Scranton City Council meeting, May 7, 2015

Attendees of the May 7 Scranton City Council meeting heard from residents Ron Helm, Joan Hodowanitz, Marie Schumacher, Dave Dobson, Lee Morgan, Les Spindler, among others. The topics for discussion at the meeting were the Landfill, city pension problem, Mr. Amoroso, council meeting attendance, and Quality of Life ticketing.

One of the first citizens to speak in the citizens participation segment of the evening was Lee Morgan. Morgan discussed his concerns with the Scranton City pensions crisis, as he does not feel the state will be able to solve it. In fact, he suggested they are only going to make matters worse. He also spoke at length about the state of the country, and Pennsylvania, and how both parties were to blame. Morgan also spoke positively about 2016 presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, and his entrance into the race.

Les Spindler spoke out against the fact that no one in Jessup wants the landfill, and suggested that they bring it to Scranton. Spindler expressed his feelings that no one wants the site because they are unwilling to have it in their backyard. He expressed his feelings that town hall meetings were a waste of time because no one comes to city council meetings to begin with, as he explained that he has been coming to Scranton City Council meetings for 13 years. However, he praised Mayor Courtright for attending a meeting, as Mayor Doherty did not.

Joan Hodowanitz, a council meeting regular, was next in line to speak. She spoke of her attendance to the State of the City speech that Mayor Courtright recently gave. She hopes in the future that a better venue would be made available, and possibly that ECTV would broadcast it. Hodowanitz expressed how she appreciates Courtright’s optimism and strong opening comments, but she would like to “see the math” that backs his optimism. She spoke on a recent pension change, and how public sector has to contribute 6 percent now. Veteran employees, she explained, did not pay. She was pleased to see new and future employees would. She expressed concern about the new labor contracts because the city will not know the impact until next state Attorney Generals audit is released.

Marie Schumacher questioned the percentage of Quality of Life tickets being given in low-income and HUD areas. She was not given an answer by the close of the meeting. She called any QoL tickets being handed out to such residents discrimination. Councilman Wechsler expressed that there will naturally be a disparity. The remainder of Schumacher’s questions were not available to be answered by council before close of meeting. She again reiterated that regular updates were needed for Scranton residents.

David Dobson again brought Congress and the President’s phone numbers, so residents can contact them about issues directly. In particular to this meeting, Dobson spoke out against the Trans Pacific Trade agreement that has been in contention since the agreement became public knowledge. He said it will cause loss of jobs and stagnant wages. He spoke on the issue of the Baltimore riots, and said if the rioters had jobs they might not be acting out like that. Dobson took issue with the city fining residents for litter, but not for excessive speeding. He suggested the city “round up” delinquent trash fees and put them into city pensions. He took issue with the tripling of the LST tax, and suggested that the city was putting a “monkey wrench in the gear box,” as he referenced his time as a mechanic.

Citizen Ron Helm opened his time with the question of whether something California’s Proposition 13 can be utilized in Scranton, but more confusion than answers resulted. His other question was regarding Henry Amoroso being paid by Lackawanna College, and whether or not that was a conflict of interest. Both questions did not received an answer by close of meeting. He spoke to a member of council, possibly Councilman Gaughan, and told hm to disassociate himself with the rest of council. He expressed discontent with the remaining members of council, and stated that there were “enough young people interested in politics.” He said Gaughn was getting a bad reputation by association. He said the city was lacking leadership, and that all Scranton does is “tax,tax,tax.” Helm stated that the Amoroso plan did nothing for Scranton last year, and will never do anything for the city. It simply raised taxes.

Councilman Wechsler thanked Scranton Tomorrow for what he saw as a successful 150th celebration for Scranton. He estimated that 200,000 people were in attendance at the mall. He said sales were up in the few remaining stores in the mall. Wechsler said that his schedule did not permit his attendance at the State of City address, but agrees every citizen should attend. He said the mayor made good points, and feels the council and mayor have common goals. He took time to welcome new police to city, and feels they add to the good record Scranton’s police have. He praised the results of new labor contracts that gave new police hires over $37,000 per year.

Councilman Evans expressed concern with the rental registration ordinance. He said the last time the council met with the mayor, this was the main topic of discussion. Evans feels that it needs to be revised to make it simpler and reduce fees. He made some suggestions on how to do just that. Outsource the enforcement of the ordinance, utilize colored stickers to identify that properties are registered. Evan said there should be no debate the enforcement should be outsourced. He said the current state of affairs were not fair to landlords who paid or citizens who expect good government.

Councilman Gaughan used the majority of his allotted time to discuss a better way for government to connect with its citizens in an engaging, cost-effective way. He mentioned a smart phone app that was created in the city of Boston called City Connect App. Gaughan stated that he put together a meeting for an app for Scranton in the past, but it went nowhere. He said the benefits of such a Scranton-centric app would be alerting the city to pot holes, damage signs, graffiti illegal trash, faulty lights, and loud jackhammering with pictures. He called it the digital equivalent to a police scanner. Gaughan said he will continue to pursue the idea, and suggested some type of contest could be held to have citizens create it.

Councilman Rogan said the city is making a lot of progress the residents can’t see. He said the progress being made will manifest in taxes decreases and eventual tax cuts, as budgets are developed over the next few years. He remains optimistic. Rogan wrote to Scranton City police chief Graziano, commending Scranton’s police as being “part of the solution,” and not having the issues communities like Baltimore seem to be having. He said a lot of cities police officers are getting bad reputation through media coverage.

All motions to be introduced, and motions to be adopted were passed. However, Councilman Gaughan addressed his “yes” vote to adopt the triple increase in Scranton Local Services Tax. He said that he was voting “yes” because he did not want to delay the vote. He expressed his concern with the mayor pushing through legislation quickly with little time or discussion with council. He said pushing through legislation in mere weeks was not good. Gaughan said he hoped this was not the way things were going to be going forward.

All motions to be introduced, and motions to be adopted were passed. See the meeting’s agenda here:http://www.scrantonpa.gov/council_agendas/2015/05-07-2015%20Agenda.pdf

Other links of interest:

http://www.californiataxdata.com/pdf/Prop13.pdf

http://www.cityofboston.gov/doit/apps/citizensconnect.asp

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