Scranton, Pennsylvania, was sued by 10 disabled police officers and firefighters who claim the city cut their disability payments to minimum-wage levels.
The city “unilaterally” reduced benefits paid under the state’s Heart and Lung Act without first giving the officers and firefighters a hearing, according to the complaint filed today in federal court in Scranton. The city isn’t bankrupt and should be able to pay the workers, Thomas Jennings, a lawyer for the group with Jennings Sigmond PC in Philadelphia, said in a phone interview.
“This isn’t Stockton,” said Jennings, referring to the California city, the biggest U.S. municipality to file for bankruptcy. “This is a situation where they’ve run out of political will.”
Scranton Mayor Christopher Doherty’s decision to cut benefits defied a court order issued by Lackawanna County Court Judge Michael Barrasse requiring payment of full wages, Jennings said.
Doherty didn’t return calls seeking comment today. City Council President Janet Evans said the mayor acted without the council’s consent.
“City council is actively looking to providing financing without the involvement of the local business community,” Evans said in a phone interview, declining to elaborate. “Both the mayor and council are in the process of trying to meet the financial demands of 2012.”
Scranton has been in the state’s program for distressed municipalities since 1992, and Doherty and the city council have disagreed over the latest fiscal recovery plan. The impasse has led to a delay in the city’s efforts to borrow $16.8 million to cover its cash needs.
“It’s a disagreement on the budget and the future of the city,” said Gerald Cross, executive director of the Pennsylvania Economy League, the state-appointed consultant to Scranton. “I think at some point, they can work it out.”
The city of 76,000, where 19 percent of residents live in poverty compared with less than 14 percent nationwide, is about 125 miles (200 kilometers) north of Philadelphia.
Separately, three police officers and three public works employees sued the city over claims they weren’t compensated for overtime.
The state’s community and economic development department, which administers the distressed cities program, is working with Scranton to resolve its situation, Steven Kratz, a spokesman for the department, said in an e-mail.
“Immediate action is needed by the city to adopt an agreed upon recovery plan that will restore confidence in the banking community that will allow the city to borrow much needed funds,” Kratz said.
The disabled workers’ case is Albert v. City of Scranton, 12-01333, U.S. District Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania (Scranton). The overtime case is Reed v. City of Scranton, 12-01336, same court.
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