- Herbein & Company began their annual audit the week of April 13th and it is projected that they will be here until the end of May or beginning of June.
- The City of Reading Community Development Department awarded its first Micro-Enterprise Assistance Grant (MAG) in the amount $20,000 to Mr. Dele Olaewe, proprietor of Cure Sports, LLC earlier today.
- The City of Reading is hosting two more sessions for all residents, business owners, and people interested in learning the inside scoop about the Double Tree Hotel and how it will impact the downtown landscape. All “Scoop” sessions will be held outside the former bank building at Fifth and Penn Streets, weather permitting. Session dates are April 28 at 5 p.m. and Tuesday, May 5 at 3 p.m.
- On April 2nd there was another suspicious fire at 118 North 4th Street. While there was only minor damage once again, there was an injury to a firefighter this time that will place him out of work for at least a month. This was the 2nd fire in the last 2 weeks at this property, and the 8th since the beginning of December. The Fire Marshal’s Office is continuing to investigate.
- On Monday night April 6th, Units responded to a working fire that involved the rear of 5 properties in the 300 McKnight and 100 W. Elm. There was 1 injury to a civilian and no firefighter injuries, the fire was brought under control in 30 minutes and it was ruled suspicious.
- On Sunday April 19th at 11:38 PM, an Engine, Ladder, and Chief responded once again to the 116-118 North 4th Street for another suspicious fire that involved a dresser on the side walk that also caused damage to a car parked in front of the address. The fire was brought under control a short time and the Fire Marshal’s Office, as well as the Police, is investigating.
- On Monday April 20th, units responded to 847 Nicholas Street for a gas leak due to a line being struck by vehicle. There were no injuries, but several homes did need to be evacuated until the line could be shut down in the street by UGI.
- On Tuesday April 21st at 10:55 AM, what was first reported as a Motor Vehicle Accident with a vehicle fire was found to be a Crane truck on fire that extended to the structures on both sides of it. The truck was totally destroyed and the structures sustained moderate damage.
- On Wednesday April 22nd at 8:13 PM, units responded for a fire in the first floor at 1012 Meade St. There were no injuries and the 6 occupants were being assisted by the Red Cross.
- The Department is finishing up the annual Hazmat refresher training this coming week, and will doing some water rescue training during the month of May.
- The Fire Marshal’s Office has been conducting standpipe and hydrant testing at the UGI facility at 5th and Canal Sts.
- It is with deep regret that on the morning of Thursday April 23rd one of our Paramedic Firefighters, Brenda Bauer passed away after an extended illness. Brenda was hired in 2001 when EMS returned the Department of Fire and Rescue Services.
Key Findings from PFM Report
- Earned income tax became the City’s largest source of revenue in 2014, passing the real estate tax. The City received $21 million from the EIT, which was $1.3 million more than budgeted and $1.6 million more than in 2013.
- The City of Reading received $19.6 million in current year real estate tax, which equates to an 88.9 percent collection rate. Because the budget assumed a 90 percent collection rate, there's a $178,000 (or 0.9 percent) shortfall. The 88.9 percent was a little higher than the collection rates in 2012 (87.3 percent) and 2013 (86.6 percent).
- The City activated a fourth ambulance in the fourth quarter of 2013 so the 2014 budget assumed the additional vehicle would generate additional user fee revenue. Instead the preliminary 2014 results were only $61,000 higher than in 2013 and $582,000 short of budget. PFM has asked the Managing Director and Fire Department leadership to look into this issue.
- All major departments spent less than budgeted on salaries, temporary wages and holiday pay.
- As a whole the City spent $779,000 (or 2.7 percent) less than budget, though it also spent $1.2 million (or 4.4 percent) more than budget in 2013.
- Last year the City spent more than budgeted on overtime, though a little less than in 2013. Police stayed within its $1.8 million budget and spent a little less than in 2013. Fire exceeded its budget by $364,000 (or 56.7 percent) though it spent $57,000 less than in 2013.
- The City spent $683,000 (or 6.2 percent) more than budgeted on employee insurance coverage last year and $1.6 million (or 16.1 percent) more than in 2013. There were particularly large increases in Police ($527,000 over budget) and Public Works ($415,000 over budget). We need to learn more about the reasons for this growth. If it is mostly driven by active employees, the City has some protection from future increases. If it is driven by retired employees, the City has less protection.
- The City stayed within its budget across the total amount of non-personnel, operating expenditures, spending $799,000 (or 6.9 percent) less than budgeted. The City spent $1.8 million more in 2014 than in 2013, though that was expected because of the money allocated for paving, replacing core information technology infrastructure and repairing the Pagoda wall.
- Last Friday, I announced that Reading, PA was named a 2014 Tree City USA by the Arbor Day Foundation in honor of its commitment to effective urban forest management. We celebrated this honor and the 30th Anniversary of Arbor Day this past Friday at the 16th and Haak Elementary school, where three new Zelkova trees were planted in their playground.
- We hosted four meetings in April throughout the City to provide updates on our war on potholes, Bridge construction in the City, progress being made by the Community Development Department, the City’s trend in lowering crime statistics, the launch of Reading iRequest, and the Great American Cleanup.
- On March 30, we announced the successful implementation of the City of Reading’s new Reading iRequest customer service system, a platform that includes a cloud-based community portal and improved tracking for service requests and opened it up to the public.
- The Great American Cleanup was held this past Saturday. We had over 1,000 volunteers signed up to work throughout the City.
The City of Reading will host a Town Hall Meeting on April 30 at 5:30 PM at the Schmidt Training & Technology Center at Reading Area Community College, open to all who are interested in attending.
From 5:30 to 6:00 PM, Mayor Spencer’s administration will provide attendees with an overview of the City’s amended recovery plan. At 6:00 PM, The PFM Group, the City’s Act 47 advisors, will talk about the changes to PA’s Act 47 laws at the state level and how these impact the future of the City of Reading.
Comprehensive Plan Meetings
These public meetings will provide an overview of the comprehensive plan process and a summary of the materials prepared by the Steering Committee and Planning Consultants. Each meeting will then focus on the neighborhoods surrounding the meeting location and the input will be used to prepare updates to policies, strategies and implementation actions.
May 4 at 5:30 PM, Centre Park Historic District Headquarters
May 5 at 5:30 PM, Alvernia University, McGlinn Conference Center
May 11 at 5:30 PM, Pendora Park Fieldhouse
May 12 at 5:30 PM, Albright College, Roessner Conference Center
Since 2011, the police records unit has been using a service sponsored by CARFAX to provide reports to insurance companies and the public. This service entails the police department uploading accident report records to CARFAX and then they make them available for a fee; mostly to insurance agencies. CARFAX pays the police department the same fee we’ve always charged, and then adds a service fee for its part in improving the system.
It is an efficient method to obtain reports and by opening an account with CARFAX one can receive the reports online on a timely basis. Since the police department began using CARFAX in September 2011 we earned $107,565.00 in revenue, uploaded 13,083 reports and sold 7,171 reports. Not only has this innovation kept a good revenue stream; it lessened the load on the Record Unit’s clerks, who were downsized during the Act 47 implementation. Many local police departments have signed up with CARFAX because of our success story.
14th & Walnut Facility (Old Parks Admin building / Old Solid Waste Offices
On March 24th, 2015 it was noticed that portion of the stone facade had fallen off above one of the lower level garages. A few days later (03/27/15), a group of people including Burkey Construction, a structural engineer, and Brian Nicarry from the City's Building & Trades Department all met on site and performed an evaluation of the building. A number of severe structural concerns were identified and included in the Structural Engineer's report. The report and the subsequent opinion of Burkey (the City's consultant for construction projects) have been received by Public Works.
The views of both Burkey and the Structural Engineer are that while repairs might be effective, the costs to repair the building would be significantly more expensive than the costs to remove and replace the building with a new structure. At the time of the inspection, Public Works had already stopped using the facility in their daily operations. It is currently being used for storage but due to the damage, the items stored in the side bays had to be relocated as per the engineer's recommendations. With the removal of this building, Public Works will be in major need of a storage area. The location would be able to accommodate a storage building / warehouse. Pricing for a new building will need to be explored in conjunction with the demolition costs.
Schuylkill River Trail Improvement Project
The City has submitted a PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Grant for the Schuylkill River Trail Improvement Project. The City requested $910,098 from DCNR for the project. The required matching funds will be applied to through other grant funding sources’ 2015 rounds. The proposed project will create a safe on-road clearly marked and signed trail segment for the Schuylkill River trail through Reading from Reading Area Community College to Buttonwood Street. This will replace the often used and illegal trail on Norfolk Southern property. The need for this improvement has been cited as a priority in the City’s and Berks County’s Park, Recreation, Open Space and Comprehensive Plans. Key partners in this project include the City of Reading, the Berks Conservancy, the County of Berks, and the Schuylkill River Greenway Association. If awarded the funds the City will begin this project in 2016.
Emerald Ash Tree Bores
The City Arborist (Lester Kissinger, Jr.) along with Operations Division Manager of Public (David Ruyak) are currently working to establish and put in place a 10-year plan to combat the invasive species known as the Emerald Ash Borer, known to kill all ash trees, not just here in the City of Reading, but across America. This plan will include removals, replanting, and chemical treatment of all of the ash trees known as street trees located behind the curb line. The inventory of ash trees within the City, not including the parks, is 502 trees. At the current time, the City Arborist is looking to save as many of these trees as possible through chemical treatment with a chemical called Tree-äge. However, there will still be a large amount of trees that will need to be removed causing a gap in the tree canopy throughout the City. To replace this gap of what has to be removed, we will replace the trees with suitable species.
Waste Water Treatment Plant Funding
The City of Reading is pleased to report that on April 22, 2015, at the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PENNVEST) Board Meeting, we were notified that the City has been approved to receive $84.586 million in low interest loans to provide funding to upgrade the liquids portion of the wastewater treatment plant to meet the terms of the federal consent order. This is part of the ongoing efforts by the City to keep costs down to fund this critical project. This low interest loan carries an interest rate of one-percent over the life of the 20-year loan. We are thankful to Pennvest, as well as the Governor and our local PA State Senators and Representatives for the recognition of the importance of this project and the investment in the community. We also recognize the efforts of our staff for their diligence and commitment to looking for low cost funding options.'
Wyomissing Park Relighting Ceremony
The City of Reading cordially invites all residents and neighbors to the Wyomissing Park Relighting Ceremony to be held on Orchard Road behind The Villa St. Elizabeth on April 28, 2015 at 7:30 PM. All guests will be invited to The Villa directly following the ceremony for refreshments and entertainment.
The Reading Parking Authority installed a pay kiosk in the State Lot (7th & Penn) on March 16th and is currently running a three (3) month test. They have removed the meters. Clients may now pay with coins as well as debit/credit cards. The Parking Authority has had a positive reception to the debit/credit option. They will be starting a similar trial with a different manufacture of machines on the 6th & Cherry Street lot in the coming weeks. This is the latest and greatest technology to rid us of out of date equipment, prevent improper ticketing and provide better service to the citizens and visitors of Reading. After the trial period is over, the RPA will make a decision on the type of machine and the manufacture we will go forth with.
The City of Reading has been coordinating with County officials, Penn DOT, West Reading Borough officials and the Greater Reading Chamber of Commerce and Industry to discuss the upcoming bridge projects. The group has formed a “Reading Bridges” committee that meets regularly to review the scheduling of the bridge reconstruction projects that affect the City of Reading. An informational web site has been set up called “ReadingBridges.net”, and will be available to inform the general public of the latest construction news, road closures and detour routes. A link to this web site has been placed on the City of Reading’s web site.
The Buttonwood St. Bridge, which is scheduled to close this July, will be under construction for a 2 year period. During this time, a detour will be in effect to direct traffic to the Penn Street Bridge. The Buttonwood St. Bridge will be closed to both traffic and pedestrians. The detour will utilize Schuylkill Ave. and Front St. to access the Penn St. Bridge, with a temporary traffic signal to be installed at the intersection of Schuylkill Ave. and Front St. An increase in traffic is expected along this detour route due to the bridge closure. The next project to follow will be the Penn St. Bridge reconstruction. That work will not start until the Buttonwood St. Bridge is opened for traffic, hopefully by mid 2017.