By: Phil Rauch | Managing Editor
SCRANTON – The City of Scranton has faced many issues surrounding the pandemic, business closures, revenue depletion, and most recently the return of students to the city.
City of Scranton councilmember Jessica Rothchild said many cities across the country are struggling with financial loss both in economic activity and tax revenue decreases.
“It’s an issue with cities and municipalities all across the country,” Rothchild said. “So, we have previously pushed for the federal government to pass legislation that would help cities and municipalities, like us, out for those revenue shortfalls. If there’s federal help, we’ll take it.”
Business closures have ravaged places like Scranton since the beginning of the pandemic in March. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for Scranton was 7.7% in March, 17.9% in April, 15.4% in May, 15.3% in June and 15.7% in July. Data is not available for August or September unemployment in the city. The full page of employment data can be found here.
“I haven’t been given any specific number on businesses that have closed,” Rothchild said. “I just know personally of businesses that have been open for long periods of time, decades, lifetimes, that had to close as a result of this. Whether or not those businesses were doing well before the pandemic doesn’t matter because this was the breaking point.”
The City of Scranton’s city council consists of five sitting members. Currently, all the members of the council are Democrats. Despite party unity in the council, there are still policy disagreements. The city’s financial affairs remain a source of disagreement.
“There is nothing specifically at the moment, and that isn’t to say we always agree either,” Rothchild said. “There’s been some things in the past that we might not have agreed on. Upcoming, we will have budget discussions, and that will be complicated. Sorting our way through that, in addition to contract negotiations coming up for the fire and police unions, those are a couple of large discussions that will be taking up quite a bit more of our time.
A major vote upcoming in the council is a resolution surrounding the request from a private transport company to transport Liquified Natural Gas through the city in trucks and trains. Should any of those trucks get into an accident, it can cause severe and collateral damage to resources, people and the environment.
“We do have, coming up for a vote, a resolution about a proposal for a private company to transport Liquified Natural Gas using trucks and trains that would go through the City of Scranton,” Rothchild said. “We have concerns about the safety and health of that. All of the sitting council members seem to be on board with opposing it.”
On Jul. 2, 2019, former Scranton Mayor Bill Courtright plead guilty to criminal conspiracy, bribery, and extortion charges. He faces 30 years in prison. At the time, Rothchild was campaigning for her seat on the city council. She and other fresh faces seeking political office in Scranton argued in their campaigns that such corruption has typified the old leadership of the city.
“It gave the opportunity to get a better sense of things,” Rothchild said. “When you’re campaigning, you’re there with the people, at least you should be. Talking with people constantly, finding out what matters to them, and it was something that would come up. Everyone knew we needed a new mayor, and that would be apart of the election, too. So, it was a topic of conversation. People just seemed really tired of corruption in the city. I think when they saw people like myself running, as well as Mayor Cognetti, they savored our fresh voices or people who can bring a different perspective. As people who didn’t have large family ties to the area, for example, there’d be less of a chance of corruption with new elected officials like that.”
Perhaps as a result of Courtright’s case, there seems to be a newfound urgency about ending corruption in the city. Corruption in political officials not only impacts the function of government but also impacts public faith in institutions, the quality of government services and the trust between representatives and constituents that is integral to democracy.