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Committee of the Whole Summary 05/10/21


May 10, 2021
5:00 P.M.
Virtual Meeting


M. Goodman-Hinnershitz, D. Reed, J. Cepeda-Freytiz, L. Sihelnik, J. Waltman (all electronically), M. Ventura, S. Marmarou (via dial in)

L. Kelleher, S. Smith, J. Kelly, S. Rugis, T. Ganguzza, E. Gray, A. Acevedo, C. Jones, A. LaMano, A. Amoros, W. Stoudt, J. Long, D. Peris, N. Judge, M. Rodriguez, F. Denbowski, J. Abodalo, C. Crespo, T. Krall, R. Tornielli (all electronically)

The meeting was called to order at 5:12 pm by Mr. Waltman. Due to the COVID-19 Emergency Declaration, the public is prohibited from physically attending the meeting. The meeting is convened via virtual app.

  1. Update – 9th & Marion Fire Station

    Mr. Waltman stated that the playground has been closed and earthwork has begun.

    Fire Chief Stoudt introduced Mr. Ganguzza from Boyle Construction and Mr. Gray from Manns Woodward Studios. He thanked Mr. Rugis for his work on the project and stated that there has been great collaboration. He stated that meetings began in October 2020.

    Mr. Oppenheimer joined the meeting at this time.

    Chief Stoudt stated that construction development began in January and meetings are held every two weeks. He stated that the Zoning Hearing Board approved the required variances in April and that the plans have been submitted to the County Planning Commission, PennDOT and the City Planning Commission. He stated that the issues that were noted during reviews are being addressed. He stated that once PennDOT approvals are received, the Planning Commission can finalize the plan development. He stated that the design takes the safety of fire fighters and their risks of cancer into account. He stated that the design also takes fire fighter’s physical and mental health into account. He stated that there are separate zones for contaminants and living quarters.

    A ten minute virtual walk through video was played. Chief Stoudt described each area in the video.

    Chief Stoudt stated that it is hoped that construction bids will be received in June with construction beginning in September.

    Mr. Marmarou stated that he spent many years fighting for this project. He noted that his late wife was integral in his pursuit of the project and he is sorry she is no longer with him to see the result. He thanked all for their efforts.

    Chief Stoudt thanked Mr. Marmarou for his diligence. He noted his appreciation of Mr. Marmarou’s efforts. He reported that 90% of the design is complete. He stated that due to construction material cost increases the project is now estimated at $9 million (the initial estimate was $8.5 million).

    Ms. Sihelnik stated that this was a fantastic presentation. She questioned the environmental impact of the building including sound and light pollution. She questioned how the station would impact the neighborhood and what stormwater implications there are.

    Mr. Rugis stated that the building was built to LEED specifications without going through certification. He stated that many materials being used will be recycled, LED lighting and high efficiency HVAC will be installed, and there will be a white roof. He stated that there will be little impact for stormwater because there is less asphalt than what the playground contained (67% coverage versus 100% coverage). He expressed the belief that the lighting will not be invasive but that the building will be brighter. He stated that special considerations and construction will be done for sound including sound containment for the generator. He noted his hope that the station will be friendly to the neighborhood.

    Chief Stoudt stated that there will be six feet between the existing home and the new station where the current station is directly attached to the neighboring home.

    Mr. Gray stated that the lighting in the simulation shows all the lights on at full power. He stated that this is not how the station will routinely operate. He stated that the lights will be on timers and there will be controls on the number of lights on at night. He stated that this will also reduce energy consumption.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz stated that special traffic controls were installed at the station on Lancaster Ave. She stated that N 9th St is also very busy and questioned if similar traffic controls would be installed. Chief Stoudt stated that flashing yellow lights will be installed on N 9th street northbound and southbound. He stated that one will also be installed on Marion St. He stated that Council will be asked to approve these signals for consideration by PennDOT. He stated that this resolution will be coming forward shortly.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz stated that this was an excellent presentation. She questioned if the bathrooms were gender specific. Chief Stoudt stated that they are all gender neutral with locks on the inside. Mr. Gray stated that the intent is to store personal hygiene items in nearby lockers or in the bunk room. He stated that having gender neutral facilities helps eliminate future needs based on the gender of staff.

    Mr. Ganguzza stated that the building will also have a gas generator in case of power outages. He stated that the facility can be used for other City business as necessary because of the generator.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned the timeline for the project and the completion date. She also questioned the future use of the existing building. Mr. Ganguzza stated that bids will be received in mid-June, the contractors will be selected in August, construction will begin in mid-September and it will take approximately 12 months to complete.

    Chief Stoudt stated that the proposed use of the current station footprint will be a playground after demolition is complete. Mr. Amoros agreed and stated that many options were considered. He stated that these discussions continue.

    Mr. Rugis stated that the current building would need to be remediated for mold and other hazardous materials. He stated that it is not ADA compliant and that it would take approximately $4 million to rehab it. He stated that the hope for the playground is that it would be for both children and adults and would become a community centric area. He stated that play equipment will be ADA compliant.

    Ms. Reed agreed that the cost to rehab the current station is prohibitive. She suggested that items be donated to the Firefighter’s Museum or to the Artifacts Bank before demolition occurs. Chief Stoudt stated that some items will be used to decorate the new station and some items have already been donated to the Museum.

    Ms. Reed suggested scheduling a walk through with the Artifacts Bank to see what items they could use. Chief Stoudt stated that he will arrange a walk through.

    Ms. Sihelnik noted the need to engage the community on how best to provide what they need at the new playground. She also noted the need to explain the increased costs to the public for transparency. Chief Stoudt stated that RACP grants of approximately $4 million has been applied, $1.8 million is in the Capital budget and $2.5 million will come from the fire station construction fund.

    Mr. Rugis reminded all that the station will be constructed of block walls. He stated that they are most durable, cost conscience and effective. He stated that this will increase the life of the building.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz stated that the Recreation Commission will discuss the future needs of the playground. She stated that this will be a small lot and suggested having play equipment with a fire theme.

    Mr. Denbowski explained that the City used DCNR funds for the current playground area and a land swap is necessary. He stated that the site of the current station will become an open space and will benefit the community. He stated that a public meeting is being planned at 11th & Pike.

    Mr. Waltman thanked all for the presentation and for their work on the project. He stated that he looks forward to awarding the construction contracts.

    Mr. Ganguzza and Mr. Gray left the meeting at this time.

  2. 275th Anniversary of Reading

    Ms. Reed stated that the City’s 275th Anniversary is in 2023. She stated that Reading was founded on March 16, 1748. She stated that the celebrations will be City centric and will begin with fireworks on New Year’s Eve 2022 with events throughout 2023 and finishing with fireworks on New Year’s Eve 2023.

    Ms. Reed noted the need to honor the history of the City from its indigenous roots to current times including all ages, ethnicities and nationalities. She noted the need to engage the youth and honor the elders.

    Ms. Reed stated that the Anniversary Steering Committee will consist of herself, Ms. Kelleher, Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz, the Mayor as chair, and Ms. Rodriguez. She stated that many volunteers are needed and there are 16 committees planned. She stated that census data will be used to collect nationalities of residents and stated that each nationality’s flag will be raised in front of City Hall to be inclusive.

    Mr. Denbowski stated that the Mayor is very excited and that honoring diversity is important. He stated that the Steering Committee will support, guide and coordinate the work of the other committees. He stated that there is room for everyone on the committees and stated that a specific email address will be created. He stated that in addition to the Mayor, he and Mr. Crespo will serve on the Steering Committee. He expressed the belief that those serving on the Steering Committee are very reflective of diversity.

    Ms. Reed stated that the Steering Committee has met three times and the work of the other committees will begin soon. She noted the need for fundraising and for event partners.

    Mr. Denbowski stated that there will be a theme, logo and branding. He noted the need for community input.

    Ms. Reed agreed and stated that the official kick-off will be at the end of Jazz Fest 2022 and that many people are very enthusiastic. She stated that there will be efforts for the Armed Forces Day Parade to return to Reading in some fashion and to restore other special events.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned the timeframe. Ms. Reed again announced that the kick-off would be at the end of Jazz Fest 2022 and will begin with fireworks on New Year’s Eve 2022 with celebrations throughout 2023 and finishing with fireworks on New Year’s Eve 2023.

  3. Agenda Review

    Council reviewed this evening’s agenda including the following:

    • Public Comment

    Ms. Kelleher stated that two people have submitted written comment on agenda topics and one person will be giving comment on a non-agenda topic during the meeting.

    • Award of Contract for City-Wide Traffic Signal Operation and Maintenance to Traffic Planning and Design Inc at a total cost of $415,640

    Mr. Krall stated that Council earmarked $228,000 for signal optimization in the downtown in 2020. He stated that there are 130 signals in Reading and that improvements are needed. He stated that this is a three year program. He explained that six responses to the RFP were received and Traffic Planning and Design were mid-cost but had the best program. He stated that the City has worked with them before. He explained that this funding is approximately 1/3 the cost of the total project and the rest of the project is funded in the Capital budget and Liquid Fuels funds. He stated that a meeting with PennDOT will be held shortly.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned if additional signals would be installed in problem traffic areas. Mr. Krall stated that the only new signal in this project is part of the River Road extension at the Schuylkill Ave Bridge. He stated that the project will increase safety and that the cost of the project quote is less than the estimate. He stated that this may help to increase the footprint of the project.

    Mr. Rugis stated that Public Works will address the intersection at 2nd & Buttonwood Sts in 2022 after school is back to full in-person learning.

    Mr. Krall stated that a signal is also being studied for N 13th & Pike Sts.

    Ms. Sihelnik questioned if the train schedule and its effects on traffic will be studied. Mr. Krall noted his hope that it would. He stated that he will note Ms. Sihelnik’s concern and discuss this with Traffic Planning and Design. Mr. Rugis stated that trains do affect downtown traffic. He stated that new railroad arms will be installed in 2022.

    Ms. Sihelnik questioned if work would be done to the intersection of Lancaster Ave & Route 10. She stated that the traffic is always a nightmare. Mr. Krall stated that this is not being addressed at this time but that the equipment will be updated. Mr. Rugis stated that work on the Route 422 project has delayed improvements to this intersection.

    Ms. Sihelnik stated that the Route 422 project also has possible impacts on the Millmont neighborhood.

    Ms. Reed stated that the Route 422 project has been delayed until at least 2027. She agreed that this section of the highway and the ramps are proposed for reconfiguration.

    Ms. Sihelnik suggested that the City do small things now to make this intersection safer.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz stated that all neighborhoods have intersections that would benefit from traffic signals. She stated that this will not be done so the City needs to find other ways to increase safety. She stated that these decisions are not part of Council’s purview and the public needs to understand that.

    • Resolution authorizing a new 2021 bank account and a new Fund 47 to receive American Recovery Act funds

    Mr. Kelly stated that the new bank account and fund will keep these funds separate. He stated that the guidelines were released this afternoon and noted his hope that funding will be received this week.

    Mr. Waltman questioned if Council approval is needed to transfer these funds for projects. Mr. Kelly stated that Council approval is needed.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz requested time be scheduled at an upcoming meeting to discuss possible projects. Mr. Kelly agreed.

    Mr. Waltman encouraged all to review the guidelines. He stated that the Administration will bring many ideas forward. He stated that Council may add ideas and discussions will continue.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned the timeline to spend the funds. Mr. Waltman stated that this should be included in the guidance. He again encouraged all to read the guidance. He stated that constructive ideas should be brought forward and Council can negotiate their priorities into the Administration’s plan. He noted the need to spend the funds judiciously to get the best rate of return.

    • Ordinance amending the City Code Chapter 77 Part 1 Police Department by amending the experience requirements for the position of Captain
    • Ordinance amending the City Code Chapter 77 Part 1 Police Department by striking Section 110 College Credits for Sergeant, Lieutenant and Captain and reserving this section

    Mr. Amoros stated that the Mayor has requested that the Bill 34-2021 be withdrawn from the agenda.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz stated that Bill 31-2021 contains strikethroughs referencing college. Police Chief Tornielli stated that this was removed and amended when the original Bill was split into two Bills. Ms. Kelleher agreed.

    Ms. Ventura questioned why this would be tabled again. Mr. Amoros explained that the Mayor does not wish this to move forward at this time.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz explained that the withdrawal does not table. She noted the need to be careful that Bill 31-2021 has consistent language if Bill 34-2021 is withdrawn.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz began listing pages where college credits were stricken. Ms. Kelleher stated that this was done assuming that both ordinances would be considered by Council. She stated that the strikethroughs can be corrected.

    Mr. Waltman suggested amending Bill 31-2021 during the meeting and withdrawing Bill 34-2021 during the adoption of the agenda.

    Ms. Sihelnik stated that there is much confusion. She requested that Chief Tornielli outline the experience for promotion. Chief Tornielli stated that Bill 31-2021 will prevent Lieutenants from skipping over the rank of Sergeant to become Captain. He stated that it also adds the need for two years’ experience in the Patrol division for a fuller understanding of the Department.

    • Ordinance amending Chapter 353 and renaming it Loitering and Panhandling and creating a diversionary program to address aggressive panhandling

    Ms. Reed thanked all for their work on this amendment. She stated that this amendment will give officers an additional tool and that aggressive panhandling will be addressed City-wide. She described the difference between passive panhandling and aggressive panhandling. She expressed the belief that this amendment is very fair.

    Mr. Krall and Mr. Rugis left the meeting at this time.

    Ms. Reed noted the need to both keep the City safe and to help individuals in need.

    Ms. Sihelnik questioned how officers would determine aggressiveness. She questioned the training they would receive and how it would be applied. Chief Tornielli stated that aggressive panhandlers obstruct the entrances to businesses or traffic or don’t move when requested. He stated that training will be provided.

    Mr. Waltman read the definition of Aggressive Panhandling from the legislation.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz stated that this amendment has evolved but there is still the perception that people will be sent to prison. She stated that education is needed about the ordinance and that Police officers already use diversionary programs for other offenses. She stated that there has been unfortunate misrepresentation of this legislation.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned a list of programs and partners. Ms. Kelleher stated that the City has an agreement with Hope Rescue Mission to expand the program they are already using. She stated that Hope Rescue Mission will assess the person and the type of services to offer them.

    Ms. LaMano clarified that the programs and partners are not included in the legislation so that there is better flexibility to administer the program.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz questioned if officers receive training on diversionary programs. Chief Tornielli stated that they do. He cited Blue Cares and marijuana programs as examples. He stated that diversionary programs are not used frequently but officers are required to use the most appropriate enforcement action based on the observed violations. He stated that this will be an additional tool that officers do not currently have.

    • Ordinance amending City Code Section 576-403 Parking Prohibited in Specific Areas by adding the requirement to park inside parking stall lines

    Ms. Kelleher stated that Mr. Matz will be attending the next Committee of the Whole meeting to discuss this topic.

    • Ordinance authorizing the transfer of $99,000 from General Ledger Rental – Parking Authority to General Ledger – Contracted Services to provide funding for special counsel to the Planning Commission for specialized legal advice relating to projects, ordinance amendments, agreements and resolutions involving planning and zoning

    Mr. Peris stated that this transfer will allow him to use third party consultants for Planning Commission matters. He stated that development in Reading has increased and this will help to protect the City and ensure the best quality projects and agreements move forward.

    Mr. Kelly stated that this funding is available from the additional payments by the Parking Authority in the new lease agreement.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned if HARB could also get additional assistance. Mr. Peris stated that staff is working with Ms. Johnson to share the workload and to ease her burden.

  4. Other Matters

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned if military credits would continue to be awarded to police officers. Chief Tornielli stated that these are awarded during the hiring process but not for promotions.

    Ms. Rodriguez requested a legal opinion on the use of funds from the Pottiger Estate (Bill 38-2021).

    Mr. Waltman questioned if Ms. Rodriguez was requesting a delay. Ms. Rodriguez stated that she is.

    Mr. Waltman questioned if the delay is problematic to the Administration. Mr. Kelly stated that the delay is not problematic but that he would have appreciated having a discussion sooner.

    The meeting adjourned at 6:52 pm.

Respectfully Submitted by
Linda A. Kelleher, CMC, City Clerk