of Bethlehem Steel Corp. and the still-ongoing loss of population.

"Today, we shed a 30-year stigma and that black cloud that has hovered over Johnstown," Mayor Frank Janakovic said. "It was called Act 47. Although viewed at times as an albatross, Act 47 has actually helped us reach this pinnacle today with assistance in obtaining grants, taxing advantages, funding opportunities and other preferential supports — so Act 47 really did support us to get to where we're at today."

The city never really came close to leaving the program until the state changed the law to establish mandatory exit dates for participants.

Even though leaving was legally required, Deborah Grass, the city's Act 47 coordinator, said she thinks Johnstown has put good plans in place to prepare for the exit and its future.

"You can write whatever plan you want, but if you don't have the leaders in place to actually execute and implement those plans, it doesn't go anywhere," Grass said, "so they are to be commended."

Imhoff, who became Johnstown's city manager early last year, likewise complimented the city officials and employees who helped prepare Johnstown for exiting the program.

"There are many people who are working extremely hard to move this city in the right direction, and it goes back 30 years," Imhoff said. "This is a 30-year event. I've only been here for a very short time, but I've really enjoyed getting to know everybody who has been a part of the team that got us to this particular moment in time."

Johnstown is the 21st municipality to leave Act 47, including neighboring Franklin Borough earlier this year. Ten municipalities still remain in the program.