Man Kidnapped At Sword-Point Friday Survived Earlier Wilkes-Barre Shooting

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Luzerne County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Luzerne County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently, he survived a gunshot wound to the head. Now, he survived a kidnapping at sword-point.

Josue Vargas, 27, was kidnapped from his residence at 62 Hutson St., Wilkes-Barre, in the early hours of Friday morning and taken to a dark, vacant location where two men terrorizing him with a sword stripped him naked and told him they would kill them if he didn’t hand over his bank card, according to an affidavit.

Police charged Jhojan “Flaco” Guerra, 27, and Juan “Speedy” Hernandez, 34, with kidnapping, robbery and related offenses following their arrests shortly after Vargas explained what officers called “a disturbing list of events.”

The defendants claimed Vargas owed them money from a prior debt and knew he was just paid, according to police. The alleged kidnappers struck Vargas in the face to force him into the vehicle around 1 a.m., police said.

Read more: http://citizensvoice.com/news/man-kidnapped-at-sword-point-friday-survived-earlier-w-b-shooting-1.1717965

Local Services Tax Could Triple Under Act 47 Plan

HARRISBURG — People who work in Scranton and other distressed municipalities could see a $52 annual tax triple under a new Senate amendment.

Lawmakers want to steer Act 47 municipalities to levy a higher local services tax as an alternative to a commuter tax.

The distressed cities legislation cleared a first Senate hurdle Wednesday with a comprehensive amendment added by the Local Government Committee.

The committee’s action is the latest step in an effort to overhaul the Act 47 program for fiscally distressed municipalities. Scranton, Nanticoke, West Hazleton and Plymouth Twp. have Act 47 status. Shamokin is seeking to enter the program.

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/tax-could-triple-under-act-47-plan-1.1705643

Judge OKs Sale Of Wilson Center; Hotel Feasibility Study To Begin

A map of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with its nei...

A map of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with its neighborhoods labeled. For use primarily in the list of Pittsburgh neighborhoods. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An Allegheny County judge on Tuesday approved the sale of the debt-ridden August Wilson Center for African American Culture to a New York-based company.

Common Pleas Judge Lawrence J. O’Toole agreed that 980 Liberty Partners will have 60 days to perform an engineering study to determine the feasibility of building a hotel atop the center and 10 days to show proof that it has the money to close on the sale.

The judge scheduled a status conference for June 9 and did not rule on pending objections.

Read more: http://triblive.com/news/adminpage/6182390-74/center-980-judge#ixzz32xdSjjBn
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Sbarro Pizza Chain Files For Bankruptcy Protection For Second Time

The pizza restaurant chain Sbarro on Monday filed for bankruptcy protection for the second time in less than three years, after struggling with too much debt and lower customer traffic in the malls that house many of its restaurants.

Sbarro and more than 30 affiliates filed for Chapter 11 protection from creditors with the US bankruptcy court in Manhattan.

Read more: http://dfm.timesherald.com/article/sbarro-pizza-chain-files-for-bankruptcy-protection-for-second-time/c8065ce850e3d91ac94aa80ba458c0a0

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Boscov: Steamtown Mall Nearing Foreclosure

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lackawanna County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lackawanna County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Mall at Steamtown is on the verge of foreclosure, department store magnate Al Boscov disclosed to The Times-Tribune on Wednesday.

The mall ownership group, Steamtown Mall Partners LP, recently defaulted on a lump sum mortgage payment and a property foreclosure action is expected to be filed by Friday in Lackawanna County Court, Boscov told the newspaper’s editorial board.

The mall will continue to operate and shoppers should notice no difference at the Lackawanna Avenue retail complex during foreclosure, he said. All of the mall’s tenants but one, a store whose lease was up, have decided to stay.

Reiterating his personal commitment to the mall and to downtown Scranton, Boscov, chairman and chief executive of Boscov’s department store, said the mall’s ownership believes the foreclosure process will help the property emerge as a financially healthier operation.

Read more:  http://citizensvoice.com/news/boscov-steamtown-mall-nearing-foreclosure-1.1645780

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Ruling Makes Detroit Biggest City To Qualify For Bankruptcy

English: Renaissance Center, GM World Headquar...

English: Renaissance Center, GM World Headquarters, Detroit, Michigan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

DETROIT — Detroit is eligible to shed billions in debt in the largest public bankruptcy ever in the United States, a federal judge ruled Tuesday, while also finding that the public pensions could be reduced during reorganization despite a provision in Michigan’s Constitution.

In ruling that Detroit was eligible to reorganize under federal bankruptcy law, Judge Steven W. Rhodes said the city met every test of insolvency, including failing to pay its debts and being unable to provide a minimum level of basic services to its 680,000 residents.

“This once proud and prosperous city can’t pay its debts,” the judge said. “It’s insolvent. It’s eligible for bankruptcy. But it also has an opportunity for a fresh start.”

Appeals were expected to be filed quickly. Bruce Babiarz, a spokesman for Detroit’s fire and police retirement system, which supports 8,500 retirees, said lawyers were reviewing the ruling and expected to file an appeal by the end of the week. But the case will continue to move forward, with the next step being the city filing a “plan of adjustment.” It is unclear, however, what portions of the judge’s ruling may be appealed.

Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/04/us/detroit-bankruptcy-ruling.html?hp&_r=0

Scranton Mayor Proposes 56 Percent Property Tax Increase; 69 Percent Garbage Fee Hike

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lackawanna County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lackawanna County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With wary banks watching Scranton‘s finances closely, Mayor Chris Doherty today proposed a $130.5 million budget for 2014 that would dramatically raise real estate taxes, the garbage collection fee and parking-meter rates and penalties.

Read the budget HERE

A real estate tax increase of 56.7 percent would be one of the largest, if not the largest, tax hikes ever in the city. A trash collection fee increase of 68.5 percent – from the current $178 a year to $300 a year – would be the largest garbage fee hike ever.

The large spikes are all necessary to close a $20 million operating deficit for 2014 and restore the city’s creditworthiness with lenders, Mr. Doherty said.

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/scranton-mayor-proposes-56-percent-property-tax-increase-69-percent-garbage-fee-hike-1.1586481

PEL: Scranton Faces $20 Million Deficit Next Year; Needs To Raise Taxes

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lackawanna County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lackawanna County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Scranton city government’s budget outlook for next year continues to worsen as the city now faces a possible deficit of nearly $20 million for 2014, according to the city’s financial-recovery coordinator.

That state-appointed Act 47 coordinator, Pennsylvania Economy League, also urges the city to craft a “realistic and responsible” budget for next year that closes the structural deficit and lists as options unspecified hikes in both the real-estate (property) and earned-income (wage) taxes, and an increase in the city’s annual garbage fee.

“I think the letter speaks for itself,” Mr. Cross said in a phone interview. “It shows where the city is in terms of recovery-plan progress and shows the challenges that we always spoke of for 2014 being a challenging year.”

Read the letter here

City Business Administrator Gina McAndrew said the 2014 budget is in the works. She would not rule out any increases in taxes or fees but declined to say what may be under consideration.

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/pel-scranton-faces-20-million-deficit-next-year-needs-to-raise-taxes-1.1566385

Frugal California University Of Pennsylvania Cuts Back On Spending, Saves Millions

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Washington County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Washington County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Channel-surfing college football fans may notice one area team missing from this fall’s TV lineup.

California University of Pennsylvania decided it no longer could justify spending up to $150,000 a season to produce and broadcast games played by its Division II Vulcans football team — not with classroom cuts looming.

Suddenly frugal Cal U also pared service on its Vulcan Flyer, a shuttle named for the school’s mascot that used to leave campus stops every 10 minutes. Students now wait a bit longer, saving Cal U half a million dollars.

Still more money — another $1.6 million — was recouped by telling campus departments to return unspent money at year’s end, suspending a practice that had let them amass surpluses, even in years that the university tapped reserves to balance its books.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/news/education/frugal-california-university-of-pennsylvania-cuts-back-on-spending-saves-millions-706559/#ixzz2h3iK9R1u

Moving Harrisburg Forward Might Be Impossible Without Settling Present

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Dauphin County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Dauphin County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The forum was supposed to focus on the future of Harrisburg. And to a large extent, it did. But the reality of city’s present casts a long shadow over any discussion in the capital these days.

At some point in the next three months, it is likely the Harrisburg recovery plan, whether you support it or not, is going to go into effect, essentially eliminating the city’s massive debts and putting its government back on the path to some form of solvency.

How much it is able to carry that past the next four years remains unknown. But the future of the city, whether it stagnates or begins a new renaissance, will largely be in its own hands, unencumbered from debt obligations.

At its core, argues developer Ralph Vartan, is a simple equation. Of the 58,000 people who work in the city, only about 10,000 live in the city. That is further unbalanced by the fact that over the last several decades the regional population has almost doubled, while Harrisburg’s has stagnated.

Read more: http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2013/09/moving_harrisburg_forward_may.html#incart_m-rpt-2

Former Harrisburg Official Slams $86M Premium For City From Incinerator Sale

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Dauphin County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Dauphin County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

HARRISBURG, PA – The capital city will pay an $86 million premium for garbage disposal under the proposed terms of sale for its incinerator, a former local official warns.

Those numbers are based, in part, on the city’s disposal rate starting next year at $190 per ton, former Harrisburg Public Works Director Ernie Hoch said.

Hoch sent a letter and supporting spreadsheet to City Council on Sunday afternoon lobbying them to vote against the transaction, then forwarded copies to other contacts including PennLive and City Controller and mayoral candidate Dan Miller, who sent his own cautionary correspondence last week.

Hoch noted the rates and tonnage minimums for the city and Dauphin County are based not on service costs, but the Lancaster Solid Waste Management Authority’s anticipated debt obligations related to its acquisition of the facility.

Read more:  http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2013/09/former_harrisburg_official_sla.html#incart_m-rpt-2

Cleaning Up Steve Reed’s Mess: Harrisburg’s Debt Plan Expected To Be Filed Today

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Dauphin County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Dauphin County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cleaning up former Mayor Steve Reed’s mess is going to take more than just a solution to his incinerator debt.

Harrisburg‘s state-appointed Receiver has said he hopes to file sometime today his plan to eliminate the city’s bad debt through the sale of the incinerator and a long-term lease of parking assets.

While the more than $360 million in unpayable debt at the incinerator is the root of why the city is in receivership, whatever plan is put forward has to account for much more than that.

Why?

Read more: http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2013/08/harrisburg_debt_plan_cleaning.html#incart_m-rpt-2

Harrisburg Parking Deal Would Preserve Local Control Through CREDC And Increase City Revenue, Sources Say

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Dauphin County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Dauphin County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Control of Harrisburg‘s parking garages will remain local, and annual revenues into the city’s coffers will increase millions over current figures under the terms of the long-term lease of parking assets being negotiated by the city’s state-appointed receiver, according to multiple sources close to the deal who spoke on condition of anonymity because they aren’t authorized to speak on the record.

Leasing the assets directly to an outside for-profit operation, as had originally been planned, raised concerns within the city that parking rates could increase out-of-control to boost profits while the assets themselves could languish and degrade in the hands of a company with no long-term interest in the welfare of the city.

What’s more, according to multiple sources, the on-going financial plight of Harrisburg and fluctuations in the bond market made private bond financing less attractive to the companies originally interested in such a deal.

Although the basic structure of the parking deal has been previously reported, new details are emerging.

Read more:  http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2013/08/harrisburg_parking_deal_would.html#incart_m-rpt-2

Harrisburg Debt Announcement Leaves Public Wanting More

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Dauphin County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Dauphin County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

HARRISBURG – State officials generated a full house Wednesday morning with emails hinting at big news related to the city’s financial recovery.

And many the people boosting the typically sparse attendance – Harrisburg residents, reporters, elected and appointed officials – seemed underwhelmed by what they heard at the Municipal Financial Recovery Advisory Committee’s meeting in City Hall in Harrisburg.

Few numbers, no documents, scant detail – all of that is to come, likely by mid-August when debt resolutions deals are filed in court.

Instead, the point was to broadcast an attitude adjustment among stakeholders involved in negotiations to resolve more than $600 million in debt, state-appointed receiver William Lynch said.

Read more:  http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2013/07/harrisburg_debt_announcement_l.html#incart_m-rpt-1

Agreement Reached To Sell Harrisburg Incinerator To Lancaster Authority

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Dauphin County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Dauphin County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An agreement has been reached that will allow the Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority to purchase the long-troubled Harrisburg incinerator, officials said Wednesday.

Details about the plan — including the sale price — were not disclosed.

At a press conference, Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson touted the agreement, months in the making, as a key to bailing out the financially beleaguered city.  “This is the turning point we’ve all been waiting for,” she said.

Read more: http://lancasteronline.com/article/local/875044_Agreement-reached–to-sell-Harrisburg-incinerator-to-Lancaster-authority.html#ixzz2ZzKfEDjE

Detriot Files For Bankruptcy

Map of downtown Detroit with I-375 and BS-375 ...

Map of downtown Detroit with I-375 and BS-375 highlighted (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

DETROIT — Detroit on Thursday became the largest city in U.S. history to file for bankruptcy, as the state-appointed emergency manager filed for Chapter 9 protection.

Kevyn Orr, a bankruptcy expert, was hired by the state in March to lead Detroit out of a fiscal free-fall and made the filing Thursday in federal bankruptcy court.

A number of factors — most notably steep population and tax base falls — have been blamed on Detroit’s tumble toward insolvency.  Detroit lost a quarter-million residents between 2000 and 2010.  A population that in the 1950s reached 1.8 million is struggling to stay above 700,000.  Much of the middle-class and scores of businesses also have fled Detroit, taking their tax dollars with them.

In recent months, the city has relied on state-backed bond money to meet payroll for its approximately 10,000 employees.

Read more:  http://www.pottsmerc.com/article/20130718/NEWS04/130719263/once-mighty-motor-city-files-for-bankruptcy

PENNVEST Approves $28M For Harrisburg Sinkhole, Water Treatment Projects

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Dauphin County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Dauphin County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

HARRISBURG – Nearly $28 million in loans was approved Tuesday morning to fund sinkhole repairs and water treatment upgrades in the capital city.

The Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority board unanimously approved financing applications from the city and The Harrisburg Authority at its meeting Tuesday.

The Harrisburg Authority is getting $26.9 million; the city, $900,000.

The city’s loan is conditional on transferring ownership of infrastructure to The Harrisburg Authority.

Read more:  http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2013/07/pennvest_approves_28m_for_harr.html#incart_river_default

For At Least 20 Years, Interlocking Problems Have Plagued Wilkinsburg Schools

Map of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, United ...

Map of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, United States Public School Districts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the Wilkinsburg School District, almost half of students don’t graduate.

A third of students have been involved in incidents that threatened school safety.  On state tests, 86.4 percent of 11th graders aren’t proficient in math and 68.3 percent aren’t proficient in reading.

The district is hemorrhaging students to charter schools.  It borrowed $3 million for general operating expenses and has furloughed about 80 teachers in the past three years.

Some residents are taken aback when asked for their assessment of the district, seeing it as self-evident that the district has already fallen off the cliff.

“Honestly, it’s too far gone,” said Wilkinsburg resident Stephanie Shea.  “Code blue happened a while ago.  At this point, it needs to be totally dismantled.”

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/news/education/for-at-least-20-years-interlocking-problems-have-plagued-wilkinsburg-schools-691087/#ixzz2VpYDUujs

SEC Case Against Harrisburg Falls Short For Exempting Finance Pros, Some Say

Seal of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commi...

Seal of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

HARRISBURG, PA – No one answered the phone or the door at former Mayor Steve Reed’s home Tuesday nearly 24 hours after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced a settlement with Pennsylvania’s capital city over fraud charges rooted in activity during his administration.

Some public finance and securities experts saw the settlement – dubbed “toothless” by one – as a warning to municipalities that consequences await them if investors are misled by false or incomplete financial statements from local governments.

Others, however, criticized SEC for failing to hold the city’s hired advisers to account.

“Reed ran the city, (current Mayor Linda) Thompson (is running) the city,” said Mark Schwartz, a former bond lawyer who previously represented Harrisburg City Council on its ultimately rejected bankruptcy petition. “There is a ‘buck stops there’ liability for (city leaders), but the people who do the work are bond lawyers.  These are bonds that never should have been issued.  Reed cannot issue bonds on his own.  Professionals were abysmal in terms of fulfilling their responsibilities to investors and they have gotten off scot-free.  They’ve made millions.”

Read more:  http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2013/05/fsec_case_against_harrisburg_l.html#incart_m-rpt-1

Scranton’s Parking-Garage Rates Won’t Decrease; Chamber Seeks Parking Input

As Scranton leaders are considering increasing hours, days and rates of downtown parking meters, some business owners want to see the city’s parking-garage rates reduced.

However, the court-appointed receiver in charge of the garages and their rates, Mike Washo, said he has no plans to lower garage rates, because a reduction would drain revenue from the authority and further burden city taxpayers to fund any shortfall that may arise from reduced rates.

“We don’t believe that any reduction in parking garage rates at this time will generate additional customers to justify the reduction in rates,” Mr. Washo said. “At the end of the day, we’ll end up with less revenue.”

In recent weeks, a plan by Scranton’s mayor and city council to hire a private firm, Standard Parking, to manage the city’s on-street parking meters has raised numerous questions and concerns among downtown businesses, residents and council members.  Citing Standard Parking’s estimates, council members think the city can net an additional $1.8 million a year by switching parking-meter management from the inactive Scranton Parking Authority to Standard Parking.  Under this plan, which was tabled Feb. 7 by council, meter hours would extend from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday.  Ten-hour meters also would increase from $1 an hour to $1.50 an hour.

Read more:  http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/scranton-s-parking-garage-rates-won-t-decrease-chamber-seeks-parking-input-1.1444474