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Haggling prolongs Scranton budget

Council voting on proposed amendments to mayor’s ’09 spending plan one at time. Raises and travel targeted.

Taxpayer advocate Robert ‘Ozzie’ Quinn raises concerns to city council during Tuesday’s meeting at City Hall in Scranton.

Niko J. Kallianiotis/For The Times Leader

SCRANTON – City Council members haggled into the night over the 2009 budget on Tuesday. The issue: two lists of amendments to Mayor Chris Doherty’s $78 million budget.

One list of amendments was presented by council member Judy Gatelli, chairwoman of the finance committee. The specific changes her budget proposes were being voted on one at a time as recommended by council President Robert McGoff.

Gatelli said she spent the last three weeks scrutinizing the mayor’s budget and had her amendments reviewed to ensure they were legal.

Some of the key changes included removing of all proposed pay raises, cutting the city’s information technology department and increasing revenues by $120,000 from apartment rental registrations.

Robert “Ozzie” Quinn, president of the Scranton-Lackawanna County Taxpayers Association, and several other members criticized Gatelli for not producing an alternate budget. Gatelli pointed out, with the support of council member Janet Evans, that producing an alternate budget is not a requirement of the finance chair.

The other list of amendments was presented by Evans just before the vote to the dismay of council member Sherry Fanucci. Copies of Evan’s alternate budget were passed around the meeting room.

Fanucci said the Evan’s budget should have been proposed in a caucus prior to the vote instead of as a “big surprise” designed to get media attention.

“Being on camera is more important,” Fanucci said tersely.

Evans countered her budget is designed to benefit the people. She said she was offended by the unwillingness of the council to do whatever necessary to resolve budget issues.

She added Fanucci focused more on “attitude and personality” differences.

McGoff emphasized said each separate item on Evans’ budget should be voted on one at a time as well.

Evans said her budget saves taxpayers $1.84 million compared to the mayor’s budget by eliminating 13 positions, eliminating travel and lodging for four departments, canceling funding for the Southside library, and auditing the city tax office.

The final vote on the budget was not expected until late Tuesday night or early today.

In other business, prior to the council meeting police and fire union heads Bob Martin and Dave Schrieber appealed to the council for their help in resolving an on-going contract dispute with the city.

According to Martin, both unions and the city “shook hands“ on agreements and then the city made unexpected alterations to it. When the agreement was sent to the city it was 10 pages long, Martin said, when it came back seven pages were added.

The impasse does not lie in “dollars and cents” Martin said, but in the basic management parameters such as scheduling. He said he also expects the rank and file of the police union to “dig in their heels” and fight with the city.

Schrieber said the city is using the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development and Scranton’s distressed status as a way to thwart the agreements.

Martin said this latest development will push back negotiations for weeks.

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