At Scranton City Council Debate, Candidates Talk Trash Fee, City Hall Renovation, More

May 9, 2019

SCRANTON — The city needs to overhaul a trash-fee collection system that has accrued a whopping $16.8 million in delinquencies, candidates for city council agreed Wednesday during a debate at the University of Scranton.

With two council seats up for grabs this year, the four candidates in the May 21 Democratic primary election are incumbent Tim Perry and his running mate, Army veteran Andy Chomko, and school board member Mark McAndrew and LGBTQ activitst Jessica Rothchild, who are running individually.

Sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Lackawanna County, the forum drew nearly 50 people.

Describing the city’s $16.8 million in delinquent trash fees as a “scandal,” debate moderator Andrea Mulrine asked the candidates what specifically city council could do to resolve the problem.

The candidates agreed the city must review its contract with the firm that collects delinquent trash fees, Northeast Revenue Service, for compliance and put the collection contract out to bid.

Perry, serving in the final year of his first four-year council term, said the city should scrap its annual $300 trash-collection fee, and instead pay for garbage pickup and disposal from property taxes.

“We need this garbage fee embedded into the property taxes because this separate fee is ridiculous and it’s just open to too many problems,” Perry said. “It needs to be just embedded in the property tax and paid as property tax and this problem will stop, going forward.”

McAndrew said that when trash bills are 90 days late, the city should send them to a magistrate for collection enforcement.

“No one’s collecting any money,” McAndrew said. Northeast Revenue Service is “only adding to the (late) fees (and penalties) that they’re collecting, so we have to look at that. I would first put them out. They’re not doing their job. Hold them accountable.”

Rothchild agreed the city needs a different collection firm and should increase incentives for timely trash-fee payments and consequences for delinquents.

“We should change the (collection) contract to a different company because they’re not doing the work for us right now. We clearly need a better tracking system, something that’s more efficient,” Rothchild said. “I think we could add to legislation that’s already in existence for some more incentives and for other consequences” on delinquencies.

Chomko also called for re-examining the NRS contract for compliance and taking a targeted approach to collecting delinquencies from scofflaws.

“We need to go after the biggest offenders first ... go after the biggest fish first and work our way down,” Chomko said. He also proposed “a senior citizen discount (in the trash fee) if we can’t get just rid of the garbage fee totally.”

Perry also agreed with sending delinquencies to a magistrate and putting the NRS contract out to bid.

The candidates also agreed on other issues, including that:

n The city should not sell historic City Hall, but rather renovate in stages and keep city government offices there.

n Lackawanna County should undertake a long-overdue countywide property tax reassessment,

n Blight and the city’s perceived inaction against it is a common concern throughout the city’s neighborhoods.

Council members serve four-year terms and earn $12,500 a year.

There are no Republicans running for council. Councilman Wayne Evans, a Republican, did not seek reelection.

The two winners of the Democratic primary will advance to the Nov. 5 general election. The winners of the general election would join Pat Rogan, Bill Gaughan and Kyle Donahue, all Democrats, on the five-member council.

Perry and Chomko are endorsed by the city Democratic Committee.

Rothchild and McAndrew are endorsed by Gaughan and Donahue, who generally have been vocal critics of Mayor Bill Courtright. The outcome of the primary could change the complexion of council and its stance toward the administration.

Rothchild also wants to create incentives for younger residents to stay after college and promote green infrastructure projects.

Perry cited his support of initiatives that have improved city finances toward shedding a black-mark label as financially distressed under state Act 47 since 1992.

Chomko touted his background of working together and taking action to accomplish goals.

McAndrew cited “corruption” as a main problem, referencing three ongoing investigations in local government. Those include a federal investigation involving Courtright, an ongoing statewide grand jury investigation of sexual abuse of inmates at Lackawanna County Prison and a state attorney general investigation of the Scranton School District that resulted in charges against its former fleet manager and former business manager.

Contact the writer: jlockwood@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9100 x5185; @jlockwoodTT on Twitter