Scranton Judge weighs arguments in taxation case

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Scranton, PA- Yesterday, The City of Scranton went to trial over a taxation lawsuit brought against it by Scranton Mayoral Candidate Gary St. Fleur and other residents. The lawsuit contends that the government of Scranton has been collecting Taxes in excess of the legal limit and that a mandamus should be issued against the city. The City of Scranton claims it has a home rule charter and is thus not subject to the cap stipulated in Act 511. The City claims that it has sole authority to increase levels of taxation to any amount. It also claimed other objections that are of a procedural nature. Mr. St. Fleur and the Group of Eight represented by Attorney John Mcgovern are convinced that all known ordinances and precedents allows the city of  Scranton to control its rates of taxation but says nothing about the aggregate amount they can collect in taxes. According to Mr. St. Fleur, “it is the difference between speed limit and distance. You can choose your rate speed but the limitation on distance must still be observed.”

The statutory law in question specifically states:

“The aggregate amount of all taxes imposed by any political subdivision under this section and in effect during any fiscal year shall not exceed an amount equal to the product obtained by multiplying the latest total market valuation of real estate in such political subdivision, as determined by the board for the assessment and revision of taxes or any similar board established by the assessment laws which determines market values of real estate within the political subdivision, by twelve mills.”(Act 511)

The lawsuit, or mandamus action, would force the Mayor of the City to obey the law which under Act 511 reads:

Any one of more persons liable for the payment of taxes levied and collected under the authority of this chapter shall have the right to complain to the court of common pleas of the county in an action mandamus to compel compliance with the preceding provision of this subsection. Tax moneys levied and collected in any fiscal year in excess of the limitations imposed by this chapter shall not be expended during such a year, but shall be deposited in a separate account in the treasury of the political subdivision for expenditure in the following fiscal year.

Act 511 bases the cap on a formula that includes the value of the properties in the municipality multiplied by 12 mills- a mill being one of one thousand. Scranton Mayoral Candidate Gary St. Fleur explains, “The legislation is written to protect citizens form excessive taxation. If home values are plummeting then that is a sure indication that the people are becoming poorer. It would be unconscionable to continue increasing the levying of taxes on an already impoverished people.”
St. Fleur contends that the City of Scranton is in severe financial distress and there is practically no recourse left except for the government to file for Chapter 9 Bankruptcy. He has also initiated a ballot measure to force the City into Bankruptcy. A Wells Fargo report from October 2016 explains that a 2014 audit of Scranton revealed $375 million in liabilities and $184 million in unfunded non-pension post-retirement benefits to government employees. The City has had to sell various public assets, such as the sewer authority ($195 million), and issue bonds (that are rated as ‘junk’ status by rating agencies) in order to sustain adequate revenue stream. Mr. St Fleur is adamant that lowering taxes across the board is the only way to Save Scranton from its economic depression. Bankruptcy would lessen the cities financial burdens to make lessening taxes possible.

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