Scranton City Council meeting, May 21, 2015

Attendees of the May 21 Scranton City Council meeting heard from residents Ron Ellman, Joan Hodowanitz, Marie Schumacher, David Dobson, Justine Yager, and Gerard Hetman (from the Lackawanna County Community Relations Department). The topics of discussion at the evening’s meeting were the state of the city, city government transparency, the 2014 city audit, Henry Amoroso, and Amoroso’s Scranton City recovery plan.

Scranton resident Ron Ellman, frequent council meeting attendee, started off his time in the citizens’ participation segment in frustration, exclaiming, “Enough is enough. When is something going to be done to help the people?” He said that council had a buffer, but not the people. Ellman said that Scranton neighborhoods were in decline, and the city was begining to look like the City of Hazleton. He told council that the Amoroso recovery plan was a complete failure, just as his Newark recovery plan was, as he encouraged anyone to research it.

Ellman gave credit to former council members Janet Evans and Lascombe for dealing with issues related to the Scranton Parking Authority. Ellman cautioned selling the sewer authority, as he said rates will skyrocket, and people will not even be able to pay to flush their toilets. Ellman expressed his concerns that Henry Amoroso has essentially replaced the mayor, asking, “What are his duties?” Ellman criticized Amoroso for seeming to have “never opened a book on pensions.” Also, he again charged that Amoroso is being paid by nonprofits, and asked how he could help based on this revelation. He accused Scranton City Council of having no credibility, and criticized the condition of city roads, as he stated that he cannot afford a new car because he has to pay to repair his current vehicle, due to excessive pot holes.

Resident Joan Hodowanitz was next on the list of citizen speakers. She urged residents to attend the Scranton Public Libary’s event Monday, May 22. She again asked that council look into getting updates on the city’s recovering plan, and asked that Henry Amoroso provide an update before city council’s August recess. Hodowanitz also expressed her desire to see Mayor Courtright hold a town hall meeting to hear his views, and address the public in a Q&A fashion. She also called on city council to post more documentation online, in an effort to show greater government transparency. Hodowanitz believes that the city should post as much documentation as possible on the city’s website. She again spoke about Scranton’s 2014 city budget.

David Dobson, another council meeting regular, followed Hodowanitz in the list of citizen speakers. He again read off Congress and the White House’s phone numbers for citizens to address various grievances that are currently on their minds. He criticized the city’s trash collection system, as he explained that for the past several years he could not pay by mail because the city computer systems never have his correct address. Dobson did say that the issue was finally addressed and remedied. He spoke out about Keystone Opportunity Zones (KOZs), and asked how much they cost, and how much was awarded. Dobson did not receive an answer before end of meeting. He said that he did not want to beat up on Henry Amoroso, but suggested the city seek a second opinion.

Marie Schumacher was the final speaker of the evening. She inquired about an ordinance involving the property at 420 N. Washington Ave., as she explained that her online research indicated that the property was owned by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Councilman Evans told Schumacher that the property was the Scranton Cultural Center, but had no explanation to her concern. She inquired about some of the questions she brought last meeting, but was told the council had not retrieved the answers for her. Schumacher requested a update and status on the city’s revised recovery plan. She stated an update was suppose to be given within 180 days of the beginning of the plan, and it was definitely past that date. Councilman McGoff suggested she ask the adminstration that question. She raised an inquiry about the status of the landbank idea which the council, and particularly Gaughan, has raised. Gaughan told her the proposal was at a standstill. Gaughan explained that the mayor stated that he was trying to form an exploratory committee, and that he would be meeting with the mayor the next day to discuss.

Scranton City Council members offered comments prior to the time for the evening’s motions to be voted upon.

Councilman Wechsler spoke about marching in the Armed Forces Day parade, and stated that there were over 75 participants. He observed many people who appeared touched emotionally by the parade, and he congratulated everyone in involved. Wechsler said he was contact by several residents about issues, including one from Davis street, and said he is working to addres their concerns. He expressed his own concern about delinquent city trash fees, and stressed that they needed to be looked into because there was a “tremendous” amount of revenue out there. Wechsler addressed some residents’ proposal to preserve the Harrison Avenue Bridge and turn it into a park as not feasible. He came to this conclusion after speaking to PennDOT, as they explained the city would need to take possession, repair, and maintain the property. He said it was not feasible based on cost, but a good idea nevertheless which would be tabled in favor of looking into other ideas.

Councilman Rogan congratulated the May 19 Primary election winners, specifically Councilman Mcgoff. He feels Scranton needs a city reassessment, and taxes need to be fair. He said the valley is not same as it was 20 years ago. He pointed out that some residents are filing to have tax assessments reduced, and called it a race to the bottom. Rogan was hopeful, with the current commissioners now both from Scranton, that the issue can be addressed. He spoke to residents’ concerns about a property on the 300 block of N. Sumner Avenue which remained the site of leftover scaffolding, years after a chimney repair was completed. He will contact the appropriate parties to look into the issue. A resident in the Scranton Housing Authority complained that they can’t recycle anything, so Rogan said he is looking into that issue, too. He addressed the fact that he was voting against Item 7a. Athough it was a more conservative approach, it didn’t work last time when Mayor Doherty tried it. Rogan expressed his disgust with an article in the newspaper regarding the Steamtown Mall, as it criticized Scranton residents’ suggestions.

Rogan said the current Boscov’s plan isn’t working, and something needs to be done. The councilman feels that the anchor department store should have a place in any plan. He expressed his interest in the Reading Terminal model that he claimed was gaining traction. It’s work in other places, Rogan said. He feels Boscov’s and other retailers would see increased traffic under this plan. Rogan again expressed his distaste for Lackwana County’s idea of turning the mall into county government offices, and hopes it is scrapped.

Councilman Evans spoke to an event he was involved with that decorated the fence around the Harrison Avenue Bridge that he said was met with support from stopped cars, while others honked as they drove down the expressway. He said the decorations placed a smile on the face of some passersby. The pictures are on facebook, and he recognized those who helped. Evans advised to “stay tuned,” as a similar outing could be coming to a neighborhood near you. He addressed the suggestion of a meeting with Amoroso as a good idea, and said the council has been proactive thus far. He criticized state representatives for not voting for the pension reform and property tax reform bills, and cited Representative Farina as one of the dissenting Assembly members.

Councilman Mcgoff brought up Red Nose Day as an event he feels has gained importance. He said he believed Walgreen’s and some “celebrities” took up the idea that he explained “raised money through humor for childhood poverty.” He hoped the charity day remained, as he felt it was good and worthy cause. McGoff said that red noses sold out and were impossible to find, as he held one to show council.

McGoff addressed the Scranton Parking Authority proposal that was taken up by the previous council as an action that increased yearly fees and destroyed the city’s credit rating. He said maybe there were better ways to address the parking authority debt. McGoff expressed his concern about “one side of the street parking,” stating he has received multiple complaints and calls about residents getting tickets for parking in the wrong direction. He said some complaints were legitimate, like some of the city’s elderly not being able to follow the rule.

McGoff spoke to the city solicitor about it, and there is no easy way around it. However, in the coming weeks he hopes to find a way to alleviate the stress of the residents. He expressed his concerns about the Steamtown Mall, and Al Boscov holding up any new plans. He called Boscov a “great business man,” but not “good for the city.” McGoff feels that Boscov needs to consider new options, and hopefully any new mall plans will still include his department store.

All ordinances passed, including a previously tabled item, but not all were unanimous. On item 7a, which was the plan to sell the city’s outstanding real estate tax liens to Public Assest Management, Councilman Rogan voted “no,” as he believed there was a better option that had a smaller interest rate than the current 6 percent rate proposed. Gaughan called the move “creative.” Evans understood Rogan’s concern, but voted “yes.” Item 5c was passed unanmously, but councilman Gaughan explained that the plan will properly address a common complaint about “pave cuts.” He listed some specificity of the ordinance that was introduced in the “yes” vote:

• inspection fee raised
• upon completion of projects, there would be a five-year gap where no work could be performed at the same spot
• anyone excavating will need to replace traffic patterns
• road service would need to be restored after work, and if the road is torn up completely during the work, it needs to be restored curb to curb

Those are just some of the new requirements that Gaughan believes will solve the pave cut problem. Councilman Evans requested more information before the final vote, as he was concerned about higher fees to excavation companies.

The meeting agenda may be found here.

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