W-B Councilwoman: Only Use Act 47 As A Last Resort

September 1, 2018

WILKES-BARRE — Councilwoman Beth Gilbert said she’s pleased state officials denied Mayor Tony George’s request for financially distressed status for the city. “Act 47 should be used as a last resort, and with the mayor’s application for Act 47, it is clear this was not being used as a last resort here,” Gilbert said. Officials with the state Department of Community and Economic Development informed city officials Friday that DCED Secretary Dennis Davin would not approve distressed status for the city under the Municipalities Financial Recovery Act of 1987, commonly referred to as Act 47, at this time. To move forward, Gilbert said, city officials must find and eliminate “unnecessary expenditures, including positions that Mayor George has created since he took office. We also need to look at excessive overtime and special events in the city that are not fully paid for by sponsors.” Gilbert also suggested the administration better market city properties that are for sale and work with nonprofits in the city to come up with an equitable PILOT (Payment In Lieu of Taxes) program. “Furthermore, I believe DCED requires more input and collaboration with council going forward to prevent us from potentially going into financially distressed status down the line,” Gilbert said. Gilbert said DCED officials sent an email Thursday inviting council members to take part in a conference call Friday morning to discuss the Act 47 determination and the implications, and she was the only council member on the call. “I was also the only member to offer any sort of testimony regarding Act 47, as evidenced in DCED’s report. There needs to be a collaborative effort here to improve our city going forward,” Gilbert said. Neither Council President Tony Brooks nor Councilmen Mike Belusko or Mike Merritt immediately responded to requests for comment. Brooks’ voicemail indicated he was on vacation. Councilman Bill Barrett said he was not made aware of the call and would have liked to have been part of it. Barrett also said he had some reservations about potential negative effects of entering Act 47 status, and he looks forward to working with Public Financial Management — the city’s financial adviser for a continuing state Early Intervention Program — “to get out of this situation.” Barrett said he wasn’t totally surprised by Davin’s determination, although testimony at an Aug. 1 hearing on the matter suggested DCED officials might approve the mayor’s request. Contact the writer: smocarsky@citizensvoice.com 570-821-2110, @MocarskyCV