Pennsylvania’s Department of Community and Economic Development on Monday named law firm Stevens & Lee the recovery plan coordinator for Altoona.

The DCED on May 3 declared Altoona distressed under the state-sponsored Act 47 program.

The firm has eight Pennsylvania locations and has worked with Reading. Stevens & Lee was also part of the Act 47 team assigned under Novak Consulting Inc. to capital city Harrisburg, whose City Council rejected the plan.

Harrisburg, now under state receivership, is the only distressed community among 27 in Pennsylvania to have rejected such a plan.

Stevens & Lee will begin its work with Altoona immediately. Its team includes workout firms DSI Civic and Financial S&Lutions LLC.

“Each member of the team brings their own area of expertise to address Altoona’s financial issues,” DCED Secretary C. Alan Walker said in a statement.

The team will have 90 days to develop and propose a plan to Mayor William Schirf, the City Council and the DCED. “I have no comment right now. I haven’t seen anything,” said Schirf, a part-time mayor.

The plan will feature recommended improvements to Altoona’s organizational structure, financial administration, debt situation, municipal service levels and overall economic base.

Altoona, with a population of 46,320, lies between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. It met several deficit-related criteria to qualify for the Act 47 program.

The city’s deficits the past four years have ranged from 11% to 19% of revenue for all governmental funds, and could widen without intervention.

On May 8, Moody’s Investors Service, citing the city’s distressed status, placed the A1 rating of the Altoona Water Authority under review for downgrade, possibly affecting $42 million of debt. Moody’s cited “the close institutional ties between the city and authority.”

David Fiorenza, a Villanova School of Business professor and former chief financial officer of Radnor Township, Pa., sees Stevens & Lee’s Pennsylvania roots as a plus.

“That could very well be seen as economically positive due to the longevity and sustainability of this company. Their history has given them the ability to see the many economic and political cycles of the commonwealth, for better or worse,” Fiorenza said.

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