Monday Update: Scranton’s Hill Secton Neighbors Want To Tackle Blight

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lackawanna County

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

Some Hill Section residents have an ambitious plan to combat ugly, vacant properties in the neighborhood, but their solution would need approval from city officials.

The Hill Neighborhood Association, a nonprofit with the goal of improving that section of Scranton, wants the city to turn several small, vacant properties over to the organization. On Thursday, Ozzie Quinn, association president, went before city council and asked that the city resurrect a vacant properties committee to review blighted properties and sell those in the Hill Section to the association for a nominal fee.

This summer, the neighborhood association approached the city about many of the overgrown, vacant lots they wanted to mow and trim back to respectability. City solicitor Jason Shrive told the association it needed to sign waivers and have liability insurance to work in the vacant lots.

The Hill group got insurance, Mr. Quinn said, but was then told it would need to sign right-of-entry agreements with landlords before cleaning properties.

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/monday-update-hill-secton-neighbors-want-to-tackle-blight-1.1766117

Blight Poses Challenges For Distressed Cities

Locator map of the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre Metro...

Locator map of the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre Metropolitan Statistical Area in the northeastern part of the of . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Scranton is a city of 76,000 people with a housing stock largely built before 1940 for a population almost twice that number.

It has the blight to prove it.

As the financially strapped city struggles to combat blight and the host of ills it fosters, Scranton finds itself in a position common among many Rust Belt communities: many old buildings, too few people willing or able to keep them up and limited resources to press aggressively for a comprehensive solution.

The region’s other two major cities, Wilkes-Barre and Hazleton, are dealing with similar issues, though their circumstances don’t precisely mirror Scranton’s.

Read more: http://citizensvoice.com/news/blight-poses-challenges-for-distressed-cities-1.1744585

Business, Workers Flee Electric City Taxes

picture-0571A decade ago when real estate up-and-comer Charles Hibble looked for a headquarters for his business, Scranton was a natural choice.

He invested $1.2 million converting an aging building on Penn Avenue into modern offices and apartments. Mr. Hibble accepted real estate tax and parking cost increases and the mercantile tax as costs of doing business. When city leaders began talking about a commuter tax in 2012, the owner of Weichert Realty Hibble & Associates reached his breaking point and moved out.

“I was getting pressure from my employees, who could work from anywhere — their homes or cars,” he said. “They didn’t want to pay another tax.”

Mr. Hibble’s move prefaced an employer exodus from the city. After being kicked around and eventually shot down in court, the commuter tax came back in the proposal of consultant Henry Amoroso, who cited a state law that allows municipalities to impose a commuter tax to bolster distressed pension funds. Scranton City Council swiftly approved the local income tax on commuters, which would cost employees earning $50,000 as much as $375 a year. Combined with a proposed increase in the emergency service tax – yet another withdrawal from the wages of commuters — the cost of having a job in the city has mounted.

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/business/business-workers-flee-electric-city-taxes-1.1733479

Scranton OKs Surveillance Camera Network

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lackawanna County

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

Scranton City Council on Thursday unanimously approved having the city create a community video-camera surveillance network at police headquarters.

Council voted 5-0, with President Bob McGoff and Councilmen Joe Wechsler, Pat Rogan, Jack Loscombe and Bill Gaughan all in favor, to adopt a resolution to apply for and execute a $146,390 grant for a “community surveillance network system” at the police station on South Washington Avenue.

Council also unanimously advanced on second reading an ordinance to create an account to process the grant.

The surveillance network would allow private surveillance cameras in the city, such as those at banks, businesses or colleges, to link to the police station. There, a wall of 32 video monitors will show live feeds from privately owned and operated surveillance cameras that already exist in public areas.

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/scranton-oks-camera-network-1.1695262

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Scranton Wants To Declare Bankruptcy

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lackawanna County

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

SCRANTON, PA — When Detroit filed for bankruptcy, hundreds of residents took to the streets to protest what they saw as a drastic approach to fixing the city’s budget problems.

But in this hilly town of 76,000 in northeastern Pennsylvania, residents have a different view of Chapter 9: They want the city to declare bankruptcy. And soon.

“The silent majority would like to see bankruptcy,” said Bob “Ozzie” Quinn, president of the Scranton and Lackawanna County Taxpayers Association. “Basically, it’s down to a point where people cannot afford to pay the taxes and are moving out of town.”

Faced with a $20 million deficit, Scranton had to do some tricky maneuvering to balance its budget and avoid defaulting on loans. Most of this maneuvering has involved increasing taxes and fees paid by the people who still live in the town, which has seen its population drop by half since the 1930s.

Read more: http://www.timesherald.com/general-news/20140111/scranton-wants-to-declare-bankruptcy

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Scranton Mayor Vetoes Council’s Revisions To His Budget

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lackawanna County

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

Mayor Chris Doherty on Friday vetoed city council’s revisions to his proposed $130.2 million budget.

Council will hold a special meeting Monday at 5:30 p.m. to vote on whether to override or sustain the veto, council President Janet Evans said.

A split council on Thursday raised and lowered some salaries and added two positions in the mayor’s budget. The amendments did not change the budget total or the 57 percent tax increase and 69 percent trash collection fee hike.

Council voted 3-2 on many of the amendments in a split that had Councilmen Bob McGoff, Pat Rogan and Jack Loscombe, who are all returning to council in 2014, forming a bloc to pass the amendments, and Council President Janet Evans and Councilman Frank Joyce, who are departing council, dissenting.

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/scranton-mayor-vetoes-council-s-revisions-to-his-budget-1.1601207

Scranton Landlords, Homeowners And Renters Brace For Tax Hikes

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lackawanna County

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

University of Scranton students Bridget McVeigh and Ashley Opalka are apartment hunting with two criteria in mind: proximity to campus and lower prices than the university’s dorms.

The pair were alarmed city landlords are poised to hike rents in response to a proposed 2014 Scranton budget that would raise property taxes 56.7 percent, garbage fees 68.5 percent and rental registration fees from $50 to $150 per structure and $15 to $50 per unit.

Landlord Carol Smurl said she tries “to be compassionate to the tenants because they’re on a fixed income,” but she and her husband cannot afford to absorb that kind of increase.

Normally, Mrs. Smurl waits until tenants move out to raise the rent or tries to delay passing increased costs on for two to three years at her nine properties.

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/scranton-landlords-homeowners-and-renters-brace-for-tax-hikes-1.1590772

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

Mall At Steamtown Battles For Survival

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lackawanna County

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

As Bon-Ton reported it will vacate the Mall at Steamtown in January, department store magnate Al Boscov admits the shopping complex is battling for its existence.

“I am trying to figure out ways that we can survive,” said Boscov, who developed the $101 million Lackawanna Avenue complex and is a principal in the group that owns the facility.

Bon-Ton reported it will close its 100,000-square-foot store in the mall before its lease expires Jan. 31. Spokeswoman Mary Kerr said it probably will cease operations between Jan. 26 and Jan. 29.

“It’s sad. It’s certainly something that we don’t want to do,” Kerr said. “We do have to make these hard decisions at times.”

Read more: http://citizensvoice.com/news/mall-at-steamtown-battles-for-survival-1.1570580

Scranton Parking Garage Revenues Not Meeting Expectations

After four months of Scranton‘s parking garages being operated by a private firm, the bottom line could end up short by $300,000 to $500,000 over a year, according to court documents and a receiver overseeing the garages.

Central Parking took over operation of the city’s five garages in mid-September when the firm was hired by court-appointed receiver Mike Washo.

“Of course it’s a cause for concern,” Mr. Washo said. “It’s cause for concern for Central Parking, for the receivership and for the city.”

Scranton is banking on the private management of the garages to maximize revenue and minimize expenses, so the city doesn’t have to pay as much as it otherwise might to cover the debt of the Scranton Parking Authority, said Mr. Washo and city Business Administrator Ryan McGowan said.

Read more:  http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/scranton-parking-garage-revenues-not-meeting-expectations-1.1447895

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

Bank Sues Scranton, Parking Authority And Receiver Over Loan Default

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lackawanna County

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

Landmark Community Bank on Friday sued Scranton, its parking authority and the authority’s court-appointed receiver over a $2.6 million loan default.

Landmark loaned the Scranton Parking Authority $2.9 million in September 2011, but the SPA has not paid on the loan since the authority was stripped last year of most of its functions, funding and power.

The lawsuit was not unexpected because Landmark’s attorney, Robert Gownley, last year threatened to sue if Scranton City Council terminated a 1995 cooperation agreement between the city and SPA that was used as the basis for collateral and security of the 2011 loan.  The Landmark loan was secured by the 10 percent of parking meter revenue that SPA receives under the 1995 cooperation agreement.

The lawsuit claims that city administration solicitor Paul Kelly, who at the time the loan was made in 2011 was solicitor for both the city and SPA, had told Landmark that the city could not unilaterally cancel the cooperation agreement between the city and authority.

Read more:  http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/bank-sues-scranton-parking-authority-and-receiver-over-loan-default-1.1442049

Scranton Mayor Proposes Raising The Next Mayor’s Salary To $80,000

Editor’s note:  And the Borough Manager of Pottstown (population 22,377) rakes in $120,000.00 a year.  It would seem a raise is in order!  Make sure you read the rest of the article as they list mayor’s salaries for a number of cities in Pennsylvania.  NONE are any where near what Pottstown pays its Borough Manager.  Somebody’s getting WAY overpaid to run a small town.

Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty has proposed to city council that the next mayor who takes office in 2014 should earn a salary of $80,000, which would be $30,000 more than the $50,000 mayoral salary that has been in place over the past 22 years, he said.

Two council members said they agree that the pay of Scranton’s mayor should be increased because it is very low when compared to comparable midsize cities in the state, but they do not support a 60 percent pay hike of $30,000.

Council is expected today to consider introducing an ordinance to raise the mayor’s pay starting in 2014, Mr. Doherty said.

A new salary of $80,000 being proposed by Mr. Doherty, who earns $50,000 a year, would not be applicable to him, as he is not seeking re-election this year and his term ends in December.

Read more:  http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/scranton-mayor-proposes-raising-the-next-mayor-s-salary-to-80-000-1.1437303

Courtright Announces Candidacy For Scranton Mayor

The hundreds of supporters entering the front door at the Keyser Valley Community Center on Sunday to see Democrat Bill Courtright formally announce his campaign for mayor of Scranton received smiles and handshakes from the candidate himself.

Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” played in the background as Mr. Courtright focused on themes of “returning the luster” and reaching out to the people of his hometown – a place of staggering municipal debt and significant skepticism about city leadership.

The city’s current tax collector and a former city councilman, Mr. Courtright, 55, of 126 Ridgeview Drive, said he will bring commitment, competence and character to City Hall.

Without going into a lot of detail, he also offered insights into his immediate priorities if elected mayor, calling for an in-depth analysis of the city’s finances and plans to create a panel of community leaders to help solve the city’s problems.

Read more:  http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/courtright-announces-candidacy-for-scranton-mayor-1.1435709

Chris Kelly: How Can Scranton Find A Talented Mayor For $50G?

picture-0571Editor’s note:  And sometimes people are grossly overpaid and get lousy results, but we won’t name any names.  And sometimes you do a national search for qualified candidates (that was funded by tax dollars), offer a huge salary to attract the cream of the crop and then STILL give the job to your best pal with almost no hands-on experience.

HELP WANTED: CEO for financially distressed 146-year-old limited partnership drowning in long-term debt and enough past-due bills to choke a goat.  Successful applicant will be responsible for managing the needs, wants, safety and endless complaints of 74,000 customers while juggling chronic deficits, anemic revenues, suffocating union contracts and crippling legacy costs using a business model that hasn’t evolved since the advent of indoor plumbing.  ANNUAL SALARY: $50,000.  Seriously.  That is not a typo.

Mayor Chris Doherty’s recent announcement that he will not seek a fourth term as the CEO of Scranton was as anticlimactic as the average January sunset – bleak blue beams bleeding into blackness.  Anyone with a calendar saw it coming.

Eleven years into Mr. Doherty’s reign, the Electric City remains powered more by wishful thinking than objective reality.  More than 20 years after it blundered into the roach motel that is the state’s Act 47 Distressed Cities Recovery program, Scranton is still stuck.  Mr. Doherty promised escape from distressed status by the end of his first term.  He failed, but he had a lot of help.

Read more:   http://thetimes-tribune.com/opinion/editorials-columns/christopher-j-kelly/chris-kelly-how-can-scranton-find-a-talented-mayor-for-50g-1.1428801

PEL: Scranton Needs More Than 12% Tax Hike

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lackawanna County

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

Scranton‘s state-designated recovery coordinator, Pennsylvania Economy League, has told city officials they need to raise property taxes next year higher than the 12 percent that the city budget for 2013 proposes. Exactly how much higher was not stated.

In a letter received Thursday, PEL Executive Director Gerald Cross notes that the city has not dedicated a tax millage toward paying for the city’s second unfunded debt package approved by a court this year, of $9.75 million. In that case, Judge Peter O’Brien, a senior visiting judge from Monroe County, on Oct. 31 ordered that a tax millage be dedicated to paying back this unfunded debt.

It was the same arrangement the city sought and received in January, when a different judge, Senior Monroe County Judge Jerome Cheslock, approved the city’s first unfunded debt, of $9.85 million, and ordered that this amount be paid back with a dedicated tax millage over 10 years.

The first unfunded debt package translated into the 12 percent tax hike in the proposed budget for next year, city officials have said.

Read more:  http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/pel-scranton-needs-more-than-12-tax-hike-1.1413187

Scranton City Council Introduces Budget, Takes Flak Over Pay Raises

In a split vote, Scranton City Council on Thursday introduced a $109.7 million budget for 2013 that contains a 12 percent property tax increase for residents and hikes in several other taxes, including a hoped-for commuter tax.

The council also took flak from some residents for hefty raises ranging between 19 and 33 percent in the budget for six employees, including council and administration solicitors, fire chief, business administrator and two administrative employees.

“This city is in such financial disaster. We’re close to bankruptcy and we’re giving raises up as high as 33 percent? It’s just an outrage,” resident Les Spindler told council. “This just cannot happen. You’re not going to raise my taxes and give these other people raises.”

Resident Tom Ungvarsky added, “I hope city council will reconsider and do what’s right by the residents.”

Read more:

http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/scranton-city-council-introduces-budget-takes-flak-over-pay-raises-1.1410310

Scranton Mayor Proposes $109 Million Budget For 2013; 12 Percent Tax Hike

Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty presented Thursday to city council a $109.6 million budget that contains a 12 percent real-estate tax hike.

Though formally proposed by the mayor, the budget had been prepared jointly by his administration and the council.  Cooperation between both sides on the budget proposal was a change from the prior two budgets that were marked by heated battles, council revisions, mayoral vetoes and council overrides of vetoes.

Read the Budget HERE

“This is the first step in our financial blueprint as we move the city forward, and I appreciate the cooperation of council,” Mr. Doherty said.

A precursor of the budget had been hashed out earlier this year during the mayor/council war over revising the city’s Act 47 recovery plan, which called for a 12 percent real estate tax hike on city residents and various other tax increases and/or new taxes, such as commuter and amusement taxes.

Read more:

http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/scranton-mayor-proposes-109-million-budget-for-2013-12-percent-tax-hike-1.1404066

Scranton Eyes $20 Million In Borrowing And Second Dedicated Tax Hike For 2013

Scranton City Council on Thursday unanimously introduced a $21 million bond ordinance to fund new debt and an increase in mandatory pension contributions and refinance old debt.

While the introduction was unanimous, council had questions about the bond proposal and agreed to ask administration officials to attend an upcoming caucus to explain it.

Mayor Chris Doherty wanted council to adopt on an emergency basis this legislation and another ordinance for a dedicated tax increase to pay for $9.75 million in unfunded debt, council President Janet Evans said.

However, because council received the ordinances late Wednesday, she said, council and its solicitor, Boyd Hughes, had not had enough time to review them and refused to enact them on an emergency basis – which requires introducing, advancing and adopting them all at the same meeting.

Read more:  http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/scranton-eyes-20-million-in-borrowing-and-second-dedicated-tax-hike-for-2013-1.1401050

Scranton City Council To Introduce Commuter Tax

Scranton City Council will be voting Thursday to introduce a commuter tax, according to a public notice issued today.

A commuter tax – a 1 percent earned-income tax on nonresidents of Scranton who work in the city – is one of the city’s key alternatives to property tax hikes under its revised Act 47 recovery plan adopted Aug. 23.

A 1 percent commuter tax is expected to raise $2.5 million next year and $4 million in 2014 and 2015, city officials have said.

The council ordinance would propose to increase the non-resident earned-income tax from the current 1 percent to 2 percent, while maintaining the earned-income tax of 2.4 percent on city residents, the public notice states.

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/scranton-city-council-to-introduce-commuter-tax-1.1384991