Scranton, Pennsylvania

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Transparency grading process
Scranton is a city in Pennsylvania with a population of 76,000.[1]

Website evaluation

The good

  • Contact information for elected officials is posted.[2]
  • Meeting agendas and minutes are posted online.[3]
    • Adobe Reader is required to view the minutes and agendas.
  • Information on how to file a public records request is posted.[4]
  • Budget information is posted.[5]
    • Budgets from last nine years posted on site.
  • Annual audits are posted.[6]
    • Audits for previous eight years are posted.
  • Zoning information and building permits are posted.[7]
  • Some tax information is posted, particularly dealing with delinquent taxes.[8]

The bad

  • Although telephone numbers for administrative officials are posted, emails are not.[9]
  • Information on taxpayer funded lobbying efforts is not posted.
  • Information on city bids and purchases is not posted.
  • Most tax information, including a breakdown of local tax rates is not posted.

Budget

The Scranton budget is in such dire circumstances the city reduced the pay of every employee to $7.25 per hour, the state minimum wage, on July 7, 2012.[10] The city employs 398 individuals.[11] When the mayor initially announced pay cuts on June 27, he said that the city planned to pay all withheld salaries once the financial crisis is over.[12]

After the city issued the reduced paychecks, it only had $5,000 in its account. The town has essentially run out of money. The city mayor is hoping to fill the $16.8-million hole by raising taxes, including a proposed 78 percent tax hike over three years and increases in garbage fee.[12] The city council instead wants to borrow and refinance the funds until the city can right its finances, although banks want a new recovery plan before they again would consider providing loans or financing that the city needs to fill a $16.8 million budget gap this year.[12] The council has rejected any tax hikes over 10 percent each year.[12] The council also refused in June 2012 to honor a guarantee that the city had placed on the revenue bonds issued by its parking authority, a move that led the municipal bond market to cut off credit because it interpreted the council's move as an indication that the city might also default on its own bonds.[1]

Public employee unions sought to stop the reductions and although Lackawanna County Judge Michael Barrasse issued an injunction, the mayor issued the checks anyway.[10] On July 10, 2012, the city's police, fire and public works unions filed three lawsuits against Mayor Chris Doherty and the city over the decision to pay employees minimum wage.[12][11]

  • A lawsuit filed in federal court under the Fair Labor Standards Act accusing the city of failing to pay wages on time and failing to pay overtime.
  • A lawsuit filed in Lackawanna County Court seeks to hold the mayor in contempt for violating a judges order.
  • A lawsuit filed in federal court alleges that benefits for disabled police and firefighters were cut without a hearing.

Scranton has been designated as financially distressed for 20 years under state Act 47.[12]

The city's request for a $16 million loan from the municipal pension fund was tabled because the pension plan is also considered financially distressed. The city request equal to more than one-third of the plan's total assets.[13]

Proposed 2013 Budget

The city's proposed budget for 2013 begins to address the pension problem by more than doubling the city's mandatory minimum obligation to its pension fund. The city will contribute in 2013 a total of $9.5 million to its three employees pension funds (police, fire and nonuniform), which would be an increase of $5.1 million over the $4.4 million contributed this year.[14]

A recent report by the state Department of the Auditor General showed Scranton's pension fund as of June 30, 2011, had $173 million in liabilities, but only $60 million in assets, for a fund ratio of 34 percent, among the lowest in the state.[15]

Scranton's three pension funds were delineated in the state report as follows:[16]

  • Firefighter: 137 active members; $86.6 million in liabilities, $24.7 million in assets; fund ratio of 29 percent.
  • Nonuniform: 169 members; $12.2 million in liabilities; $3.2 million in assets; fund ratio of 26 percent.
  • Police: 150 members; $74.5 million in liabilities; $31.8 million in assets; fund ratio of 43 percent.
  • Combined total: 456 members; $173.3 million in liabilities; $59.7 million in assets; fund ratio of 34 percent.

External links

References