Businessmen file lawsuit to block ballot question

Judge to hear arguments next Friday

SCRANTON, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) - Two Lackawanna County businessmen are asking a judge to remove a referendum question about property tax reassessment from next month's ballot.

On Thursday morning, the men filed a formal lawsuit challenging the question.

Next week, a judge is expected to hear arguments from lawyers on both sides.

Insurance executive Chuck Volpe, a democrat, has teamed-up with farmer Keith Eckel, a republican, to try and block the question.

"I feel very strongly that this was misleading, unintelligible, vague and clearly intended to fail," Chuck Volpe said.

From his office in downtown Scranton, Chuck Volpe sees a lot of problems with a ballot question that voters in Lackawanna County could see in less than three weeks.

He's now trying to block it.

The question reads:

"Shall the Lackawanna County commissioners incur debt not to exceed $13 million dollars solely for the purpose of conducting a countywide revision of assessment so that all real estate within the county will be assessed at a predetermined ratio of 100% of a new base-year value?"

"One hundred percent new base value? I don't know what that means and I'm semi-intelligent. I went to law school. I'm a lawyer," Volpe said.

Immediately after Volpe and Eckel filed their lawsuit looking to remove the question from the ballot, Lackawanna County attorney Joseph O'Brien fired back.

He believes the question is clear.

"Referendum questions are difficult because they're asking the public to make a decision on a legal issue but I think it's clear. Anybody who wants to can understand that," attorney Joseph O'Brien said.

Volpe supports reassessment mainly because it hasn't been done in Lackawanna County in more than 50 years.

He believes county commissioners failed a leadership test by not deciding the issue themselves.

"It was cowardess. They did not want to take a stand on the issue of reassessment," Volpe said.

Lackawanna County believes its referendum question is well within the law and will remain on the ballot November 7.

With ballots already printed, lawyers are unsure if new ones would be needed if the county loses in court.

"We don't anticipate that happening but that's up to the court to decide the remedy in the unlikely eventuality that that happens," O'Brien said.

Judge James Gibbons is currently scheduled ot hear arguments in the case next Friday at 11:00 AM.

With Election Day quickly approaching, he would most likely have to make a fast ruling.

Lackawanna County commissioners decided to put the reassessment issue on the ballot in late June.

In the middle of August, they formally approved the wording of the question that is now at the center of debate.


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