Former Mayors Chime in on Scranton’s Finances

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The city of Scranton is getting dangerously close to running out of money as officials wait to secure a loan to pay bills. That's Scranton's immediate problem, but in the future, residents could face steep tax increases to pay off debt.

Former mayors of the Electric City said the city's financial problems go back many years.

Jim Connors was only a few months into his 10-year stint as Scranton's mayor when the city he was running went to "distressed" status.

That was 20 years ago, and Mayor Connors said the city is finally reaching its financial breaking point.

"I'll never forget it. I remember (Governor) Tom Ridge sending me an awful letter urging us to go into distressed status. I knew it wasn't a good idea and it's kind of come to fruition now," Connors said.

Connors added that the state intervention led Scranton to years of arbitration with the city's unions. Which, he said, is the reason why Scranton could be facing bankruptcy now.

The remainder of Scranton's 2012 budget depends on a $16 million loan. City council has, so far, failed to secure that loan because city council and current Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty haven't been able to agree on tax plan to pay back the loan.

"The administration and city council need to get together, and show one face to the people, show one face to the state, and they have to get together and work something out. They can't keep fighting," said Connors.

"It's a very distressful time for the city of Scranton and really all of Lackawanna County," said another former Scranton mayor, David Wenzel.

Wenzel was mayor of Scranton from 1986 through 1990. He said he's followed the city's recent financial history with a heavy heart.

Wenzel thinks Scranton will be saved from bankruptcy by the state. However, he said there's no way out of the city's hole without significant tax increases and changes to how the city is run.

"What's the way out? Good people coming together and realizing that we all have to make sacrifices all around. The word for the future is sacrifice," added Wenzel.

The sacrifice for Scranton residents could be a 70% tax increase over the next three years.

That's what Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty has proposed to pay off the $16 million loan that the city needs to pay its bills for the rest of this year.