Scranton, Pa., City and School District Eye Shared Services

Sharing services won’t be a cure-all, but it could help control costs, eliminate overlaps or streamline processes, officials said. One area the two are considering consolidating is technology purchasing.

by Jim Lockwood, The Times-Tribune / December 10, 2018
Downtown Scranton, Pa. Flickr/Brand Clinesmith

(TNS) — The city and school district have identified several areas for potential sharing of services to save money and become more efficient, officials said.

A joint committee with two members each from Scranton City Council and Scranton School Board was formed earlier this year and has since been discussing possible ways to share services in any number of areas, including finance, purchasing and operations.

They identified the following areas for potential sharing or collaboration:

  • Finance: Delinquent tax collection; conversion of business privilege/mercantile taxes to a payroll tax — long a city Act 47 recovery goal; a property tax payment discount period; a 10-year citywide LERTA tax abatement on commercial and residential improvements; review of tax-exempt entities to ensure they qualify for their exemptions.
  • Purchasing: Gas procurement cards; health care; pool supplies/chemicals; printer/copier services/maintenance; and technology.
  • Operations: Crosswalk safety; pothole repair; and recycling.
  • Fundraising and community development: “Complete count” census committee; Electric City Shock soccer field project; and grant writing.

The committee includes Councilmen Kyle Donahue, a former Scranton School Board member, and Bill Gaughan and School Directors Paige Gebhardt Cognetti and Katie Gilmartin.

The effort stems from the district’s financial problems having worsened and several new directors joining the school board. Both sides felt the time was right to take a hard look at whether there are services or functions the city and district could share or perform jointly.

“I think at some point the relationship between the city and the school district became extremely strained, and I think this was the first step in the process to start building trust,” Donahue said during council’s Dec. 3 meeting.

While the city and school district are separate, their financial situations, good or bad, affect each other. Scranton property owners pay both city and school taxes.

With no tax increases in three consecutive years and pensions backed off the brink of insolvency, the city stands on the verge of shedding its designation since 1992 as financially distressed under state Act 47.

At the same time, declining finances of the district put it under financial watch from the state. In law enforcement probes of district finances, state agents recently conducted two raids of district offices. The district also currently is trying to close a $5.7 million budget gap for 2019.

“It’s great if the city’s afloat, but if the school district is sinking it’s not going to be appetizing for people to move here for jobs, for companies to move here,” Cognetti said.

While sharing services won’t be a cure-all, it could help control costs, eliminate overlaps, create efficiencies or streamline processes, officials said.

“I think there is a commitment from both the city and the school district, an actual real commitment, to engage in shared services,” Gaughan said. “I’m hopeful for the future and that we will actually see cost savings, possibly in 2019-20.”

©2018 The Times-Tribune (Scranton, Pa.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.