City Provides No Incentive To Pay Fee

April 3, 2019

When Scranton sanitation workers struck the city government in the early 1980s, a city health inspector drew guffaws when he recommended that Scrantonians freeze their garbage for the duration of the impasse to ward off a public health crisis. The method might have been impractical but the point was valid — the city must collect the household garbage that residents put at the curb for the sake of public health. Many city residents and landlords apparently have figured out that the city must collect their trash even if they don’t pay the $300-per-residence annual garbage collection fee. Kenneth Norton, who was appointed to the Scranton School Board last week before The Times-Tribune discovered that he had run up more than $27,000 in property tax and garbage fee delinquencies, offered a template for other property owners who chose not to pay the garbage fee, noting that the city collected the garbage regardless of whether he paid the fee. That, of course, begs the question of why anyone would pay the fee. As reported by Jim Lockwood and Joseph Kohut of The Times-Tribune, thousands of Scrantonians already have answered the question by racking up about $16.8 million in unpaid fees, penalties and interest. City council has prepared other questions, asking the Courtright administration and the city’s contracted delinquent tax collector to explain how those fees could be allowed to accumulate for so long. That’s a good start. But the city government should not leave the matter there. The fee itself faces a credible legal challenge in Lackawanna County Court. Given that, and the demonstrated willingness of thousands of people to “risk” not paying it, council should explore other approaches to paying for garbage collection. It should establish a per-bag fee for garbage collection, which would be paid prior to collection, or calculate the fee revenue and convert it into the city tax structure. That, at least, would raise the stakes for people who decide not to pay. Scranton is no position to leave $16.8 million on the table. Council and the administration must devise a better system and flip the incentive to encourage payment.