Innovative Columbia Borough Digester Plan Gets $1.7M In State Funding

Columbia Borough’s plan to develop what’s believed to be the first biogas production site of its kind in Pennsylvania has gotten crucial state support.

The Commonwealth Financing Authority last week approved a $1.7 million funding package for the venture, which could cost up to $3.5 million.

The state package consists of a $1,449,952 loan and a $300,000 grant from the authority’s Alternative and Clean Energy program.

Columbia Borough intends to build an anaerobic digester at its wastewater treatment plant that would use food waste, delivered by truck from area food-processing plants and other sources.

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Boscov: Mall At Steamtown Changes Must Get My Approval

Repurposing the troubled Mall at Steamtown as a Reading Terminal-style market, a casino or a skating rink will remain a dream.

That is because the mall’s lease agreement with Boscov’s Department Store allows the anchor tenant to veto significant changes like that, said department store chairman Al Boscov in an interview at The Times-Tribune, a Times-Shamrock newspaper, on Monday.

Boscov’s Department Store will likely be among bidders in the June 1 – 3 auction of the Mall at Steamtown and the goal will be to buy the mall and keep the mall all — or predominantly — retail, he said.

Boscov wants to keep people with ideas of re-purposing the mall, some of whom he called “cranks,” away from the auction scheduled by LNR Partners, the mall’s caretaker since it was taken over by lenders following foreclosure.

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Hazleton Moves Airport Project Forward

HAZLETON, PA — The City Council accepted a $1.3 million Aviation Grant Tuesday night to fund a Runway Safety Area at the City Airport.

As part of the agreement, 5 percent of the project, or $70,000, must be paid for with funds from airport revenues.

A contract for the project was awarded to the only bidder, Hazleton Site Contractors, a member of the H&K Group.

When questioned by several members of council in regard to the airport’s ability to pay for its portion of the project, city engineer Dominic Yannuzzi said the airport had a $56,000 surplus and fuel valued at $60,000, which would be sold for revenue.

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All Pennsylvanians To Pay More, GOP Gleans From Report On Wolf’s Tax Plan

HARRISBURG, PA — Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s tax plan would hit all income classes and amount to a “huge tax grab,” said a leading Republican lawmaker.

But John Hanger, Wolf’s policy director, on Friday disputed the Independent Fiscal Office report’s main conclusions. Wolf’s plan “would benefit most Pennsylvania homeowners making up to $100,000 and renters up to $50,000,” Hanger said.

The report released this week makes a key observation when it says all groups would pay more — including a small net increase for the lowest income group, those making $25,000 or less annually, said House Appropriations Chairman Bill Adolph, R-Delaware County.

That “directly contradicts” claims by Wolf and testimony of top staffers at appropriations meetings, Adolph said.

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Total Cost Of Pennsylvania’s Proposed Budget: $78.6 Billion

HARRISBURG, PA – Pennsylvania could own a bunch of professional sports team if it wanted.

OK, maybe we’re taking some liberty with that, but there is some math to back it up. If Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget is enacted exactly as he presented it earlier this month, the state’s total operating budget would soar to $78.6 billion, the highest level ever.

To put that in perspective, it’s enough to buy all 32 teams in the National Football League, based on average team values compiled by And then for fun, the state still could buy all 30 teams in Major League Baseball and have enough left to build a few state-of-the-art stadiums.

Of course, that’s assuming the state would spend nothing on its actual responsibilities, like public education and roads and bridges. But for our purposes, it helps illustrate the sheer volume of state spending that’s on the table.

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Wolf’s Sales Tax Proposal To Include More Goods, Services

HARRISBURG, PA — The Wolf administration this morning released estimates of the new revenue the state expects to bring in by expanding the 6 percent sales tax to include more items and services.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposal, which is the subject of ongoing hearings by the House and Senate appropriations committees, also would raise the rates of the sales and personal income taxes, while cutting corporate income taxes and providing homeowners with relief from school property taxes.

Applying a proposed 6.6 percent sales tax to a host of new purchases would bring the state approximately $1.16 billion in the fiscal year beginning July 1 and $2.97 billion in the following year, according to a memo released this morning by the Department of Revenue.

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Wolf’s State Store Plan An Ambitious Cocktail

Gov. Wolf’s budget proposal Tuesday called for a modernization of State Stores to generate $185 million in additional annual profit by fiscal 2018.

The dramatically increased profits would be used to make payments on a $3 billion bond issue designed to help close the $30 billion gap in the Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System, according to Wolf’s plan.

Under it, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, endangered by Republican talk of privatizing the system, instead would have a monumental task – assuming it gains General Assembly approval.

Based on the system’s profitability in the year ended June 30, gross revenue from the state’s 600-plus wine and spirits outlets would have to soar to $5.7 billion in fiscal 2018 from $2.3 billion in fiscal 2014 to generate an additional $185 million in profits.


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.

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Wilkes-Barre Mayor Leighton Gets $150K To Help Balance 2015 Budget

WILKES-BARRE, PA — The mayor asked and the authority board complied.

Mayor Tom Leighton Tuesday asked the members of the city’s Parking Authority for a little help for the city’s coffers. On a 4-1 vote, the authority approved giving the city $75,000 now and another $75,000 after the first of the year.

“This eliminates me from raising property taxes in the city,” Leighton said after the vote.

One authority member, Maryanne King, expressed concerned for the move, noting that auditors recently reported the need to increase revenues and replenish a depleted reserve fund to assure needed capital improvements of authority assets.

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Wolf Brings Urban Policy Expertise

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s next governor knows all about distressed cities.

Gov.-elect Tom Wolf spent 12 years as president of Better York, a nonprofit bent on revitalizing the city of York. In that role, he worked closely with a nationally prominent urban expert who promotes regional solutions for urban woes.

As he prepares to take office Jan. 20, Wolf said he wants to lead a statewide discussion about how the future of older cities such as Scranton, inner ring suburbs and the surrounding townships are interrelated.

“What I bring to this is a real appreciation for what cities do,” he said in an interview.

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Hazleton Council Tables Budget Vote

Hazleton City Council is no closer to finalizing a 2015 budget.

Council voted 4-1 on Thursday to table the spending plan on second reading after voting on a number of amendments that put revenue projections some $619,000 below estimated expenditures.

Council will take another crack at amending the estimated $9.3 million spending plan on Wednesday.

The vote to shelve the budget followed a heated disagreement between Mayor Joseph Yannuzzi and council President Jack Mundie over a stormwater fee that was originally levied by a previous council majority for 2013 only — but is included in next year’s spending plan.

The debate ended with the mayor walking out of the forum during an argument with Mundie.

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York Budget: Backlash Against Proposal Begins

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting York County

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

Hours after York Mayor Kim Bracey outlined her proposal to dramatically reduce the city’s work force, including deep cuts to public safety forces, in order to close an anticipated $7 million budget gap, public backlash began.

“I’m ashamed for the city,” said James Waughtel during public comment at a City Council meeting Tuesday night, calling the potential loss of police and fire personnel “extremely devastating.”

Read more from Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.

Members of the fire union also lined the council chambers to listen as Bracey presented her plan to council members.

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U.S. Steel Reports 3Q Loss Of $207M On Special Charges

U.S. Steel Tower in downtown Pittsburgh, Penns...

U.S. Steel Tower in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Losses from U.S. Steel Corp.’s restructuring continued despite revenue and operating results that beat analyst’s expectations.

The loss was an improvement from a year ago and was helped by the company’s flat-rolled steel operation and other segments, which did their best since 2008. Operating profit from flat-rolled, tubular, U.S. Steel Europe and other units totaled $479 million, or $94 per ton of steel produced, the company said. That compared to $113 million, or $24 per ton a year ago.

“Steel market conditions in the United States have remained stable, and our operations have performed well, particularly our flat-rolled segment, where we returned to more normal operating levels and income from operations increased by over $300 million from the second quarter,” CEO Mario Longhi said. “Our results reflect the significant improvement in our earnings power from our Carnegie Way transformation efforts.”

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Shale Oil, Gas Finds Put Mon Valley On Path To Renaissance, Leaders Say

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Washington County

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

Lue Ann Pawlick never envisioned companies connected with oil and gas beating a path to Alta Vista Business Park when it broke ground in tiny Fallowfield, Washington County, in 2001.

Today, three of the five companies in Alta Vista work in the industry. An energy company is set to start construction in the spring, and at least one more is close to signing a deal to locate there.

“We’re trying to keep it a mixed-use business park, but we have to recognize the oil and gas industry is the biggest game in town right now,” said Pawlick, executive director of the Middle Monongahela Industrial Development Association. “They are the ones driving demand.”

Ten years ago, Fort Worth-based Range Resources Corp. drilled the first Marcellus shale well in Washington County. Now the county — which dubs itself “Energy Capital of the East” — is home to about 1,000 wells, the most in Pennsylvania.

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Distressed Cities Bill Wins Final OK

HARRISBURG, PA — Scranton and other fiscally distressed cities could triple the local services tax to help them move out of Act 47 status under legislation that won final legislative approval with a 43-5 Senate vote Thursday.

This option would be available to Act 47 municipalities only as an alternative to an increased earned income tax already available to them.

Gov. Tom Corbett is expected to sign the bill after a review, said spokesman Jay Pagni. He has 10 days to review the provisions.

The local services tax could potentially triple from $52 annually to $156 annually for individuals working in those municipalities but those earning under $15,600 annually would be exempt from the higher local services tax.

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Peduto’s Budget Proposal Includes Tax Increase, Would End ‘Pittsburgh’s Financial Distress’

DSC01828Mayor Bill Peduto today presented a $505.9 million city budget proposal for 2015 that includes a real estate tax increase but ends what he characterized as two decades of budgeting shell games, putting Pittsburgh firmly on the path to financial solvency.

“Today is the beginning of the end of Pittsburgh’s financial distress,” Mr. Peduto said at a news conference where he was flanked by Sam Ashbaugh, the city’s new director of the Office of Management and Budget. “We’re overhauling our entire budget. We’re stripping it down and building it back up.”

Mr. Peduto said his staff worked with the city council, the city controller and the Pittsburgh’s financial overseers under the state Act 47 program for distressed municipalities to vet revenue forecasts.

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York City Commuter Tax ‘A Very Real Possibility’

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting York County

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

A majority of York City Council members said they are willing to consider authorizing a new tax in 2015 that would reach into the pockets of many more people.

The distressed pension earned income tax — more commonly known as the commuter tax — has been on the city’s menu of revenue-generating options for the past several years.

But, so far, city officials have been able to balance York’s budgets without wading into the controversial waters of taxing commuters’ earnings.

That might change next year.

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CityVest Gives Sterling Property To Luzerne County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Luzerne County

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

The nonprofit owner of the former Hotel Sterling property has turned the title over to Luzerne County.

In a letter to the county solicitor sent Thursday, Scranton-based attorney George Reihner said recent action by the county to garnish CityVest of parking fees being generated at the site on West Market Street took him off-guard.

“Given that CityVest offered the Hotel Sterling property to the county more than two years ago and regularly communicated with county officials about the status of the property since the date of acquisition, I was surprised to learn of these sudden legal actions from the media,” Reihner wrote.

In an attempt to “remedy the current impasse,” Reihner wrote that CityVest has decided to sign over the property to the county. The transaction was recorded Thursday.

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Wilkes-Barre Area School District Appealing Property Values

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Luzerne County

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

Faced with a shrinking tax base and the second-highest school tax rate in Luzerne County, the Wilkes-Barre Area School District is trying something new to boost revenue.

The district has hired a consultant to identify properties with under-assessed values and manage appeals to increase property assessments. Hundreds of thousands of tax dollars are at stake.

When litigation over the assessment of the Wyoming Valley Mall concluded in 2012, the Wilkes-Barre Area School District sent the mall owner a refund check of nearly $390,000 for two years of over-taxation, according to assessment records. The Luzerne County-assessed value of the mall property is $76.1 million. It was $89.1 million when mall owner PR Wyoming Valley LP filed a court appeal in 2009.

Last week, the school district filed appeals of tax values on 32 parcels to the Luzerne County Assessment Board of Appeals. Decisions from the county board can be appealed to county Court of Common Pleas.

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EQT Posts $110.9 Million Profit In Latest Quarter

DSC01844EQT Corp. turned a profit as it continues to pull more natural gas from the Marcellus shale and move it to markets on the company’s midstream pipeline systems.

The Pittsburgh-based energy company early Thursday announced it posted $110.9 million in net income, or 73 cents per share, during the three months that ended June 30. That’s a 27 percent increase over the $86.9 million profit on 58 cents a share it recorded in the same quarter last year.

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