Two days of testimony about distressed Scranton, Pa.'s request to implement a commuter tax ended Wednesday in the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas, with a three-member panel of judges yet to rule.
The judges - Terrence Nealon, Robert Mazzoni and Pike County's visiting Harold Thomson - said early in the afternoon that they would keep the record open until Friday, allowing for the City Council to address some loose ends at Thursday night's meeting.
They expect to rule early next week, with a 2-1 split vote likely. Scranton, with a 76,000 population, is the seat of Lackawanna County.
Scranton is requesting a 1% commuter tax, which officials say is essential for balancing its proposed $109 million fiscal 2013 budget.
Commuter and other taxes are included in Scranton's revised recovery plan under the Act 47 program for distressed communities. Scranton joined that program in 1992.
In June, the City Council withheld a $1 million Scranton Parking Authority bond payment before releasing the funds later that month. The move damaged Scranton's ability to obtain financing to meet payroll, and in early July it briefly paid its employees the federal minimum wage.
Scranton obtained a $6.3 million loan in late August from union-owned Amalgamated Bank and last week received a $14.7 million private placement from Janney Capital Markets.
Debate in court focused on whether Scranton's revenue projections are unrealistic. Scranton's budget, for example, factored in $1.3 million in payments in lieu of taxes that it expected by Dec. 1, but which it has yet to receive.
The budget includes a contingency for even larger real estate taxes to cover shortfalls from scenarios that include the failure of proposals for the commuter tax and a countywide sales tax, but "the contingency isn't large enough," said Gary Lewis, a private-sector financial consultant who lives downtown.
"I'd say that about $56 million of the $109 million budgeted is iffy," Lewis said after Wednesday's session.
Lewis said the city needs to restructure its labor agreements, including pension agreements. He estimated police and firefighter pension funding at 30% and 27%, respectively.
According to Lewis, Scranton is running out of assets to sell, having sold such holdings as its municipal golf course and parking meters. He also warned that Scranton's cash burn rate is exceeding revenue collections.