SCRANTON — The new mayor-elect in Scranton says he knew what he was getting into taking over the leadership of a city that’s massively in debt and currently owes its own employees more than $20 million.
Bill Courtright was the Democratic nominee for mayor and won the race handily Tuesday night over Republican challenger Jim Mulligan. It’s a change in administration for the city of Scranton for the first time in 12 years during one of the most financially trying times the city has ever had.
You could say that Courtright had an easy election night, accepting victory early on. The man who started out as a karate instructor is now arguably the most powerful person in Scranton government. And he admits he doesn’t have it easy anymore.
“I knew going in that I was going to be walking into a mess, so it’s no surprise. I know how bad it is, I know that it’s going to be tough to get us out of this mess. But I’m going to be surrounding myself with good people and we’re going to come out of this. We’re going to be fine.”
Newswatch 16 met up with the mayor-elect at the single tax office in Scranton that Courtright has presided over for three years. When he moves into the mayor’s office in January, he’ll be handed a budget crafted by the current mayor and council.
“Even when I was knocking on doors, I didn’t want to lie to people. They would ask me about taxes and I would tell them, ‘I think you’re going to see a significant tax increase this year, there’s no other way around it.’”
One thing Courtright plans to do immediately is try to improve the city’s bond rating to get a better interest rate on the debt Scranton already has. He’s also counting on his good relationship with Scranton’s employee unions. He hopes to save money with their contracts.
“I don’t think you’re going to be real successful asking them to open them up. I think there are some things in the contracts that I can ask them to change to save the city money. I think that’s a definite possibility.”
Aside from Scranton’s finances, Courtright hopes to mark his four-year term by fighting blight in the city, getting abandoned homes back on the tax rolls, and making the city’s neighborhoods more attractive.
“You’ll be on a street where there’s several nice homes and then there’s one or two homes that are really bad, or deplorable, or condemned. It’s like a cancer in that neighborhood, so I’d really like to do away with that and bring the neighborhoods back. I want people to move into the city,” Courtright said.
Courtright did mention a $20 million arbitration award the city will owe the employee unions. He doesn’t think it’s possible to change that number but hopes, if Scranton gets a better bond rating, taxpayers will pay less interest in the long run.
Courtright will take office in January.