Questioning the Question: The Battle for Reassesment in Lackawanna County

SCRANTON -- Attorneys for Lackawanna County were in court Friday to defend the wording of a referendum question. It essentially asks the voters whether Lackawanna County should do a property tax reassessment, something that hasn't been done in almost 50 years.

Two businessmen, Chuck Volpe and Keith Eckel, both from the Clarks Summit area, filed a court injunction saying the wording of the referendum question is too confusing and that most voters won't understand what they're voting for.

Their attorneys called a language expert who did a readability test on the referendum. It scored an 8 out of 100.

The county's attorneys say the wording is what real estate attorneys recommended.

"It's offensive, it's ridiculous," said Volpe. "We need an assessment but what we don't need is for county commissioners in the majority, who are Laureen Cummings and Pat O'Malley, to say disingenuously we're putting it on the ballot for voters to decide, knowing and intending that it fail, so they can say, 'Well, we're not going to do it because the voters decide. Don't blame us.'"

I do (think the question is clear)," said Joe O'Brien, attorney for Lackawanna County. "But if you ask Mr. Ruggerio, he'd say he didn't, and that's why we have judges. They're the ones to decide."

This is the question as it appears on the ballot right now:

"Shall the Lackawanna County commissioners incur debt not to exceed $13 million solely for the purpose of conducting a county-wide revision of assessment so that all real estate within the county will be assessed at a predetermined ratio of 100 percent of a new base year value?"

It's now up to three Lackawanna County judges to decide if the question stays or goes. They need to do that soon, since Election Day is November 7.

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