Grassroots Activist Runs for Mayor After Filing Lawsuit Against City
Community activist Gary St. Fleur sues Scranton government for illegal taxes and launches mayoral campaign
For Immediate Release
March 1, 2017
Scranton, PA – The hometown of Former Vice President Joe Biden will have a mayoral election this year in November. Scranton resident and community activist Gary St. Fleur, 32, is launching his mayoral bid with the goal of fixing the town’s financial woes and alleviating fellow residents from unlawful taxes that the local government has been imposing for the last several years.
If victorious, St. Fleur would make history as the town’s first African-American mayor, and because he is running as an independent, he would be the first Scranton mayor since Terrence V. Powderly (1878 – 1884) to win the election as neither a Democrat nor a Republican.
St. Fleur contends that the City of Scranton is in severe financial distress and there is practically no recourse left except for the government to file for Chapter 9 Bankruptcy. He has also initiated a ballot measure to force the City into Bankruptcy. A Wells Fargo report from October 2016 explains that a 2014 audit of Scranton revealed $375 million in liabilities and $184 million in unfunded non-pension post-retirement benefits to government employees. The City has had to sell various public assets, such as the sewer authority ($195 million), and issue bonds (that are rated as ‘junk’ status by rating agencies) in order to sustain adequate revenue stream. Mr. St Fleur is adamant that lowering taxes across the board is the only way to Save Scranton from its economic depression. Bankruptcy would lessen the cities financial burdens to make lessening taxes possible.
St. Fleur also maintains that the municipal government has been illegally collecting taxes from Scranton residents for the past five years. He and seven other residents subpoenaed current Scranton mayor William Courtright, the City Council, and the Pennsylvania Economic League (PEL), after the City attempted to triple the local services tax for fiscal year 2017. This tax falls under Pennsylvania’s Act 511 taxes; a taxing cap is placed on how much money can be collected, but the City of Scranton has exceeded the legal limit for the past five years.
At a public hearing on February 13, 2017, the government’s attorneys argued that the City does not have to observe the Act 511 cap because Scranton is designated as financially distressed under the Municipalities Financial Recovery Act (Act 47). Lackawanna County Judge John L. Braxton punted the case but stated that “Nothing in this Order shall prevent Respondents from objecting the imposition of this tax at the appropriate time and through the proper procedural mechanisms”. St. Fleur and the seven other residents plan to file a mandamus to force the government to follow the Act 511 cap.
St. Fleur stresses that neither the current administration nor the PEL (responsible for helping the town to financial recovery) have a concrete plan to save Scranton from imminent fiscal collapse. He cites that the public hearing proved that the City has always planned to place the burden on Scranton’s dwindling tax base, where one-third live in poverty. The Scranton-Lackawanna County Taxpayers & Citizens Association, Inc. have previously claimed that the Act 511 taxes disproportionately affect low-income people.
Following the court ruling, Scranton and Lackawanna county residents voiced their anger on social media stating that they are fed up with excessive taxation. Everyday residents have been strenuously asserting that the administration is run by, and functions for, those who are politically connected. St. Fleur, a political outsider and founder of SaveScranton.com, a blog documenting the town’s financial and political predicaments, has said that he wishes to be a voice for the people of Scranton who have been suffering from the local government’s policies for decades.