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Mayor Chris Doherty unveils proposed 2011 $75.5 million budget with sweeping changes

Published: November 16, 2010

Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty on Monday unveiled a $75.5 million 2011 budget proposal that calls for the elimination of 69 positions, a plan he hopes will lead the city out of distressed status in three years.

“This is an important budget, and we feel it is also a foundation for the future,” Mr. Doherty said of the plan, which represents a decrease of about 3 percent from the current $77.8 million budget.

The proposal, which will be reviewed – and likely changed – by city council, calls for the elimination of 34 firefighters, 10 police officers, nine administrators, 10 clerical workers and five public works personnel. The city has 144 firefighters and 150 police officers.

The 10 police posts are occupied positions, while 29 of the 34 fire department jobs are occupied and five are vacancies. Two of the administrative positions would be alternatively funded with federal money via the Office of Economic and Community Development, while two are vacant and five occupied positions would be eliminated. In the DPW and clerical staff, the eliminations would be layoffs.

The proposed 2011 budget does not raise taxes, use one-time revenue sources or accrue new debt. It also calls for the restructuring of the Fire Department and personnel shifts in the Police Department. Proposals for restructuring the Fire Department include the elimination of three companies and the closure of a firehouse on Wyoming Avenue.

Speaking during an editorial board meeting at The Times-Tribune on Monday, Mr. Doherty said the proposed budget is a foundation that the city will use to get out of distressed status.

The city, which is developing a revised recovery plan, has been distressed under state Act 47 since 1992.

Mr. Doherty also said the proposed budget changes will allow residents to maintain their quality of life and maintain public safety.

The mayor said the administration had planned to make cuts in public safety following a Commonwealth Court ruling in 2009 that upheld Act 47 over Act 111 involving the city’s unions. After a Commonwealth Court ruling last month that reaffirmed the city’s management rights but also granted wage increase to the unions, Mr. Doherty said the city decided to make larger cuts. The mayor’s budget estimates the salary impact will be $3.8 million in 2011.

Business Administrator Stu Renda acknowledged the court case will result in additional costs in future years, but said an estimate has not been developed.

Reached after the meeting, Council President Janet Evans said lawmakers will examine the mayor’s proposal “line by line,” but made it clear she believes the mayor’s proposal would “cripple” public safety and jeopardize the welfare and safety of residents.

Sgt. Bob Martin, head of the police union, said any cuts in personnel would be “irresponsible.”

“This administration has brought themselves from their typical bush-league oversight of the fire and police departments to now crossing over the threshold of being a serious danger to our residents,” wrote firefighters union President Dave Gervasi in an e-mail.

Attempts to contact Councilmen Frank Joyce, John Loscombe and Bob McGoff were unsuccessful. Councilman Pat Rogan said he was reviewing the mayor’s proposed spending plan.

Mrs. Evans, together with Mr. Rogan, Mr. Joyce and Mr. Loscombe comprise a veto-proof supermajority which took control of council in January. They have previously said they plan to maintain current levels of public safety, including possibly restoring cuts made by the mayor. The majority lawmakers have also indicated support for cutting administrative pay and positions, similar to what they unsuccessfully attempted earlier this year.

In the spring, the supermajority lost a court battle when the mayor vetoed its attempt to cut $694,986 from the $77.1 million 2010 budget that was passed by Mr. McGoff and the outgoing council in December. The council’s amendments included pay cuts and elimination of the parks and recreation director.

They may have failed in their attempt to amend the previous council’s budget, but the law is on the supermajority’s side going into 2011. The four standing together have the power to override the mayor should he try to veto their changes.

The mayor, meanwhile, has said he won’t challenge council in court as he did earlier this year.

Asked Tuesday how lawmakers would fund restoration of public safety cuts in the mayor’s budget proposal, Mrs. Evans declined to comment until council presents its amendments.

Administrators would not see pay increases under the mayor’s proposal, but they also would not have their salaries cut.

Mr. Doherty said he did not cut administrators’ pay because he believes they should receive competitive wages.

The mayor is recommending some of the changes – such as merging the Parks and Recreation Department with DPW and eliminating the parks and recreation director position – based on the expectation of additional council cuts.

The mayor’s budget proposal calls for $450,000 in cuts to the administration, which currently represents $1.7 million in wages. DPW, which currently costs $3.6 million in wages, is slated for $370,000 in cuts; clerical, which costs $2 million in wages, is slated for $300,000 in cuts; police, which costs $8.2 million in wages, is slated for $1.4 million in cuts; and fire, which costs $8.3 million in wages, is slated for $1.5 million in cuts.

Council’s next regular meeting is this evening. The budget must be adopted by Dec. 15.

Contact the writer: jmrozinski@timesshamrock.comHighlights from Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty’s 2011 budget proposal:

  • Wages account for $24,079,871. Tax anticipation notes are the next largest spending item and account for $15,190,000, followed by health insurance at $11,328,017.
  • Police officers from the daytime shift will be required to overlap with the second shift, with a maximum of eight officers overlapping to ensure adequate coverage during a busy time when many crimes occur.
  • The budget calls for the use of $666,807 in federal funds through the Office of Economic and Community Development to pay for 13 existing officers for beat patrol.
  • n The budget contains $35,000 for a memorial for Marine Lance Cpl. Larry M. Johnson at Nay Aug Park and $120,000 for a new park on Perry Avenue.
  • The city in 2011 expects to start to collect delinquent property tax revenue through the treasurer’s office with the assistance of the law department. It is projecting it will collect $1.6 million in delinquent real estate tax revenue.
  • The city is projecting $183,250 worth of payments-in-lieu-of-taxes revenue for 2011. This year, Covenant Presbyterian Church has provided a $1,000 payment in lieu of tax; Lutherwood, $6,000; Mulberry Poets, $100; and Scranton Housing Authority, $20,213.97. The University of Scranton says it plans to provide a $175,000 payment in lieu of taxes.
  • With expiration of Keystone Opportunity Zone, the city expects to receive $500,000 more in property tax revenue. Current real estate revenue is expected to be $14,250,000.

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