A judge in Lackawanna County, Pa., county court heard opposing motions as a Scranton taxpayer group looks to stop the distressed city from tripling its local services tax.
The so-called Group of Eight and city attorneys presented arguments before senior Judge John Braxton, visiting from Philadelphia, at the county court annex downtown on Monday. Braxton heard and approved the LST petitions in each of 2015 and 2016, both of which went unopposed.
The city maintains its tripling this year of the tax from $52 to $156 for every person working within city limits that earns at least $15,600 is essential for its recovery and legal under the Act 47 workout program for distressed communities, in which Scranton has participated since 1992. The tax applies equally to residents and non-residents.
Scranton, the 76,000-population seat of Lackawanna County in northeast Pennsylvania, must reapply for the tax annually.
The taxpayers and their local attorney, John McGovern, say Act 511 state law caps local taxes and Scranton has exceeded its limit.
"We had an opportunity in court today and the judge listened," said McGovern. He is also seeking to subpoena Mayor Bill Courtright, which the city opposes.
McGovern withdrew subpoena petitions for City Council members after city officials provided some financial information.
Courtright took office in January 2014.
"My concern with the mayor is that he was a former city councilor and a former tax collector, so he's been involved with every aspect," said McGovern.
The taxpayer group -- all residents and subject to the local tax -- consists of Nicholas Gettel, Gary St. Fleur, Casey Durkin, Damian Biancerelli, Rich Johnson, Ethan Green, Angela Gilgallon and Michele McGovern.
"This has far less to do with the dollar amount and far more to do with the principle," Gettel told reporters.
City Business Administrator David Bulzoni testified Monday, as did Pennsylvania Economy League executive director Gerald Cross. PEL is Scranton's Act 47 coordinator.
City Solicitor Jessica Boyles argued in a court filing that the taxpayer group is merely looking "to harass, unreasonably annoy and/or embarrass the mayor." A message seeking comment was left with Boyles.
"The vexatious nature of the respondents' subpoena is further evidenced by the respondents' attempt to litigate this matter through the press," Boyles wrote.