Gallup: Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Well-Being Could Be Worse, But Not Much

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton area’s overall well-being could be worse, but not much.

The metropolitan area ranked 94th overall out of 100 communities in the U.S. in Gallup opinion poll “State of American Well-Being: 2014 Community Well-Being Rankings.”

The survey issued Tuesday compares how people feel about and experience their daily lives in five areas:

■ Purpose: Liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goal.

■ Social: Having supportive relationships and love in your life.

Read more:

http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/gallup-scranton-wb-well-being-could-be-worse-but-not-much-1.1860711

Northeastern Pennsylvania Population Drops Slightly As South Population Rises

A lot of people in this part of the nation swore they’d move south during this year’s harsh winter. It appears many of them already have.

According to estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau, warm regions regained population growth momentum last year that was lost during the recession. But population fell in the area comprised of Luzerne, Lackawanna and Wyoming counties.

Fourteen of the 20 fastest-growing metropolitan areas were in Florida, Texas or the Carolinas, led by The Villages near Orlando, which grew by 5.4 percent between July 1, 2013 and July 1, 2014. In contrast, the fastest-growing metro areas in Pennsylvania grew by 0.6 percent.

The bureau estimated that the population in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area fell by 2,159, or 0.4 percent over the year. Within the three-county region, Lackawanna County lost the most, 1,115, or 0.5 percent. Luzerne County’s population declined 1,033, or 0.3 percent, and Wyoming County’s was relatively unchanged.

Read more:  http://www.timesleader.com/news/local-news/152599118/

Susquehanna River Ice Jam Grows To 11 Miles

A massive ice jam clogged the Susquehanna River for miles through the heart of Wyoming County on Tuesday, keeping riverfront residents and emergency management officials on edge.

The National Weather Service extended a flood warning for central Wyoming County, as well as low-lying areas immediately downriver in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties, another 24 hours until tonight at 7:15.

“We’re stable for now, but that could change in the snap of a finger,” Wyoming County EMA director Gene Dziak said. “The unpredictability of this thing is just incredible. You just don’t know what it’s going to do.”

The ice jam formed Monday on the river just south of the area in Tunkhannock Twp. where Route 307 intersects Route 92. By late Tuesday afternoon, broken ice behind the jam was backed up to the Vosburg Neck area of Washington Twp., a distance of 11 miles.

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/susquehanna-ice-jam-grows-to-11-miles-1.1849795

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Among Most Indulgent Cities

Perhaps the Wilkes-Barre metro area parties too much.

The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area ranked as the fourth-most indulgent metro in the United States by the personal finance website badcredit.org. The website used data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and credit information from Experian, a credit reporting bureau, to analyze how indulgent residents are in 105 metro areas.

They looked at the obesity rate, alcohol consumption, number of smokers and the average consumer debt to determine the most indulgent metros. The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre metro came in at No. 4

with:

■ 7.8 percent of residents claiming to be heavy drinkers.

■  21.5 percent who say they smoke everyday.

■ An obesity rate of 31.9 percent.

■  $28,974 in average consumer debt.

Read more:

http://citizensvoice.com/news/scranton-w-b-among-most-indulgent-cities-1.1849010

NEPA’s St. Patrick’s Day Weekend Means Fun For Residents, More Work For Police

WILKES-BARRE, PA — St. Patrick’s Day is upon Northeastern Pennsylvania, which will include a weekend of parades and other festivities.

For law enforcement, it will mean more work than usual.

Scranton Police Chief Carl Graziano was among the officials at a news conference held at the Lackawanna County Courthouse this week. Officials encouraged residents to enjoy St. Patrick’s Day safely and responsibly.

“As everybody knows, it’s no secret that that’s the biggest alcohol consumption day — at least in the city — is St. Patrick’s Day Parade day,” Graziano said.

Read more:

http://www.timesleader.com/news/home_top-local-news/152319939/

Grass-Roots Effort For A Marketplace In The Mall At Steamtown Continues

SCRANTON, PA — The idea of a Reading Terminal Market marketplace in the Mall at Steamtown is gaining momentum.

The concept to create a marketplace in a portion of the mall began nearly two months ago as brothers, Michael and George Boyd, both of Scranton, started a Facebook page to gauge public’s interest to save their city’s retail hub.

Thousands in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties have weighed in on the idea. Last month, the Boyd brothers said the positive responses were “overwhelming.”

Today the Facebook page, Reading Terminal Market at the Mall at Steamtown, has more than 5,800 “Likes” and is getting people talking about how to revive the mall.

Read more: http://www.timesleader.com/news/business-local-news/152278963/

PennDOT To Resurface Another 110-Plus Miles Of NEPA Roads

The McDade Expressway in Scranton, Route 924 in Hazleton and a long stretch of Route 29 in Susquehanna and Wyoming counties are among area roads the state Department of Transportation has targeted for repaving this year.

The three heavily traveled routes are among 28 stretches of road in six Northeast Pennsylvania counties that PennDOT officials plan for routine resurfacing work this year. They’ll pay for it with new transportation funding from higher fees and gradually increasing gas taxes.

“PennDOT will be resurfacing about 110 miles of road this year,” agency spokesman James May said. “If we didn’t have Act 89, the number would be zero.”

Act 89 is the $2.3 billion transportation funding package the state Legislature approved in late 2013. PennDOT did have work on several larger capital pro­jects planned regardless, like the ongoing Keyser Avenue project in Scranton.

Read more:

http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/penndot-to-resurface-another-110-plus-miles-of-nepa-roads-1.1844646http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/penndot-to-resurface-another-110-plus-miles-of-nepa-roads-1.1844646

Scranton City Council OKs Revised Recovery Plan

Scranton City Council on Thursday passed the first of three votes needed to adopt a revised Act 47 recovery plan.

Council voted 4-0, with President Bob McGoff and Councilmen Joe Wechsler, Wayne Evans and Bill Gaughan all in favor, to introduce an ordinance to adopt the recovery plan crafted by the city’s Act 47 recovery coordinator, Pennsylvania Economy League.

Councilman Pat Rogan was absent.

Before the meeting, council held a caucus with PEL officials Gerald Cross and Joseph Boyle, city Business Administrator David Bulzoni, and Jim Rose of the state Department of Community and Economic Development, which oversees PEL.

Read more:

http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/scranton-council-oks-revised-recovery-plan-1.1844068

Turning Off The Gas: Region’s Last Exploratory Natural Gas Well To Be Plugged

Since the Marcellus Shale drilling boom started in 2008, seven natural gas wells have been drilled in and around Luzerne and Lackawanna counties.

Six of them were plugged when they failed to produce enough gas to market.

This week, the seventh — WPX Energy’s Martin well on state Route 487 in Sugarloaf Township, Columbia County, between Ricketts Glen and Benton — will also be shut down for good.

“From what I understand, we’re the last well to be plugged,” WPX Energy spokeswoman Susan Oliver said.

Read more:

http://citizensvoice.com/news/turning-off-the-gas-region-s-last-exploratory-natural-gas-well-to-be-plugged-1.1837326

Could The Mall At Steamtown Reinvent Itself With An Open-Air Market Atmosphere?

SCRANTON, PA — The Mall at Steamtown hasn’t exactly been running at full power lately.

But a couple of brothers have gone to social media to pitch an idea to put more firepower in the ailing mall, and the public is starting to take notice.

Scranton natives Michael Boyd and his brother George think creating a marketplace similar to the long-standing Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia could be the key to the city’s revitalization.

The downward spiral of the once-vibrant downtown mall has been apparent in recent years. A walk through the two-story structure on Lackawanna Avenue last week showed 47 active store fronts and 23 shuttered ones.

Read more:  http://www.timesleader.com/news/business/151922265/

Can The Wyoming Valley’s Platter Hold More Restaurants?

WILKES-BARRE TWP., PA — Five national chain restaurants opened in the area last year and two more are slated to open soon. Two others — Pizza Hut and Lone Star — went out of business last month.

So has area’s restaurant bubble finally popped?

No, said John Bartorillo, president of Maslow Lumia Bartorillo Advertising in Wilkes-Barre.

“Saturated? No,” said Bartorillo. “We have not reached that point yet.”

Read more:

http://www.timesleader.com/news/business-home_top/151817501/Is-there-room-for-more

Clarks Summit Festival Of Ice Kicks Off This Weekend

Clarks Summit will be a winter wonderland this weekend for the annual Festival of Ice.

“Frozen Fairy Tales” will mark the 11th year of the ice festival, with nearly 60 fairy-tale-themed ice sculptures around the borough’s downtown.

The sculptures, with themes like “Alice in Wonderland,” “The Brothers Grimm” and “Cinderella,” will all be done by Lakeville-based Sculpted Ice Works.

The large number of sculptures and free admission are the main draws for people from all over Northeast Pennsylvania, said Abington Business and Professional Association Executive Director Laura Ancherani. Depending on the weather, the festival averages about 25,000 to 30,000 people over the weekend.

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/clarks-summit-festival-of-ice-kicks-off-this-weekend-1.1830500

Report: NEPA Region Lags In Advanced-Skilled Jobs

The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton area ranks near the bottom of the list of jobs leading the recovery that promise to revitalize the nation’s economy, according to a report from the Brookings Institution.

The Report, “America’s Advanced Industries: What they are, where they are, and why they matter” looked at those jobs in the nation’s 100 largest metros and ranked Scranton/Wilkes-Barre metro area 92nd.

These important jobs are leaving the area, the report noted, with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s employment in advanced industries falling about 2 percent every year.

Many terms have been used to describe the important sector: high-tech, STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) and now “advanced industries.” What makes understanding the sector more complex is that the field cuts across 50 industries from certain types of manufacturing and energy to computer software design and health care. A STEM job could be found just about anywhere, such as a computer programmer for a trucking company.

Read more: http://citizensvoice.com/news/report-nepa-region-lags-in-advanced-skilled-jobs-1.1826843

Scranton Councilman Worries New Union Contract Ties Hands In Exiting Act 47

Scranton could have a difficult time shedding its distressed city status because of the pay raises and other perks in the revised police contract, a city councilman warned.

The city has until 2020 to successfully exit the state’s Act 47 financially distressed municipalities program. The new seven-year police contract approved by a split city council Thursday and signed by Mayor Bill Courtright Friday will hinder the city because the contract locks in pay raises and benefits beyond 2020, said Councilman Bill Gaughan.

He questioned whether the contract extension would “tie the city’s hands” by eliminating the possibility of negotiating in 2017 savings in a new police contract, while at the same time locking in raises and benefits a year beyond the Act 47 deadline of 2020.

Mr. Courtright disagreed that the contract extension will make it more difficult for the city to successfully exit Act 47.

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/city-councilman-worries-new-union-contract-ties-hands-in-exiting-act-47-1.1825840

Error in Scranton Budget Puts Bottom Line Off By Nearly $800,000

Turns out Scranton didn’t balance its 2015 budget.

Through an error, the city budgeted $783,000 more in expenditures than revenues, city Controller Roseann Novembrino told the mayor and council. She said it needs to be amended to fix the mistake.

City Business Administrator David Bulzoni said he made an error while creating the budget by inputting an incorrect figure from one line item instead of a total number for that one line and three others in the same group.

The four items, which involve lease expenditures, total $833,082.87. Instead of inputting that total amount when adding up that section, Mr. Bulzoni said he used the figure that was above it, $50,000, which was only for the last lease in the group. That resulted in an understating of expenditures by $783,082.87.

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/error-in-scranton-budget-puts-bottom-line-off-by-nearly-800-000-1.1821319

PennDOT To Study Creating Northeast Pennsylvania Transit Authority

Northeastern Pennsylvania public transit riders may eventually take buses directly between Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, rather than having to transfer to a different bus in Pittston to make the trip.

Lackawanna and Luzerne County officials envision new travel options — like a direct bus link between the cities — among many benefits of merging several mass transit agencies in both counties into a single Lackawanna-Luzerne Regional Transportation Authority.

The state Department of Transportation hired consultant HNTB Corp. to study the move, which would create the state’s third largest transportation authority. The cost of the study was not available Monday.

If it happens, Lackawanna and Luzerne county officials foresee having more clout to attract state and federal grant money to improve Northeastern Pennsylvania’s transportation network for buses, the region’s growing rail industry and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport.

Read more: http://citizensvoice.com/news/penndot-to-study-creating-northeast-pennsylvania-transit-authority-1.1819613

Movement Underway In NEPA Counties, Cities To Form Land Banks

When General Motors shut down factories in Michigan, the city of Flint lost more than 70,000 auto industry jobs, resulting in an exodus of residents from the 1980s through today that left the city with half the population of its heyday.

The crisis created a cycle of abandonment and blight that prompted the region to create the Genesee County Land Bank, which spearheaded several major redevelopment projects in the city’s downtown, sold 4,683 tax-foreclosed properties from 2004-13 and demolished 3,400 buildings.

Some public officials in Northeastern Pennsylvania cities like Scranton and Hazleton have been thinking of forming their own land banks since Gov. Tom Corbett last year signed legislation enabling cities around the state to do so. Pittston and several neighboring Luzerne County municipalities recently created their own version.

“One issue we all face, that we really have a hard time fighting at the municipal level, is blight,” said Larry West, regional director for state Sen. John Blake, D-Archbald. “We have buildings sitting there on the tax repository list that are boarded up or have burned down.”

Read more: http://citizensvoice.com/news/movement-underway-in-nepa-counties-cities-to-form-land-banks-1.1806370

Carbondale Adopts 2015 Budget With Wage Tax Increase

CARBONDALE, PA — City council on Monday unanimously adopted a budget for 2015 that raises the city’s wage tax a notch to cover an anticipated $120,000 deficit.

Council voted 7-0, with Joseph Marzzacco, Kathleen Connor, Jerry Arnese, Francis Lagana, John Masco, John Gigliotti and Walter Martzen all in favor, on both a budget appropriation ordinance and a separate ordinance raising the earned-income tax from 1.6 percent to 1.7 percent.

Increasing the city portion of the earned-income tax from 1.6 percent to 1.7 percent would equate to an extra $24 levied on a resident with the city’s median earnings of $23,893.

With the school wage tax remaining at 0.5 percent, the total wage tax on a Carbondale resident now will increase from the current 2.1 percent to 2.2 percent next year, when the one-tenth-of-1-percent hike is implemented.

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/carbondale-adopts-2015-budget-with-wage-tax-increase-1.1803584

Winter Storm Puts Northeast Pa. In Crosshairs

There will be snow and rain and everything in between.

The big unknown is how much of each.

Northeast Pennsylvania is under a winter storm warning through Thursday morning as a system developing along the mid-Atlantic coast pushes inland today with the potential for significant snow, sleet and freezing rain.

The National Weather Service said total snow accumulations could hit eight to 12 inches, with the higher amounts in the higher terrain and less in the valleys.

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/winter-storm-puts-northeast-pa-in-crosshairs-1.1799879

Woman Dies In Dunmore Home Explosion

DUNMORE, PA — An 86-year-old Dunmore woman died instantly Thursday morning when her home exploded and collapsed following a water main break and natural gas leak on Smith Street, state police fire marshals said.

Madlyn M. Mecca, 413 Smith St., was leaving her home shortly before 4 a.m. because police and firefighters evacuated the area, due to a heavy odor of natural gas. A neighbor, whom state police did not identify, was moments away from picking up Mrs. Mecca. Mrs. Mecca waited on her front porch for her neighbor, but natural gas had seeped into her home and some ignition source had turned on, sparking a fire and an explosion, state police said. Mrs. Mecca was killed immediately.

“She was out,” said her cousin and neighbor, Carmel Verrastro Biko. “Originally, she was out … we don’t know if she went back in the house or if she was just out there waiting for him to come.”

The fire was ruled accidental, state police said. It’s not clear what ignited the explosion, but any number of appliances could have been the culprit. A furnace, a water heater, pilot lights or any electrical appliance turning on could have done it.

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/woman-dies-in-dunmore-home-explosion-1.1798053