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

Restaurants, Residences Planned For Former Whistles Pub In Scranton

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lackawanna County

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

A downtown developer’s plans for a vacant building on Franklin Avenue promises to bring more business and foot traffic to what just a year ago had been a neglected block of downtown.

This week, Art Russo of Scranton purchased the Bittenbender Building, which formerly housed the popular Whistles Pub and Eatery.  His rough plans for the building call for 15 apartments on the third and fourth floors, possibly offices on the second floor, and a restaurant, deli and possibly a third ground-floor tenant.

“The first floor space is too big for one restaurant, and we’d like to create space for two or three different business,” Mr. Russo said.

He’s talked to a potential operator of a deli that sells prepared foods and some groceries as a potential tenant.  The restaurant and kitchen side, which has equipment in place, is a turnkey operation, Mr. Russo said.  The former Whistles had a sizable back room, which could have potential as a third entity.

Read more:  http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/business/restaurants-residences-planned-for-former-whistles-pub-1.1382682

Scranton Is A ‘Hot Commodity’ For Downtown Residential Housing

Scranton‘s financial house may be in disorder, but the downtown residential boom continues to build momentum.

More than $11.3 million in three ongoing developments will add 74 apartments to Central City by next summer.

“Scranton is a hot commodity,” said Charlie Jefferson, an investor in the $8.6 million redevelopment of the Scranton Chamber of Commerce Building at Mulberry Street and North Washington Avenue.

Scranton’s municipal government is facing a credit crisis and recently borrowed $6.25 million to cover short-term financial obligations.  City residents could face potential tax increases of 39 to 79 percent – or more – over the next three years.

Read more:  http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/scranton-is-a-hot-commodity-for-downtown-residential-housing-1.1377909

Scranton City Council Threatens University Of Scranton With Zoning Roadblocks

Editor’s note:  This is just irresponsible and shortsighted.  The University of Scranton brings jobs, money and prestige to Scranton; as well as a reason to go downtown.  Scranton City Council needs to get their act together instead of retaliating against a good corporate citizen.

Miffed over the University of Scranton’s recent lawsuit against the city over its new parking tax, city council on Thursday threatened to oppose any zoning variance that the college may need from the city for various improvements, such as dorms or parking lots.

Asked by council President Janet Evans to address this issue, council solicitor Boyd Hughes said he was dismayed that the university sued the city over the parking tax, because over the years the city has facilitated the university’s growth.  Rather, the college should be donating millions of dollars to the city, he said.

The university’s growth since the 1960s stemmed from what was known as the “University Plan” approved many years ago by the Scranton Redevelopment Authority, which involved the SRA condemning properties for university expansion, he said.  But the college has since spread beyond its “institutional district” into residential areas, Mr. Hughes claimed.

The university has received variances from the city zoning board for improvements such as a dorm and parking areas in residential areas that “should have never been granted” by the zoning board.

Read more:  http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/scranton-city-council-threatens-university-of-scranton-with-zoning-roadblocks-1.1376796

Scranton City Council Targets Parking Garages, Meters

The beleaguered Scranton Parking Authority may have its five parking garages under outside management as soon as today, Scranton City Council announced Thursday.

Meanwhile, council also introduced a proposed ordinance Thursday to terminate on Oct. 8 the city’s parking-meter cooperation agreement with SPA, under which SPA receives 10 percent of meter revenues.

Both actions – one dealing with parking garages and the other dealing with meters – would remove all control of SPA’s two revenue streams from the SPA’s board, which is appointed by Mayor Chris Doherty, according to council President Janet Evans and council solicitor Boyd Hughes.

Regarding outside management, the SPA’s new court-appointed receiver, former Lackawanna County Commissioner Mike Washo, is expected to hire a firm called Central Parking, Mr. Hughes said during council’s meeting. He said Central Parking is the second-largest parking management company in the nation.

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/scranton-council-targets-parking-garages-meters-1.1369583

Scranton Gets $6.2M Short-Term Loan; State Sets Public Hearing On Plan For Today

Editor’s note:  We are pleased to see that the mayor and council president have put aside their differences and are working together.  It’s making a difference!

Like dominoes falling, Scranton has finally adopted a revised recovery plan, and because of that the city now will receive a $2.2 million state aid package and a $6.25 million short-term bank loan that will allow the city to pay bills and payrolls while continuing to seek long-term borrowing to fund its 2012 budget.

The flurry of separate, yet related, developments has bought the city some time to resolve its short-term financial crisis, however the city still needs to secure other borrowing to end the year in black, Mayor Chris Doherty and council President Janet Evans said.

The stage was set with the city’s proposed revised recovery plan having received approval in recent days from its Act 47 recovery coordinator, Pennsylvania Economy League.  That approval will allow the city to receive the $2.2 million state aid package from PEL’s overseer, the state Department of Community and Economic Development.  With PEL and DCED on board with the city’s recovery plan and the state aid package on the way, the city was able to secure on Wednesday night a $6.25 million tax- anticipation note from Amalgamated Bank of New York and Washington, D.C., the mayor and Mrs. Evans announced late Thursday afternoon in front of City Hall, shortly before the council meeting.

“This buys us time,” Mr. Doherty said of the bank loan and state aid package.  “With the recovery plan being passed, it sends a positive message for our future borrowing.”

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/city-gets-6-2m-short-term-loan-state-sets-public-hearing-on-plan-for-today-1.1363190

Scranton City Council Sets Public Hearing On Recovery Plan

English: Downtown , USA

English: Downtown , USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Scranton City Council on Thursday tabled a revised recovery plan but set a public hearing on the proposal for next week and a vote for adoption for the following week.

Council President Janet Evans said efforts are under way to further revise the consensus recovery plan.  It was reached July 27 by her and Mayor Chris Doherty after months of stalemate, but raised concerns from the city’s Act 47 recovery coordinator, Pennsylvania Economy League, that much of its revenue was speculative.

“There are adjustments being made to it, and it’s ongoing,” Mrs. Evans said.  “I’m hoping that all changes are complete prior to the public hearing.”

At the Aug. 2 meeting, Mrs. Evans said the mayor/council consensus plan was a “take it-or-leave it” proposition for PEL.  Asked after the meeting if she had backed away from that stance, Mrs. Evans said no.

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/scranton-council-sets-public-hearing-on-recovery-plan-1.1357001

State Extends Deadline For Scranton Recovery Plan After PEL Raises Concerns

Hours after receiving a “rejection” of its revised recovery plan by a state-appointed recovery coordinator, Scranton City Council on Thursday forged ahead with introducing the plan anyway.

The council voted 3-1 to introduce an ordinance to implement the revised plan that was agreed upon last Friday by Mayor Chris Doherty, council President Janet Evans and council finance chairman Frank Joyce.

The plan then was sent for review to the city’s Act 47 recovery coordinator, Pennsylvania Economy League, which also would have to OK the plan before it would take effect.

On Thursday, shortly before the council’s meeting, PEL issued a letter to the city detailing numerous concerns about the recovery plan, chiefly that much of its revenue sources that are alternatives to real estate taxes – such as a commuter tax and sales taxes and significantly increased voluntary donations from nonprofits – are not guaranteed to occur. PEL wants to the city to identify backup revenues sources should speculative revenue sources never materialize.

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/state-extends-deadline-for-scranton-recovery-plan-after-pel-raises-concerns-1.1353735

Scranton Commuter Tax Eyed In Compromise Plan

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lackawanna County

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

Just when Colleen Rhue thought she was out, Scranton is trying to pull her back in.

The downtown office worker recently moved to Moosic to escape the city’s 3.4 percent wage tax on residents.

“Now it looks like the money I saved from moving, they want to take from me,” Ms. Rhue said Tuesday, reacting to a possible 1 percent commuter tax included in the city’s latest recovery plan proposal.

While the tax will be decided through the courts, support for the levy seems strong among city residents, who pay for police and fire protection and infrastructure.  Support drops off at the city limits.

Read more:  http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/commuter-tax-eyed-in-compromise-plan-1.1353047

Scranton To Return Part Of ‘Free Money’ For Firefighters

After learning the hard way that closed fire stations can slow responses to fires, city officials last month celebrated an almost $8.2 million federal grant that would pay for recalling laid-off firefighters and hiring more.

Now, they plan to reject about a third of the money.

The grant was enough to pay for calling back 29 laid-off firefighters plus one on military leave and for adding 20 new firefighters – a total of 50 – for two years, but Mr. Doherty decided to decline the money for the new firefighters because the city could not afford to keep paying them after the two years and because the city would have to pay unemployment benefits when they were laid off.

It is unclear whether the city will be able to afford to keep all the other 29 after two years.

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/scranton-to-return-part-of-free-money-for-firefighters-1.1331750

State: No Bailout For Scranton

HARRISBURG, PA – Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty lobbied Corbett administration officials and leading lawmakers Monday to provide a new sales tax revenue stream to his fiscally troubled city.

Meanwhile, a top state official told city residents not to expect a state bailout for immediate budget problems.

Mr. Doherty said during a visit to the state Capitol that enacting a state law to give Scranton a share of a countywide 1 percent sales tax would be a way to recognize the city’s lead role in a state court case that resulted in it owing millions of dollars of back arbitration awards to city firefighters and police officers.

“We are the one that fought the battle for DCED in Act 47; here is a way to help us out,” Mr. Doherty said.

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/state-no-bailout-for-scranton-1.1328492

Scranton City Council Reverses Course On Parking Bond Money

In a stunning about-face, Scranton City Council on Thursday voted to introduce a measure to cover a debt of the Scranton Parking Authority, only a week after refusing to do so and plunging it into default.

But it would appear to be only a temporary fix, as council solicitor Boyd Hughes cited a June 7 notice of default from bond trustee Bank of New York Mellon saying a takeover of the beleaguered authority is inevitable in 30 days because SPA has preliminarily defaulted on four other counts, including:

- Failing to submit to the trustee an independent audit.

- Failing to submit to the trustee an annual budget of facilities prepared by a consulting engineer.

- Failing to keep financial records separate from city records and have them certified in an annual audit by city Controller Roseann Novembrino.

- Failing to have an engineer perform an annual review of physical status of facilities.

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/scranton-city-council-reverses-course-on-parking-bond-money-1.1326619

Bank Yanks Loan Offer To Scranton After City Council Allows Parking Authority To Default

The effect of Scranton City Council allowing the Scranton Parking Authority to default on a debt was immediate on Friday, officials said.

The bank that the city had been hoping to get financing from to be able to keep the city afloat this year, M&T Bank, backed out first thing Friday morning because of the default, said Mayor Chris Doherty and city Business Administrator Ryan McGowan.

On Thursday night, council voted against covering a $940,000 SPA debt that was due Friday, thus allowing the authority to default even though the city had backed the debt.

“The city defaulted on the guarantee. This default has left us with nowhere to go,” Mr. McGowan said of the city’s hopes for getting loans.

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/bank-yanks-loan-offer-to-scranton-after-council-allows-parking-authority-to-default-1.1324183

Default Looms For Scranton Parking Authority As City Council Refuses To Pay SPA’s $1.4 Million Debt

Default is looming for the Scranton Parking Authority as city council refuses to release $1.4 million the authority needs by June 1 to pay debt, officials said.

SPA notified the council last fall it would have a budget deficit in 2012 and would need council to fill the gap. Council set the funds aside in a contingency account that only council can release, thus forcing SPA and Mayor Chris Doherty’s administration to come back to council for the funds.

As the city backs the SPA debt in question – and with the June 1 deadline fast approaching – the administration on May 10 requested emergency legislation from the council for the $1.4 million.

But the council refused and demanded that SPA executive director Robert Scopelliti and city Business Administrator Ryan McGowan first appear before council on May 17 to explain why the funds are needed. Councilman Pat Rogan and council Solicitor Boyd Hughes went so far as to say SPA should be allowed to go into default.

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/default-looms-for-scranton-parking-authority-as-city-council-refuses-to-pay-spa-s-1-4-million-debt-1.1318104

Scranton Recovery Plan Won’t Meet ‘Soft’ Deadline

Scranton‘s revised recovery plan, which is supposed to be due today, will be late.

But the tardiness won’t mean much, Mayor Chris Doherty said.

“That’s not a hard deadline,” he said.

The deadline was imposed in January by a consortium of wary banks when they loaned the city an $11.5 million tax-anticipation note, because the banks wanted assurances that the city has a viable recovery plan to deal with its historical structural budget deficits and be able to repay any future loans, officials said.

While council members said Thursday a failure to meet the deadline technically could be considered a default, Mr. Doherty said there are no penalties for tardiness and the more important aspects are that the TAN is repaid and progress is made on a recovery plan.

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/scranton-recovery-plan-won-t-meet-soft-deadline-1.1308000#ixzz1tXKaWkbb

What Can Pottstown Learn From Scranton?

This is certainly news we do not read about often!  Scranton City Council unanimously adopted a $74.9 million dollar budget that features a 10.55% property tax decrease AND a 25% decrease in mercantile and business privilege taxes.  The budget restores 44 of 69 positions which had previously been recommended to be cut. 

Mayor Chris Doherty submitted a $75.5 million dollar budget to council in November which included 69 jobs being eliminated.  Mayor Doherty has until December 24th to act of council’s $74.9 million dollar budget.  Council has a veto-proof majority so any attempt to veto the budget by Mayor Doherty would be symbolic.

Scranton, PA                                        Pottstown, PA

Population – 71,944   2009 estimate                Population – 21,421   2009 estimate

Land area – 25.2 square miles                          Land area – 4.83 square miles

2011 Budget – $74.9 million dollars                2011 Budget – $39.3 million dollars

Police – 150 officers                                         Police – 47 officers

Est. 2008 median income – $32,794                Est. 2008 median income – $45,941

Est. 2008 per capita income – $19,034            Est. 2008 per capita income – $24,044

City-data crime index 2009 – 306.7                City-data crime index 2009 – 454.7

After carefully reflecting on the above figures some questions may develop.

How does a city 3 1/2 times our size (population) and 5 times our size in land area have a lower crime rate with less police per 1000 people?

How does a city 3 1/2 times our size have a budget less than twice as big?

How does a less affluent city in terms of median and per capita income reduce property taxes 10.55% and reduce business taxes 25%?

Any thoughts?????

Demographic information from City-data.com

Scranton PA – Electric City Building Boom Defies The Recession

Scranton

Image via Wikipedia

Normally, when we think of boom towns, Scranton is not generally at the top of the list.  For decades Scranton has struggled with declining population and employment, as the area dealt with the death of “King Coal” and huge manufacturing losses.

Yet despite a major nationwide economic downturn, Scranton is in the middle of a building boom.  Another unusual factor is that this boom is primarily in center city.  Most cities are not seeing growth in their downtown areas.  Usually growth is occurring in the suburbs.

There are four major projects being built in Scranton that total more than $260 million dollars!  That’s not a small chunk of change for a city of 72,000 residents.  Heck, that’s not a small chunk of change for a larger city!

The projects include:

Construction of the Commonwealth Medical College – $120 million dollars

Several building projects at the University of Scranton – $116 million dollars

Connell Building renovation – $23 million dollars

Tobyhanna Army Deport Federal Credit Union headquarters construction – $4 million dollars

This is encouraging news for NEPA!  1,400+ workers in the building trades are finding employment during this frenzy of activity in Scranton.  These employers will add permanent jobs that will continue to benefit Scranton for years to come.