SCRANTON — Gerald Smurl’s City Council term will begin on Tuesday when he is sworn in and assumes the seat previously held by Kyle Donahue — bringing a new voice and experience to the five-member body.
The board voted 4-0 this week to appoint Smurl, 61, a contractor by trade and longtime owner of Smurl HVAC LLC, to replace Donahue, who resigned last week to assume his duties as state representative for the 113th home district. Smurl will resign Monday from the city’s Housing Appeals Board, where he has served since 2014, to assume his new role.
He recently resigned from the Scranton Municipal Recreation Authority, which primarily oversees Nay Aug Park, where Smurl and others have put in a lot of time and work in recent years. Keeping parks clean and safe and ridding neighborhoods of the blight are the goals of the new councilman.
Smurl’s nomination for the $12,500-a-year council runs through 2023, but he doesn’t plan to be a placeholder, confirming his intention to run for office next year to fill the rest of the board. Donahue’s unexpired term. This mandate runs until January 2026.
Smurl met the newspaper on Friday at his “man cave” at 305 Prospect Ave., a former bar he bought and renovated. It sits across from his home on the corner of Prospect Avenue and Orchard Street – home to an extensive and wildly popular Christmas display – and one of several nearby properties he has acquired and rehabilitated as part of of wider investment in the city.
His answers to the following questions have been edited for length and clarity.
Why did you request this meeting?
Well, when I saw Kyle leave, I thought it would be a good opportunity. You are frustrated in the neighborhood. You drive down the street (and) there are things you constantly see that you don’t like. … So, I thought that instead of just being the guy who’s going to sit there and complain about everything, step in, get involved. … Maybe I can do a lot more.
How do you see your working relationship with the administration of Mayor Paige Gebhardt Cognetti?
I would like to have open communication with Mayor Cognetti and his entire administration. I think we all have the same goals. … I think I have to be able to talk to him (Cognetti). I have to be able to say ‘hey, if you have a problem, just call me and ask me, because if I have something I will definitely call you or contact you’. I don’t want the guy down the street saying, ‘Well, you know what Jerry said about you?’ It will not arrive. I’ll tell you to your face. I’ve never done it any other way. We are all the same. We are here doing the same thing. It is the same objective. I want (Scranton) safer and I want it cleaner than I found it.
What do you think of the city’s 2023 amending budget which increases property taxes by 2%?
My thinking on the budget is creating new jobs, raising taxes, that doesn’t seem like the right thing to do. I get cost of living increases. I get it…your health insurance (cost) will go up. There will be tax increases. I would never say that I will not raise taxes, because that is a lie. If the (city) insurance (cost) goes up, and I don’t raise your taxes this year to cover the insurance, then the next year I’ll have to double that. And then we have to borrow money and then we have to pay interest on that money. … I want minimal (tax increases). I want 1%, 1½% maximum tax increase if that happens.
Why are you planning to run again in the elections next year?
I think for investing a year, by the time you feel comfortable (and) starting to make things work, I don’t believe you can finish anything in 12 months. … If I feel like I’m making a difference, I’ll stay. But, you know, if I’m in there and the votes (are going to be) four to one… then I’m not the right person. I don’t think that will happen.
What could the board do better?
I think I’ll learn that as I get into it. I don’t know what they are struggling to do or what information they are struggling to get. …I don’t know if they work well together. They seem OK, but you won’t know until you get there, right? … It’s not a part-time job. I don’t believe it’s a part-time job. I think… it’s going to be everyday that you’re going to get involved in one way or another in (the) direction of people’s lives in the city.