Scranton council sets public hearing on recovery plan
Aug 10, 2012 (The Times-Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
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.
"'Take-it-or-leave-it' refers to the tax increases" having a ceiling of 33 percent over three years, Mrs. Evans said. "That certainly hasn't changed."
Rather, any adjustments to the plan are going occur within the framework of a council-sought 33 percent tax increase over three years, half of the 78 percent tax hikes the mayor proposed in May, she said.
For example, Mrs. Evans said the mayor has told her that the city expects to receive a windfall of $1 million in 2013 from permit fees from a largescale construction/renovation project at Geisinger Community Medical Center. That revenue would now be included in the revised recovery plan, she said.
Reached by telephone last night after the council meeting, Geisinger CMC spokesman Matt Van Stone was not able to immediately confirm the amount of permit and construction fees cited by Mrs. Evans.
Mr. Van Stone said, "Geisinger plans on making a significant investment in Scranton, including the growth of programs at CMC and relocation of our Lake Scranton office to downtown, and along with those improvements will come construction and permit fees that we will contribute to the city."
As expected, the council voted 4-0 Thursday to table a second reading of a proposed ordinance to implement the tentative revised recovery plan. The proposed ordinance was introduced in a 3-1 vote on Aug. 2, despite the council having received a letter earlier that day from PEL expressing concern that many of the alternatives to larger tax hikes are speculative revenue sources.
The difference in the mayor's initial 78 percent hikes and the current 33 percent version would be made up by alternative revenues, such as a commuter tax, increased donations from nonprofits and parking-meter enhancements. However, because much of the alternative revenues -- including a 1 percent sales tax that would first have to be approved by the state Legislature -- are speculative, PEL wants the city to replace any money that does not materialize with backup revenues, namely real estate taxes.
Mrs. Evans said Mr. Joyce, who is council finance chairman, determined that if the city abided by the letter of PEL's letter, the tax increase would be 129 percent over three years.
The council has already acknowledged that the overall 33 percent tax increase may not necessarily be set in stone. At the Aug. 2 council meeting, Mr. Joyce said that if a 1 percent sales tax for Lackawanna County does not get approved by the state Legislature, the city would have no choice but to replace the estimated $5.5 million sales tax revenue each year in 2014 and 2015 with real-estate tax hikes. The city is not anticipating any sales tax revenue for 2013.
The city is working under tight deadlines to come up with a plan that is acceptable to PEL, or jeopardize losing $2.2 million in aid from PEL's overseer, the state Department of Community and Economic Development, which offered the aid as an incentive to finally getting a realistic recovery plan.
A second reading was delayed because Mr. Joyce was absent from Thursday's meeting due to the recent death of his grandmother, Mrs. Evans said.
Council set a public hearing on the revised recovery plan for Aug. 16 at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall, followed by the regular meeting at 6:30 p.m., when council is expected to vote on a second reading of the proposed ordinance. If it passes a second reading, a final vote for adoption then would be held during the council's regular meeting on Aug. 23, said Councilman Jack Loscombe.
In other matters, Mrs. Evans, Mr. Loscombe, Mr. McGoff and Councilman Pat Rogan voted to introduce the following:
n A proposed ordinance to transfer $178,000 from non-departmental contingency funds to cover life/disability insurance payments through Dec. 31 in the police, fire and business administration departments of $96,000, $80,000 and $2,000, respectively.
n Three resolutions to accept recommendations from the city's Historical Architecture Review Board regarding removal of an existing awning and installation of a new one of the same dimensions and installation of a custom-made double-sided sign, both at a commercial building at 410 Spruce St.; and removal of an existing awning and installation of a new one of the same dimensions at a commercial building at 406 Spruce St.
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