Many Fees For Pennsylvania Vehicles Set To rise On April 1

Several state vehicle-related fees will increase April 1 for the first time in 17 years, with a second group of fees slated to rise July 1.

The increases are mandated by Act 89, the transportation funding legislation that was approved by the Legislature and Gov. Tom Corbett in the fall.

“It’s important to note that Act 89 represents an investment in Pennsylvania’s future: increasing public safety, driving commerce, creating jobs and providing reliable funding for our transportation needs without leaving the bill to our future generations,” Pennsylvania Department of Transportation spokesman Rich Kirkpatrick said.

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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.

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Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Area Bridges Are On Replacement List

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)

The state’s $2.4 billion transportation funding law will enable the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to use its Rapid Bridge Replacement Project on at least 200 more bridges than originally planned.

Among the 998 bridges eligible for replacement are eight in Luzerne County, seven in Lackawanna County and four in Wyoming County.

The project that will reconstruct at least 500 structurally deficient bridges of similar design across the state involves PennDOT reaching out to the private sector to submit statements of qualification.

Erin Waters, a PennDOT spokeswoman, said those interested in bidding must submit their statements of qualifications to the agency by Jan.31.

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With House Passage, All Are Aboard State Transportation Bill

Pennsylvania state map county outlines

Pennsylvania state map county outlines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Billions in new taxes and spending for roads, bridges and mass transit in Pennsylvania comfortably cleared a final legislative hurdle Thursday with a bipartisan vote to send a long-stalled bill to the governor.

The state House voted 113-85 to tax gasoline and raise motorist fees over five years to generate at least $2.3 billion in annual additional funding.

Gov. Tom Corbett said in brief remarks at an appearance with a few dozen legislators that he perceived an urgent need to address transportation infrastructure after taking office three years ago.

He said passage of the vote showed leadership and mentioned concerns about public safety several times.

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Officials: Transportation Will Suffer With Bill’s Defeat

Map of Pennsylvania

Map of Pennsylvania (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Commuter rail service is likely to be cut next year, and Pennsylvania’s highways and bridges will continue to deteriorate, transportation officials said Tuesday, following the narrow legislative defeat of a major transportation funding increase.

Most lawmakers from southeastern Pennsylvania supported the funding measure, but eight area Democrats and five Republicans voted against it. And a key supporter, Rep. Louise Bishop (D., Phila.), was out sick, the only legislator not voting on the measure, which was defeated 103-98 Monday night.

Supporters of the bill, which would have increased gas taxes and motorists’ fees to provide about $2.4 billion in additional funding, said negotiations were continuing Tuesday to try to revive the bill, which was one of Gov. Corbett’s key legislative priorities.

Republican opponents cited the increased taxes and fees as a prime reason for their “no” votes, while Democratic opponents said they objected to a provision that would have increased the prevailing-wage exemption on government construction projects, which some labor unions opposed.


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.

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Progress Reported In Talks On Funding For State Transportation

Map of Pennsylvania

Map of Pennsylvania (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

HARRISBURG, PA – A key state House Republican negotiator said Friday he was optimistic about the chances that the chamber will pass a plan to fund billions in improvements to Pennsylvania’s highways, bridges and mass transit systems, with a preliminary vote possible within a week.

Dave Thomas, an aide to Speaker Sam Smith, R-Jefferson, said that the total amount of new transportation funding in the bill was likely to be between $2.2 billion to $2.4 billion a year.

The state Senate voted overwhelmingly in June for a $2.5 billion proposal, a key agenda item of Gov. Tom Corbett’s, but that plan stalled in the House.

Thomas said he expected talks between House Democrats and Republicans to go through the weekend.

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Progress Reported In Pa. Transportation Bill Talks

HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch and others involved in discussions on a massive transportation bill said Thursday they have been encouraged by recent discussions but cautioned that no deal has been reached.

Schoch said talks with Democrats and Republicans in the state House are the “correct way to find a solution,” although a number of issues remain unresolved.

“At this point it will succeed or fail, but I’m confident it will be well-vetted,” Schoch said. “If it doesn’t work, that way I’ll at least know I gave it the best shot we could to get it done.”

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, recently delayed a House vote on a Senate-passed, $2.5 billion-a-year package. At the request of Gov. Tom Corbett, he said the vote would occur next week, giving the administration more time to seek a deal.

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Governor Would Sign Transportation Bills

HARRISBURG, PA – Amid Pennsylvania’s stalled debate over how to raise more money for highways and transit agencies, state Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch said Friday that Gov. Tom Corbett would sign either of two plans that have led debate in the legislature.

Corbett has not to date publicly endorsed any specific transportation funding plan in the Legislature after a $1.8 billion plan he released in February failed to gain much traction with lawmakers.

But a new willingness by the governor to embrace either bill is a sign that he is no longer willing to let disagreement over some elements of each bill stop him from making it law.

“He wants a transportation bill on his desk,” Schoch said. “What passes both parts of the Legislature I believe he’ll sign.”

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Feds Investigating McDonald’s Franchise Over Payroll Debit Cards

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Luzerne County

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

Federal investigators are looking into whether a McDonald’s franchise in Luzerne County is breaking any laws by forcing employees to accept paychecks in the form of fee-carrying debit cards.

Meanwhile, lawyers for the franchise owners say the lawsuit’s contention that employees incur fees on all transactions is wrong and there are several ways workers could access their money for free.

Attorney Michael Cefalo of West Pittson recently filed the class action lawsuit in Luzerne County Court on behalf of Natalie Gunshannon, a Dallas Township woman who quit her job at the McDonald’s in Shavertown after the company issued her a debit card as pay and refused to pay her by check or direct deposit.

Days after the suit was filed and appeared nationally in the media, Cefalo said an investigator with the U.S. Department of Labor contacted his law office.

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McDonald’s Sued For Paying Pa. Employees With Fee-Carrying Debit Cards

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Luzerne County

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

She spent her days serving up Happy Meals, but when it came time to get paid, Natalie Gunshannon says a local McDonald’s franchisee gave her an unhappy deal.

The Shavertown McDonald’s forces workers to be paid only one way: with a payroll debit card that burdens workers with hefty fees to obtain their hard-earned cash, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday on behalf of Gunshannon and other McDonald’s workers.

Gunshannon and an untold number of current and former employees had no option to receive a traditional paycheck or get paid by direct deposit, she and her attorneys said in the class-action against franchise owners Albert and Carol Mueller of Clarks Summit.

“I’m looking for the pay I am owed and for them to understand there has to be an option,” Gunshannon, 27, said Thursday outside her Dallas Township residence.

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Pottstown Cleanup Effort Brings Out Volunteers

Editor’s note:  Evan Brandt did a nice job of promoting a positive event that happened in Pottstown recently which demonstrated some civic pride and community spirit.  Both are in short supply.  We enjoyed reading Evan’s article until this statement caught our eye:

During Monday’s council meeting, Flanders agreed and added, “There are a lot of special interest groups in town who come to borough council asking for fees and permits to be waived.  I didn’t see any of those groups represented and I share that with you as food for thought.”

We have a problem with BM Flander’s comment.  As Borough Manager, you should be trying to unite factions, bring people together and be the biggest promoter of Pottstown.  Instead, we get the above “finger-pointing” comment.  A total “us and them” statement with a negative connotation.

So Mark, do you think making snide comments will encourage any of these groups to pitch in next time there is a community event like this?  There could be any number of reasons why people did not attend.  Every organization can’t take part in every borough activity.  Many of the organizations you are throwing out as “food for thought” are already doing something for the community.  

It’s time to put away the “tough guy” shtick and start acting like a leader who brings people together.   Maybe try to smile more.  You look angry all the time.  It’s hard to feel the love.

POTTSTOWN — A group of about 50 dedicated volunteers braved the heat recently to help spruce up the borough for the summer.

Unlike some previous efforts, efforts which once had Councilman Mark Gibson declare he would no longer help organize such efforts, this most recent clean-up was “a great success and I want to thank the community for doing an excellent job,” he told council at the June 5 meeting.

“Even during the heat, they showed up and they picked up,” Gibson said.

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Reading Administration Revives Proposal For Streetlight Assessments

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsyl...

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsylvania area. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer’s administration is reviving a proposal to impose a streetlight assessment that might cost a row home owner $16 a year, but larger property owners several thousand dollars.

Managing Director Carole B. Snyder asked City Council on Monday to consider introducing the enabling ordinance this month, to get some benefit from it this year.

“We don’t want to put any more burden on anyone, but we’re limited on options,” Snyder said.

The fee is being considered because it’s one of the few ways to get the 32 percent of city properties exempt from property taxes to pay for city services, she said.

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More Efficient Parking Still A Wilkes-Barre Priority

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Luzerne County

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

WILKES-BARRE — A more than year-old study done by a potential vendor showed the “hidden value” in the city’s parking meters.   But the city is no longer interested and won’t see the increased revenue from using the company’s automated technology.

The pilot program conducted in late 2011 by StreetSmart Technology LLC put more parkers at the 45 meters involved in the program and boosted the daily revenue at the downtown spots.

“It proved that there is hidden value in the system,” Drew McLaughlin, city municipal affairs manager, said Friday.

However, the city held off on committing to use the company’s automated technology while it pursued a long-term lease of the parking assets in conjunction with the Wilkes-Barre Parking Authority for a minimum of $20 million to pay down debt and for infrastructure improvements and public safety.

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GOP Signals Cost Cuts Before Pennsylvania Driver Tax Boost

Map of Pennsylvania, showing major cities and ...

Map of Pennsylvania, showing major cities and roads (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Editor’s note:  I bet there are all kinds of cost cutting measures that could be utilized before screwing over the taxpayers!

HARRISBURG – Conservative state lawmakers who are wary about plans to raise taxes or fees to boost transportation spending raised the prospect Wednesday that they will insist first on major changes, such as abolishing the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, to make public money go further.

The House Republican majority will be under pressure in the 10 weeks before the Legislature departs Harrisburg for the summer to make the case against a massive transportation funding plan.  Supporting such plans are leading senators from both political parties, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett and a slew of groups from the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry to the AARP.

Even one member of the House Republican leadership acknowledged that there is tremendous pressure on the issue.

“I don’t think we thought there was going to be this much momentum for transportation,” said Rep. Mike Vereb, R-Montgomery, the caucus secretary.

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Pennsylvania Senate Highways Plan Would Raise Gas Prices

Editor’s note:  Really!  Because gas prices aren’t high enough already???

HARRISBURG – Spending on Pennsylvania’s highways, bridges and mass transit systems would get a big shot of new funding under a Senate plan unveiled Tuesday that would raise the money by increasing motorist fees and wholesale gas taxes – bumping prices at the pump as much a quarter a gallon.

The $2.5 billion plan by Senate Transportation Committee Chairman John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, is more ambitious and expensive than the proposal Gov. Tom Corbett advanced in January. The increase is nearly 50 percent of the $5.3 billion that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation currently spends on highways, bridges and transit.

Rafferty warned that the state’s bridges and highways are in dire need of repair, and contended that the plan would simply update taxes and fees to reflect inflation after going unchanged since at least the 1990s while giving the state’s economy a big boost.

“This is a sustainable funding plan,” Rafferty told reporters at a news conference where he was backed by dozens of supportive lawmakers and representatives of transportation-minded groups. “This is not a one-shot deal. This is a significant piece of change that will move Pennsylvania forward.”

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Smoother Berks Roads Ahead?

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Berks County

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

Berks County would enjoy smoother roads and sturdier bridges if the $1.8 billion annual boost to statewide transportation funds Gov. Tom Corbett pitched last week becomes reality, local officials said.

At a minimum, the funds would stop the backlog of bridge and highway repairs needed in Berks from growing, said Alan D. Piper, county transportation planner.

But over time, PennDOT could catch up on repairs and focus on expanding traffic-prone highways such as Route 222 and the West Shore Bypass, he said.

“There’s no doubt that it will be beneficial,” Piper said. “Does it solve all our problems? Probably not. But it’s a gigantic step in the right direction.”

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City Of Reading Amnesty Nets $351,000 In Fees And Fines So Far

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsyl...

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsylvania area. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With less than two weeks left to go, the city’s amnesty program for overdue rental housing fees and quality-of-life fines has reached $351,000, or about 70 percent of its goal, codes manager Ron Natale said Monday.

The offer that began in mid-December ends Feb. 15, and property owners who don’t contact the city by then will be turned over to its new collection firm, Harrisburg-based National Recovery Agency, Natale told City Council.

The city has about $2.8 million in delinquent quality-of-life fines and rental housing fees from 22,000 unpaid bills.  Officials had hoped to collect about $500,000 of that with the amnesty program, which waives penalties and late fees if the property owners pay the original amounts.

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Fee For Pennsylvania State Troopers On The Radar

English: Pennsylvania county map

English: Pennsylvania county map (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A crash occurs on Route 183 in Penn Township.  State troopers who usually respond in that area are tied up elsewhere.

What’s a police chief in the small neighboring borough of Bernville going to do?

“As soon as I hear about an incident I’m going to respond,” Chief Brian Thumm said.

He won’t ignore a call nearby just because it’s outside his borough in state police territory.

While that’s the right thing to do, Thumm said, Bernville taxpayers are picking up the cost.

He’d like to see neighboring municipalities join with Bernville in providing local police coverage.  If that’s not an option, he’d at least like to see municipalities that rely only on state police pay for the service.

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