JAKE DANNA STEVENS / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Scranton Mayor Bill Courtright addresses civic leaders during the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce’s breakfast forum with the candidates for mayor.>
Scranton Mayor Bill Courtright talks about his experience as Mayor during the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce's breakfast forums with the candidates for Mayor of the City of Scranton at the Chamber on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017. Jake Danna Stevens / Staff Photographer
In perhaps his strongest defense of the Scranton sewer system sale so far, Mayor Bill Courtright said Wednesday the $195 million sale rescued the city from a state takeover that would have led to massive tax hikes.
At a forum for business and civic leaders at the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce, Courtright, a Democrat seeking a second term in the Nov. 7 election, said he had no choice but to sell the system.
The deal turned especially controversial when the $3.1 million paid to lawyers who worked on it became public with details of what some of the lawyers did to earn the money still obscured. Critics have railed about the fees for months.
“It’s constantly in the paper about what the attorneys made,” Courtright said. “If it wasn’t for — and I believe this with all my heart — the sewer deal, the city of Scranton would be in receivership right now.”
The appointment of a receiver to oversee the city’s finances would mean substantial tax hikes, he said. Instead, the city didn’t raise property taxes this year and won’t next year, he said. Beyond that, he said he can’t say.
Courtright said the sale contributed to the Pennsylvania Economy League, the city’s financial recovery coordinator, recommending the state allow Scranton to exit financially distressed status in three years if things keep going the way they are. The city must still stave off legal challenges to the sale, challenges that city lawyers say have no merit. State Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office also is reviewing the sale.
The sale allowed the city to reduce its high-interest, long-term debt, Courtright said. The savings on annual debt payments freed up money for the most street paving in city history, repairs to parks and firehouses and new equipment for police and firefighters, he said.
Courtright said earning the city a chance to shed its 25-year-old financially distressed label stands as his greatest success. He credited his City Hall staff and singled out consultant Henry Amoroso, who three years ago advised Courtright to auction off the city parking garages and sell its sewer system to solve its long-standing financial troubles. Amoroso thought the sewer authority sale might net only $30 million, Courtright said.
“I’ve been really fortunate to have good people around me,” the mayor said. “I was always taught you have to put good people around you, and I haven’t regretted one choice that we’ve made as far as the people that we’ve hired. And, I give them the credit. I’m not that smart. I don’t take the credit.”
Shedding the distressed label will make it easier to sell the city to newcomers, he said, but he expressed concern the city school district’s potential $40 million deficit could unravel the city’s progress.
“If the Scranton School District can’t remedy their problems, it really diminishes what we did,” he said. “Anything I could do to help them,” he will do.
If allowed to change one thing during his first term, Courtright said he would have communicated better to the public about everything his administration was working on to solve the city’s problems as the work unfolded.
In the next four years, he said he plans to pave more city streets, work with the civic organization Scranton Tomorrow to further revive the downtown and with the chamber on developing “eds and meds.” That refers to working closely with colleges, hospitals and the medical school to foster economic development.
“Most of it was reactive,” Courtright said of his first term. “My hope is in the next four years, we can be proactive.”
The chamber plans to hear from the Republican mayor nominee, attorney Jim Mulligan, Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. Courtright’s appearance streamed live on the chamber’s Facebook page and is available in full there at facebook.com/scrantonchamber. The chamber plans to do the same for Mulligan’s appearance.
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Source : http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/courtright-scranton-sewer-system-sale-necessary-to-avoid-state-takeover-1.2254053