Date of Award

Fall 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Public Administration (DPA)


Public Policy and Administration

Committee Chairperson

Amanda Olejarski, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jeremy Phillips, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Stephen Mullin, MA


In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Department of Community and Economic Development administers a Municipal Financial Recovery program to improve outcomes in fiscally and socio-economically distressed cities. The program operates under the auspices of the Pennsylvania Municipal Recovery Act 47 of 1987.

It is designed to provide state and municipal governments the resources necessary to combat fiscal distress and economic decline, where municipalities lack the political or financial wherewithal to do so autonomously. Those resources include access to grant funding, special latitude over tax policy and fee structures not otherwise permitted by Pennsylvania’s Constitution, and developing a five-year fiscal recovery plan as well as an exit plan from the program. In addition to financial oversight, the program puts significant emphasis on the pursuit of strategic economic development policies intended to improve overall socio-economic conditions.

Since its inception, the Commonwealth has designated more than two dozen municipalities as officially distressed, limiting local control of municipal finances, and appointing a state oversight officer (receiver). However, few municipalities have managed to recover from their distressed designation.

Given the inconsistent effectiveness of fiscal recovery and economic development programs in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to sufficiently increase local economic output and stabilize general funds in fiscally distressed municipalities, it is evident that elements of these programs are trying to solve the wrong problems.

This study analyzes a quarter century of fiscal distress in the city of Chester, PA to assess the efficacy of Pennsylvania’s municipal recovery legislation.