Scranton City Council meeting, April 9, 2015
Scranton City Council heard several opinions regarding the city’s interest in forming a “Land bank” to deal with blight, overall economic climate, city financial consultant Henry Amoroso, non-profits, and taxes. Citizens Lee Morgan, Ozzie Quinn (president of Hill Neighborhood Association), Ron Helm, Joan Hodowanitz, and Marie Schumacher expressed their views to council.
Ozzie Quinn, president of Hill Neighborhood Association, spoke to the issue of blight and what he called “Out-of-town absentee landowners.” Quinn seem to lay the blame solely on these individuals that he spoke of generally. Quinn recommended the council consider “tax amnesty,” through eliminating “fees” and “penalties,” which he believes would allow citizens to return to paying their taxes. Quinn accused the council of not using their power to deal with blight in the Hill section.
Joan Hodowanitz spoke second on the roster of citizens to speak at the meeting. Hodowanitz reminded council that the 2013 audit was now 313 days overdue. She requested a projected completion date, but none was given before the council meeting was completed. She brought up a cost of $42,292 which was paid for assistance in completing the audit, and asked if there was an RFP (Request for Proposal) for that service. Hodowanitz also asked whether a bid was made. Councilman Gaughan stated he had just learned about the issues she was addressing via email.
Hodowanitz completed her complaints by leaving several questions that she desired answers for. Her questions included, “What is total cost of 2013 audit?” and “Has city ever hired outside audit before? Who? Cost?” and “What other functions are we currently outsourcing? Cost to taxpayers? Cheaper ways?” She suggested utilizing the services of University of Scranton professors, instead of paid assistants.
Lee Morgan started off his allotted time by telling everyone in the audience that there would be a Scranton/Lackawanna County Taxpayer Association meeting?? He expressed that the citizens of Scranton did not have all the information for the Land Bank formation, but felt definite changes were needed in Scranton. Morgan expressed his opinion that city council should be unpaid, and the mayor should be put on part-time. Concerning state level matters, he expressed his support of abolishing property taxes. Morgan feels that blighted structures were held to codes they could not meet and that the decline in Scranton is the result of mismanaged government, and that council and the country has a “lack of vision.” He stated that all of these issues were not just Democrat or Republican issues.
Ronald Helm expressed his issues with the pension problem that is plaguing Scranton. Helm stated that the citizens who vote for the council were being treated like “third-rate citizens.” He went on to described some citizens that were in poverty in Scranton, and his interaction with them. Upon discussing PA Senate Bill 76, there seemed to be a bit of confusion among council. Councilman Rogan clarified that the bill was a state bill, and not a city bill, but explained how he has been promoting it.
David Dobson addressed council about his concerns over the “Pave cut” ordinance. While Dobson was going over his allotted time, the council president loudly interrupted him and said that he is constantly going over his time each week with history lessons, and that he needed to stop it.
Prior to the slated motions on the agenda, each council member took their allotted time for adding additional motions to address the citizen speakers and other issues in the city. The one topic that each member addressed was the citizens speakers’ concern about Mr. Amoroso.
Councilman Wechsler announced that the Scranton Firehouse on East Mountain Road, which houses Engine 10, will be closed until further notice. The fire chief is working to remedy the problem, but Engine 10 will continue to work out of the main headquarters. Wechsler mentioned that there was a study done on East Mountain Road focusing on the road conditions. Suggestions were made, but have not been reviewed yet.
Councilman Rogan stated that investigations are still ongoing into the Rockwell Avenue Bridge, and Main Street will receive patches until the entirety of the road work is completed.
Councilman Evans spent the majority of his time commenting on the formation of Land Banks. Evans stated that they should be treated as “another tool in the tool box,” and hoped council would move forward with plans for their formation.
Councilman Gaughan informed the public that Scranton’s street cleaning program for 2015 will continue onto Moosic Street and East Mountain Road, from April 13 through April 17, so “look out for the street sweeper.” The entire street cleaning program schedule can be found on Scrantonpa.gov, under the Public Works section. Gaughan said residents on Morris Avenue and another street requested pothole repair, and the issue will be discussed.
Councilman Gaughan concluded his time addressing the Land Bank formation. He stated that council had a meeting earlier in the evening about it, and the discussion was very helpful. Gaughan proposed a motion (which passed) to send a letter to Mayor Courtwright and the Lackawanna County Commissioners to create an exploratory committee for the potential formation of a Land Bank.
Council president McGoff addressed issues with nonprofits, stating that although they do not provide funding, they produce “quid pro quo” for services rendered. He cited one nonprofit which gave $25,000 toward the swimming pool, and Lackawanna College for having provided a free venue for council meetings in the past. Councilmen Wechsler, Rogan, and McGoff came to Mr. Amoroso’s defense, but generally stated that he was appointed and is an adviser to the mayor, and that council makes the final decisions. Wechsler and McGoff spoke to his reputation and his being helpful so far to the city.
There were three separate sets of motions on the agenda for the April 9 meeting. There was one motion to amend the city operating budget to add an account for civilian parking enforcement tickets. Another motion was to continue exploration of concessions or lease agreements for parking in the city. A third motion was to update the list of historic properties in Scranton to include the Cleland House on 520 Madison avenue.
A motion was also made to appoint two people to the Historical Architectural Review Board. A further motion concerned naming the 1000-block of Luke Avenue en route to St. Rocco’s Church, before Scranton/Dunmore border, Guardia Dei Lombardi Way. Further details about these motions can be found here:
All motions were passed.