IssuesPA

January 2 2011

Published January 2

City Council overrides 2011 budget veto, manning clause

By Rich Howells (rhowells@golackawanna.com)
Reporter/Photographer

SCRANTON – City Council overrode the mayor’s veto of their amended 2011 budget on Tuesday, effectively signing it into law. They also overrode the mayor’s veto of two staffing ordinances for the police and fire departments. The legality of the manning clauses has been contested by Mayor Chris Doherty.

Before the vote, Councilman Pat Rogan said there were three reasons why council must pass its amended $74.9 million budget over the mayor’s proposed $75.5 million budget.

“One, council’s budget does not make cuts to police or fire protection for our residents. Two, council’s budget includes a tax decrease for our homeowners and our business owners, keeping more in your pockets. And three, council’s budget is the first step towards getting Scranton back on the right financial track by cutting wasteful spending and reducing taxes,” Rogan said.

The vote was 4-1, with Councilman Bob McGoff dissenting. McGoff originally supported council’s budget, but explained that he now has “concerns” after further examination. He questioned council’s revenue projections and cuts to the Department of Public Works, saying that neither the mayor’s proposed budget or council’s is “sustainable.”

“I don’t want to see it come down to a situation where we’re deciding whether to pick up garbage or remove snow, and I think that is a very serious possibility,” McGoff said.

Doherty shared many of McGoff’s concerns in his veto letter to council, dated December 22. Council’s estimates of wage tax revenue, delinquent real estate tax revenue and collections, local service tax revenue, housing rental license fees, and parking ticket fees lack “concrete empirical data,” he said. He also wrote that there is no “concrete support” for decreases in employer tax expenditure, utility costs, overtime costs for DPW, legal professional fees, and building maintenance without any recommendations on how “to continue and maintain these vital services.”

He ended his letter by asking council how they would “address a potential fiscal shortfall in 2011.”

“I am confident that (Councilman Frank Joyce’s) numbers will pan out over the course of the next year,” Rogan responded.

Joyce addressed the letter directly, arguing that not only are council’s estimates lower in many cases than the administrations and Pennsylvania Economy League’s numbers, but that council’s projections were many times based on estimates by the administration and PEL themselves. PEL aided the administration in formulating the budget and serves as the city’s Recovery Plan coordinator.

“Council’s 2011 projected revenue is actually $240,000 less than PEL’s,” Joyce said after the meeting, citing a presentation PEL gave to council in October.

Joyce said that the administration has also underestimated wage taxes.

On the two ordinances that set staffing requirements for the city’s police and fire departments, the mayor said in his veto letter that they violate the provisions of the Home Rule Charter, the administrative code, “and controlling state law, among other legal issues.”

Citing the Home Rule Charter and an October 29 Commonwealth Court Ruling, he wrote that “the Mayor is granted all powers, duties and authority traditionally accrued to the executive authority pursuant to the City’s Home Rule Charter,” adding that “it is certainly within the purview of this office and this administration to enforce the Recovery Plan and comply with controlling state law.”

Council voted 4-1 to override the mayor’s veto on both the police and fire staffing requirements, with McGoff dissenting, saying council was overstepping their authority. The ordinances require that staffs of 137 firefighters and 150 police officers must be maintained at all times, and all vacancies must be filled within 30 days of a created vacancy.

Councilman John Loscombe said that the Commonwealth Court Ruling also said that while the court wasn’t mandating a certain number of firefighters, “there was a concern for the safety of the firefighters with less manning.”

“This ruling says ‘the City,’ not ‘the mayor,’ has management rights,” Loscombe said.

While both sides acknowledged the possibility of going to court over the public safety management rights, President of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 60 Dave Gervasi made the union’s intentions very clear during public comments.

“We will take (Doherty) to court immediately if he does violate that city law,” Gervasi said in response to Councilman John Loscombe’s question about filling empty positions.

Gervasi said that he doesn’t believe that there is a nearly $6 million deficit, but the city administration has been using the excuse that they’re “broke” to regularly cut police officers and firefighters and deny them overdue raises. He also argued against the shift changes implemented by the mayor and the lack of overtime hours provided “to keep the city safe.”

“Starting on January 1, I want the public to know that Engine 9 on Main Avenue will be permanently closed. Engine 4 at headquarters will be closed, we assume, about 60 to 70 percent of the time…The next company to close if we have a few men injured at a fire, if they’re still off injured, Engine 8 on Market Street will be closed,” Gervasi explained, adding that they may also move Rescue 1 to Engine 8’s house.

“St. Peter’s Cathedral last week had a fire. Engine 4 was the first on the scene. They were there within three minutes. Engine 9 was the second company on the scene. They kept that from being a catastrophe,” Gervasi said.

The mayor did not return several requests for comment in the last week.

 

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