Public hearing Wednesday on Wilkes-Barre’s bid for distressed status

By Jerry Lynott - [email protected]
Wilkes-Barre City Hall. (Sean McKeag | Times Leader) -

WILKES-BARRE — State Department of Community and Economic Development officials will be in the city Wednesday for a public hearing on Mayor Tony George’s request to declare the city financially distressed under Act 47.

Residents will have an opportunity to speak at the meeting set for 5 p.m. in city council chambers on the fourth floor of City Hall, said Sarah DeSantis, a DCED spokeswoman.

However, speakers should not expect responses, DeSantis said. Their comments will be taken into consideration by DCED as part of the process of determining whether to grant the mayor’s request.

Kim Bracey, executive director of DCED’s Governor’s Center for Local Government Services, will be in charge of the hearing, DeSantis said. Another state official will present a report on the information gathered since the mayor petitioned the agency June 28.

The mayor formally asked for help under the Municipalities Financial Recovery Act. The city faces hard times ahead, starting with a projected $3.5 million deficit in 2019, and Act 47 offers a solution to the fiscal woes, according to the mayor.

If DCED declares Wilkes-Barre distressed, an outside coordinator would be appointed to create a recovery plan with a five-year time limit and could include tax increases to raise revenue and belt-tightening to cut expenses. City council would have to approve the plan, and the coordinator would see that it’s followed.

The aim is to strengthen a municipality’s’s finances so the distressed label can be removed. If a municipality is insolvent, it can file for bankruptcy.

Nanticoke, Plymouth Township and West Hazleton previously participated in and exited from Act 47.

The state declared Hazleton distressed in September 2017 and in June approved a recovery plan created by the Pennsylvania Economy League.

Wilkes-Barre City Hall. (Sean McKeag | Times Leader) City Hall. (Sean McKeag | Times Leader)

By Jerry Lynott

[email protected]

Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.

Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.