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Occupy members criticize city budget

SCRANTON – Members of Occupy Scranton expressed their concerns about Mayor Chris Doherty’s proposed layoffs of 29 firefighters in 2012 to City Council on Tuesday, receiving praise from council for getting involved in city affairs.

After Occupy Scranton demonstrator Bob Hall spoke critically about the proposed cuts on Nov. 22, several other self-identified members joined Hall at the Nov. 29 council meeting to ask council to do all that they can to save the jobs of 29 firefighters slated to be cut by the mayor next year.

Justin Simonetti noted areas that would be directly affected by the cuts and said that response times would suffer as a result.

“It seems to me Mayor Doherty is putting a price on human life. I hate to say that, but that’s what it seems to me,” Simonetti said.

Also in attendance was International Association of Fire Fighters Local 60 President and Scranton Fire Lt. Dave Gervasi, who said that generally, two out of eight firehouses would be open and three trucks running out of 10, which he found “completely and totally unacceptable.”

Council President Janet Evans responded to the Occupy members, saying that while council agrees with them, its “hands are tied” because only the mayor has the court-mandated power to make or prevent the layoffs.

“Council hears the cries of the people of Scranton. We do understand, which is why last year, we were the first council to lower taxes in my memory, maybe ever, for businesses, for homeowners. Right now, we are working very hard to lower these tax increases,” Evans said.

Calling the cuts “criminal,” Councilman Jack Loscombe said he appreciated the new speakers attending the meeting and suggested they occupy “the first floor,” referring to the mayor’s office in City Hall.

“We need all the help we can get in this city, all the fresh ideas. I’m disappointed we didn’t have more speakers here tonight, especially with the way the budget is turning out,” Loscombe said.

Councilman Frank Joyce was also pleased to see fresh faces getting involved.

“Often, too many times, you here people say, ‘Well, no one pays attention to the 20-year-olds and the 30-years-olds because they don’t care as much,’ and it’s nice to see that trend changing not only here in my home city, but also throughout the country as well,” Joyce said.

Parking Authority budget criticized

In other council business, council discussed the Scranton Parking Authority’s 2012 budget, which must be approved by council. Last year, council’s amended SPA budget was passed, but ultimately not followed by the authority.

This year, council requested an individual line item breakdown in the budget with side-by-side comparisons to 2011 spending, but instead received a document only two pages long with few details.

Council solicitor Boyd Hughes said Scranton Parking Authority Executive Director Bob Scopelliti also requested that council budget for $1.6 million to pay the SPA’s 2012 loan obligations, but when Hughes requested further information on usage of the funds over five weeks ago, it was never received, which he found “reprehensible.”

Councilman Pat Rogan felt that they should let the SPA default on their current loans, sell its assets, and keep the parking meters in possession of the city.

Hughes felt that the SPA budget is not one that “council could approve or should approve.”

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