August 9, 2017
A Lackawanna County, Pa., court has ruled that Scranton’s home-rule charter does not supersede a state cap on tax collection.
Judge James Gibbons on Aug. 4 rejected Scranton’s preliminary objection to a lawsuit by a Scranton taxpayer group that opposed the city’s tripling of a local services tax.
The case is still pending. Losing it could cost the distressed city millions of dollars.
“The arguments of the defendants are not persuasive,” Gibbons said in an eight-page ruling. “Additionally, we believe the complaint is specific enough to apprise the defendants of the nature of the claims against them and to prepare a defense.”
Gibbons heard arguments on the city’s motion May 30.
Courtroom debate involved the primacy of Pennsylvania’s Act 511, a so-called local tax enabling act. The lawsuit by eight taxpayers, filed March 2, contends Scranton has been collecting taxes beyond the legal limit and called for the issuance of a mandamus against the city.
City attorneys, meanwhile, say Scranton has a home-rule charter and is not subject to a cap.
Scranton, a 76,000-population county seat, raised the levy from $52 to $156 for every person working within the city limits that earns at least $15,600. Officials defended the move under Pennsylvania’s municipal planning code and called it essential for the city’s recovery under the state-sponsored Act 47 for distressed communities, to which Scranton has belonged since 1992.
“This is a major win for the taxpayers of Scranton that have been beset by mounting taxes and fees from the cash-strapped Scranton government,” said Gary St. Fleur, the leader of the taxpayer group and a Libertarian challenger to Democratic Mayor Bill Courtright.