Scranton City Council meeting, April 23, 2015

Attendees of the April 23 Scranton City Council meeting heard from residents Ron Helm, Joan Hodowanitz, Marie Schumacher, Dave Dobson, Les Spindler, Gerard Hetman (from the Lackawanna County Community Relations Department), among others. The topics for discussion at the meeting were land banks, the Ice Box complex, the Local Services Tax tripling, garbage fees, the Scranton City audit, and the city’s 150th festivities.

Council President McGoff started off the proceedings by announcing that the Harrison Avenue Bridge will be closed until Monday, and potentially closed until Tuesday. The structure will remain open to emergency access vehicles. McGoff brought to the attention to those in attendence that Scranton was actually established April 23, 1866. He also noted that the tripling of the Local Services Tax (LST) was approved in court on April 23 by Judge Braxton.

Joan Hodowanitz was again the first citizen to speak in the citizen participation segment. She again reminded council that the 2013 audit was late. According to Hodowantiz, it is over 320 days late. The audit was completed the day prior, April 22. The audit, as she points out, is not located on Scranton’s website or the library. She states that the parking audit for December 2013 was not performed, and an audit was not sought. (At the time of posting, the Independent Gazette cannot confirm information from the audit, as it is not posted online.)

Hodowanitz criticized the city for taking a $4 million loan for the parking authority. She suggested that the City of Scranton should hire someone to do the audit work within city government, and should not have to hire an outside agency. She asked when the 2014 audit would be completed, but was told the city had until October before a late penalty could be levied against it.

Scrantonian Les Spindler expressed concern over his city garbage bill. Councilman Rogan responded to Spindler’s concerns by stating that he was in favor of a per-bag rate. Spindler also mentioned that Bulwark Street needs a new stop sign, and the corner of North Sumner and Pettibone streets has no such notice. Councilman McGoff directed him to DPW, but Spindler claimed he never gets anyone when he calls.

During the council’s motions and comments time of the meeting, all council members of offered comments, but no motions were made.

Councilman Wechsler spoke about the tripling of the LST, and said he feels that — unlike the Commuter Tax — it will be a permanent tax. He hopes it will get the budget in line. He said the Mall hangs over the city’s head and that he would like to see a monthly report on the city audit.

Councilman Rogan started off his time segment by thanking Scranton Tomorrow for putting together Scranton’s 150th Aniniversary celebration. He addressed the talk on “social media and blogs” about ideas for the future of the Steamtown Mall. Rogan said some were good, and others were out there. Regarding businesses and different concepts, he discussed the opening bids for the purchase of the Mall at Steamtown, stating that he felt the main issue with the mall is Mr. Boscov himself, and that he only cares about himself. Rogan speculated that Boscov was trying to devalue the property and buy the building cheap. He stated that issues the mall faces is not just a Scranton issue, but that other malls in other areas were facing similar concerns. Rogan addressed the current pension crisis by briefly reviewing minutes for the meeting that the council received at this time.

Rogan stated he is concerned about the double pensions issue, as months have gone by, but no answers have been supplied. He read from some of the council meeting minutes, withholding any names. Amidst the information he read, he brought to light that the lawyers will not be releasing the information to the public, unless the employees under investigation agree to the release. Some are also asserting that the Sunshine Act does not apply.

Rogan also brought to light and addressed an idea for the mall that Lackawanna County was looking to undertake. The proposal is to turn the mall into county goverment offices. Rogan stated that “we don’t need more government offices.”

Councilman Evans brought up House Bill 316 while addressing the pension problem that was a topic of discussion during the meeting. He advised citzens to urge state representatives Blake, Farina, and Quinn to take a look at the pension reform bill. Evans said that with municipalities foundering, it was important to look into the legislation. In a prepared statement, he called 2015 a “critical year” for the City of Scranton. He also feels that “we can no longer wait for slow, glacial pace of city government.”

Councilman Gaughan mentioned that the street sweeper schedule has been revised. He stated that, at this time, the mayor has not responded concerning the matter of forming a land bank. Gaughn said the city shouldn’t wait any longer. He feels it is appropriate to caucus Mr. Amoroso, Mayor Courtright, and Mr. Mulzoni on the affects of the Local Services Tax increase.

Council President McGoff stated that although the 2013 audit’s been completed, there remain questions. He expressed his dissatisfaction with the city receiver and how they do not respond to the city, because they are appointed by bond insurers. McGoff agrees with one citizen’s comments that some should be hired in local government to conduct the city audits, and that it would be an asset. He claimed the cost for audit prep is minimal compared to the overall budget. As far as the 2014 audit completion, penalties exist, if the review is not conducted in an efficient, effective manner. He hopes it will be completed before October. As far as concerns relating to the Ice Box complex, and seeing a return for the city’s help in its completion, McGoff feels it is an ongoing concern. However, he stated that “no one here was involved with that contract.” McGoff said that when the KOZ ran out, taxes began to be paid. He called the property an asset.

All motions to be introduced, and motions to be adopted were passed. See the meeting’s agenda here.

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