Committee of the Whole Summary 06/14/21
June 14, 2021
COUNCIL MEMBERS PRESENT:
M. Goodman-Hinnershitz, D. Reed, J. Cepeda-Freytiz, J. Waltman (all electronically), M. Ventura, S. Marmarou (via dial in)
L. Kelleher, S. Smith, S. Rugis, R. Tornielli, J. Kelly, A. Amoros, F. Lachat, C. Jones, W. Stoudt, C. Rodriguez, F. Denbowski, J. Long, J. Abodalo, B. Murray, M. Oppenheimer (all electronically)
The meeting was called to order at 5:06 pm by Mr. Waltman. He stated that Ms. Sihelnik is not in attendance due to medical issues. Due to the COVID-19 Emergency Declaration, the public is prohibited from physically attending the meeting. The meeting is convened via virtual app.
I. American Rescue Plan (ARP) Funding Update
Mr. Amoros shared his screen and made a power point presentation. He provided a brief background on the ARP and stated that PA will receive $7.1 billion, Berks County will receive $81.6 million and Reading will receive $61.1 million.
Mr. Amoros explained that Reading’s first traunch of funding arrived on June 9 and was approximately $30 million. He explained that a separate account has been set up for this funding so that it is properly insured. He stated that the rest of the funding would be received in March 2022 and all funds must be spent by March 31, 2026.
Mr. Amoros stated that several internal meetings have been held and that the emphasis will be on infrastructure (streets, sidewalks, parks, playgrounds, etc). He stated that the guidelines are 151 pages long.
Mr. Amoros stated that the guidelines allow for some funding to be used for a consultant to manage and administer the funding. He stated that Reading is planning on getting three quotes.
Mr. Amoros stated that the tourism industry is eligible for funding and noted the several local organizations who have contacted him about funding. He stated that meetings will be held with all organizations who request one. He noted the need to ensure that the money is spent within the guidelines. He noted the need to keep the public updated.
Ms. Reed questioned if Council will approve the spending. Mr. Amoros stated that it will.
Ms. Reed questioned if Council will enact ordinances or adopt resolutions. Mr. Waltman stated that typically funding is managed via ordinance.
Mr. Lachat stated that he believes it will be via resolution. Mr. Waltman corrected Mr. Lachat and stated that budgetary needs and reallocations are via ordinance.
Mr. Waltman stated that there are three years available to plan how to use the funds and up to five years to spend it. He stated that there is no need to rush.
Ms. Reed thanked Mr. Amoros for his presentation. She stated that she is looking forward to future updates.
Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz stated that even though this is federal funding, the City’s bid process is still required. She stated that it is important for the City to do its due diligence with protocols and processes. She suggested setting priorities for the funding on long-term investments. She noted the need for a full understanding of the guidelines before spending recommendations are made. She suggested using federal CDBG guidelines as a template as appropriate.
Mr. Amoros stated that this is a very comprehensive process. He stated that assistance from a professional will be needed and the search for a consultant has begun. He stated that he will provide the processes that the Administration will be using to Council.
Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned if the ARP funds will be in an investment account. Mr. Kelly stated that he is working with the City’s banker. He stated that if held in the City’s regular accounts the funding will not be insured by the FDIC. He stated that he will update Council after the best approach has been determined.
Mr. Kelly stated that the current guidelines explain interim rules for the funding. He stated that the final rules will be released in August. He stated that spending will be subject to the City’s purchasing requirements including Council approvals as needed. He stated that he will be meeting with the outside auditor after the spending outline has been prepared. He stated that Finance staff is hoping to have specific discussions with Council about ARP projects during the 2022 budget review process.
Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz requested that Council receive regular progress updates. She noted the loss the City had from reduced admissions tax. She questioned if that is an eligible item for ARP funding. Mr. Amoros stated that it is eligible. He stated that he will be providing regular updates and reminded Councilors that they can contact him at any time with questions.
Mr. Kelly noted his hope that a spending outline would be drafted by September.
Mr. Waltman stated that Councilors can share spending ideas with the Administration. He stated that by the end of December there should be an understanding of how funds will be allocated. He noted the need for frequent updates.
Ms. Reed questioned if the County funding would exclude Reading. Mr. Kelly stated that it does not exclude Reading but he doesn’t expect that County funding will be used in Reading based on the lack of CARES funding provided.
Ms. Reed expressed the belief that this is the biggest infusion of funds since the Depression. She stated that major projects were completed then and noted that it is important for Reading to set a legacy with these funds.
Mr. Kelly expressed the belief that Reading will be able to leverage these funds within its capital budget to move projects forward.
Mr. Marmarou questioned if Council will approve the consultant to assist with managing these funds. Mr. Amoros stated that it will.
Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz suggested that questions and requests be handled for ARP funds as they are during budget season – questions in writing and answers in writing and provided to all. She expressed the belief that it is easy to get off-course. She suggested that the questions and answers also be published on the City’s website for public viewing.
Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned if the organizations who have made funding requests are being analyzed for profit versus non-profit status, economic impact, etc. Mr. Amoros stated that the Administration is working on this analysis and will provide it to Council when it is available.
Mr. Waltman stated that many resources were available to other types of businesses during COVID. He expressed the belief that this funding to municipalities is for programs and organizations that were not eligible for those other programs. He noted the need to show tangible results with the use of the funding. He reminded all that this is nationally borrowed money and stated that Reading must do its part to get good results. He noted the need for projects with long-term impacts.
Ms. Reed noted the need for caution on projects that do not require Council approval. She noted that the ARP funds should not be used as “walking around money” and noted the need to strictly adhere to the federal guidelines. She also noted the need for public education and open communication with Council and the public.
Mr. Amoros stated that the Pagoda is city-owned and that the Pagoda Foundation is responsible for operations. He stated that this is to clarify for the public.
Mr. Waltman suggested that this agenda topic appear on agendas regularly. He reminded all to send questions and ideas to Mr. Amoros and Ms. Kelleher.
Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned when Finance Committee meetings would begin. Mr. Waltman stated that they are held during budget season. He stated that otherwise, financial topics are placed on Committee of the Whole agendas. He stated that Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz will set the budget meeting schedule.
Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz agreed that a Finance Committee is not currently established as it was in years past. She stated that she helps to facilitate budget meetings but that it is a collaborative approach. She stated that budget review meetings will begin when the Administration is ready.
Mr. Kelly stated that he sent a financial report to Council last week. He stated that Council can contact him at any time with questions or to discuss financial issues. He stated that the appearance of the information is also being updated.
Mr. Waltman requested quarterly financial executive summary information as part of the Committee of the Whole agenda.
Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz requested that Council receive financial information monthly so it can be better prepared for budget review sessions.
Mr. Waltman suggested a compromise of every other month.
Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned if the new ERP software would make it easier to prepare financial reports. Mr. Kelly stated that it will but that the software is currently in the design phase which will take 12 – 18 months. He stated that Finance is working on a new chart of accounts that will replace the printed budget binders and can be updated in real time.
II. Charter Amendment requiring Council to employ its own Solicitor
Mr. Waltman stated that he does not agree with the Charter Board advisory opinion that the referendum question created two equal solicitors.
Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz concurred with Mr. Waltman. She noted the need for the City Solicitor to represent the City as one entity and there should be one Solicitor. She questioned what would happen if Council decides not to follow the advisory opinion and goes in another direction. She expressed the belief that this simple issue for Council to have separate counsel during conflicts has become very complicated.
Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz also concurred with Mr. Waltman. She noted her understanding that the City Council solicitor would only be during times of conflict. She stated that she also understands that the City Solicitor cannot always serve two masters and must choose sides.
Ms. Reed noted her concern with the Charter Board’s interpretation. She again requested outside counsel with municipal experience. She suggested that Council wait to have a full discussion on this issue until outside counsel is included.
Mr. Waltman noted the need to understand if there is consensus on one Solicitor or two. He noted the need for clear questions when discussing the issue with outside counsel.
Mr. Waltman suggested that this topic be discussed on June 21 and that a list of questions for outside counsel should be submitted to Ms. Kelleher before that meeting.
Ms. Reed stated that she reads the referendum question as creating an equal solicitor but she is not an attorney.
Mr. Waltman noted the need to choose outside counsel for next week’s discussion. He stated that he will send his list of questions to all and that others can be added as needed. He noted his hope that this issue would be resolved by the time budget discussions begin.
Ms. Kelleher stated that Bethlehem has budgeted $25,000 for their solicitor in 2021.
III. Review of Dangerous Intersection Spreadsheet
Mr. Waltman stated that this is a long list. He requested that the Administration analyze the list and make recommendations about what can or cannot be done to make improvements. He noted the need for the list to be prioritized and reminded all that some are state roads. He stated that RATS may be requested to assist if necessary.
Chief Tornielli stated that the Police Department has been collecting data and beginning informal studies. He stated that if the State approves improvements on a State road the City MUST complete the improvement. He noted the need for data versus anecdotes.
Mr. Rugis stated that the City currently has contracts with two traffic engineering consultants. He stated that he will be requesting their assistance with the identification of issues at these intersections.
Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz thanked Chief Tornielli. She questioned when discussion on next steps would occur. Mr. Rugis stated that he will begin working with the Police Department next week. He suggested having the next discussion in the fall and stated that he will also include a map.
Chief Tornielli agreed with Mr. Rugis’s timeline.
Mr. Waltman agreed that this is a great course of action. He noted the need to identify the worst intersections first and address them as able. He stated that this will take many resources.
Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz stated that because of the agenda formatting, the intersections listed for Districts 5 and 6 are not listed.
Mr. Rugis stated that in addition to Chief Tornielli’s statement about the City being required to make improvements once approved by PennDOT, they will also require the funding up front.
Mr. Marmarou stated that regardless of action taken, both parking and driving violations must be enforced. He expressed the belief that the current regulations are not being enforced and stated that unless that occurs there will be no improvement.
Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz noted her surprise when she saw this spreadsheet and stated that she was very conservative but that there could be many more listed in District 2. She stated that the District 2 list is priority locations. She thanked all for their analysis.
Mr. Waltman agreed that this is an extensive list. He noted the need to address the most egregious intersections. He stated that he also agreed with Mr. Marmarou about the need for enforcement. He noted the need for residents to use common sense when parking and when driving.
IV. Agenda Review
Council reviewed this evening’s agenda including the following:
- Commendation recognizing Princess Lovett as the Olivet Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year
Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz stated that Ms. Lovett will be attending the meeting and that she will read the commendation this evening and also present it to her in person later this week.
- Public Comment
Ms. Kelleher stated that three people have submitted written comment and one person will be speaking during the meeting. Ms. Reed offered to read the written comments.
Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz questioned if the comment she submitted on behalf of a resident is included. Ms. Kelleher stated that it is included and that she sent an update this afternoon.
- Award of Contract for the demolition of 604 N 9th St, 519 Cedar St, 1103 Spruce St and 515 Wunder St to Northeast Industrial Services in the amount of $219,427
Mr. Waltman noted his hope that Northeast Industrial had improved their work processes and that their projects did not take a lengthy amount of time to complete.
- Resolution amending the PY 2021 HOME Action Plan in the amount of $774,495.82
Mr. Waltman questioned where this would be reallocated to. Mr. Denbowski stated that Habitat requested $250,000 and $150,000 in past program years that was not disbursed. He stated that the funds will be used for their work on Miltimore St as part of the Buttonwood Gateway improvements.
Mr. Amoros noted Mr. Denbowski’s dedication to the City as he is in the meeting during his vacation.
Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned the high amount for four homes.
Mr. Abodalo stated that it is four sets of semi-detached homes and will be a total of eight properties. He stated that they will all be single family owner occupied.
Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned the prior requests. Mr. Abodalo stated that the 2018 and 2019 funds were not released and were considered unprogrammed. He stated that there is a program in place now and the funds will be released. He stated that the Habitat project will compliment Delaware Valley’s Gateway project.
Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned when these projects would begin.
Mr. Abodalo stated that they are currently being reviewed by the Planning Commission. He stated that once all approvals are received, construction can begin.
- Resolution authorizing the Mayor and Controller to use the PennDOT online reporting system to file liquid fuels forms
Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned if this would release the funds to the City faster.
Mr. Rugis stated that it will. He stated that filing with paper forms has a 2 – 3 month turnaround but that filing online the City will receive the funds in less than one month.
- Resolution authorizing submission of an RACP grant in the amount of $4 million for the Alvernia Collegetown project
Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned if the City is liable for any of the funds. Mr. Amoros stated that the City is facilitating the grant and that Alvernia is responsible for all reporting.
- Ordinance amending City Code Chapter 576 Vehicles and Traffic, Part 13 Motorized Devices and All-Terrain Vehicles by modifying the enforcement process and adding due process and an appeals process which will allow the Police Department to destroy the vehicles seized
- Ordinance amending City Code Chapter 23 Boards and Commissions Part 23 Code and License Appeals Board by adding appeals to Chapter 576 Part 13 Motorized Devices and All-Terrain Vehicles
- Ordinance amending the City Code Fee Schedule 212-144 by adding fees for the towing, relocation and storage of ATV’s and dirt bikes
Reclamation cost for impounded ATV, snow mobile, dirt bike
Bill No. 2021
Towing/relocation fee for ATV, Snow mobile
Bill No. 2021
Towing/relocation fee for dirt bike
Bill No. 2021
Storage fee for ATV, snow mobile, dirt bike
$25 per day
Bill No. 2021
Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz requested clarification on these amendments.
Chief Tornielli stated that currently there are no provisions for a post seizure process in the current ordinance. He stated that if there is not proof of ownership of the seized vehicle it is eligible to be destroyed. He stated that there is an appeal process before destruction occurs. He expressed the belief that most of these vehicles are not registered and ownership cannot be determined. He stated that the vehicles will be destroyed so that they do not end up back on the streets.
Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz questioned if the vehicles need to be saved as evidence if they are stolen. She stated that she is unsure where residents are getting these vehicles.
Chief Tornielli stated that the Department runs the VIN number. He stated that if there is no ownership information the vehicle is held for disposal.
Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz expressed the belief that some of these vehicles are very expensive.
Ms. Reed questioned if any of the vehicles could be used by the police or fire departments.
Chief Tornielli stated that the vehicles are reviewed on a case by case basis to see if they would be helpful to police or fire. He stated that this is currently being discussed.
Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz noted her preference for repurposing the vehicles. She questioned the cost to destroy the vehicles.
Chief Tornielli stated that the City could receive revenue for the scrap metal.
Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned if there are plans for the City to create a park where these riders could legally ride these vehicles. She suggested having an admission fee.
Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz questioned how the public would be educated about these ATV regulations and fees. She expressed the belief that it is becoming a cultural norm to own these types of vehicles.
Chief Tornielli stated that a large amount of education was already done. He stated that education will continue to be provided but that enforcement must begin.
Mr. Waltman stated that these are motorized vehicles that are not registered and being ridden by people without the proper licenses. He expressed the belief that everyone knows they are illegal and that is evidenced by how they are terrorizing neighborhoods. He stated that these regulations are the first way to assist the Police. He noted that these vehicles must be taken off the streets.
Ms. Reed stated that education is good but also noted the need for large press coverage when riders are arrested and the vehicles destroyed. She noted the need for these riders to understand that enforcement is happening and that they may be fined and / or arrested and may lose their vehicle.
Mr. Waltman stated that these riders play a cat and mouse game with Police and understand they are taking risks. He noted the need to report the locations of the vehicles to the police. He stated that the last straw was when the group of riders surrounded a police officer with malicious intent. He noted the need for Reading to support its police and to get this issue under control.
Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned if signage would assist.
Chief Tornielli expressed the belief that signage would not be helpful. He agreed with Mr. Waltman that these riders understand that what they are doing is illegal. He stated that they display poor behavior and don’t care about their neighbors or their neighborhoods. He noted the need for aggressive enforcement.
Mr. Waltman stated that he has discussed this issue with Mr. Amoros and requested that Council be told if additional resources are needed.
Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz clarified that the education she was referring to was to the younger population who aspire to mimic these behaviors on these vehicles. She also noted the need for parents to understand the problems with these behaviors by their children. She noted the need to change the culture around these vehicles.
- Ordinance restricting parking in the 1100 and 1200 blocks of N 9th St due to the Marion Street Station project
Ms. Kelleher stated that PennDOT has requested additional plan changes and that this ordinance and the related resolution should be tabled this evening.
- Ordinance authorizing an appropriations transfer of $294,336.75 from General Fund Rental – Parking Authority to General Fund Part Time Wages in order to increase base pay to $15 for most part time staff
Mr. Waltman questioned if the transfer amount is accurate. Mr. Amoros stated that it is.
Mr. Waltman questioned the number of employees this would affect. Mr. Amoros stated that it is 66 employees.
Mr. Waltman stated that the math is not clear. Mr. Denbowski stated that these 66 employees are year round but that there are also some seasonal employees.
Mr. Rugis stated that there are 6 – 8 seasonal employees but that this number fluctuates. He expressed the belief that it is difficult to keep good people at $12 per hour.
Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned if the funds from the Parking Authority have been received. Mr. Kelly stated that it will be received over the course of the year. He stated that the new monthly payments at the higher rate began in March 2021.
Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned if the funding is being reallocated because the City knows it will be received. Mr. Kelly stated that this is the case and that the increase in pay will not occur until the funding is available. He stated that this ordinance gives permission to raise the rate but does not require that it be done immediately.
Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned if it would be better to wait to enact the ordinance until the funds are available.
Mr. Kelly explained that generally budgets are approved on the assumption that funds will be received throughout the year. He stated that this ordinance reallocates the additional revenue for a specific use and that there is not dollar for dollar allocations. He stated that the financial report he sent to Council last week shows that the City received $45 million in revenue and has spent $35 million. He stated that there are always fluctuations.
Mr. Waltman requested this be tabled so that he can see the breakout of the increase and the resulting fund total. He stated that he understands the need for the increase but needs a better understanding of the funds being requested.
Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz questioned if advertisements for jobs can be placed during the delay.
Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz again noted the need to wait to enact this ordinance until the funding is available. Mr. Waltman stated that revenue will be used as it is received and as it has been allocated.
Mr. Amoros agreed to table the ordinance this week but not to wait longer than the next meeting.
Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned if the raise would be retroactive.
Mr. Denbowski stated that it would not be retroactive. He stated that the raise would occur after approval is received and will coincide with the next pay period.
Mr. Amoros stated that he will provide the breakout information as requested.
- Ordinance authorizing a one year intergovernmental agreement with the Reading School District for the collection, transportation, and processing of recyclable items effective July 1, 2021
Mr. Rugis stated that this is a continuation of the current agreement. He stated that the program has been working very well and that the District is a great partner.
Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned if the District is on the municipal trash program.
Mr. Denbowski stated that this program began in 2010 and includes both the collection of recycling and recycling education. He stated that the District pays the cost of collection and this is not a revenue source.
- Ordinance authorizing a budget transfer within the WWTP in the amount of $332,700 for employee training and operational support tools to optimize the new treatment plant processes and to control upsets
Mr. Rugis stated that the WWTP is substantially completed. He stated that this training and support will reduce upsets and fines. He stated that the training and support will lead to standard operating procedures and best management practices. He stated that the training will be very detailed.
Mr. Waltman questioned if an outside consultant will provide the training. Mr. Rugis stated that the training will be provided by Hazen and Sawyer. He stated that they are a premier provider and are dedicated to Reading’s success.
- Ordinance setting the salary of the City Solicitor at $97,375 per annum
Mr. Waltman questioned if this was the salary of the former solicitor. Mr. Amoros stated that it is the same as the last salary.
- Ordinance authorizing a budget transfer of $260,000 from 2021 Capital PW Pagoda Wall Repair to PW Garage for a Class 8 Fire Truck Lift and Permanent Hot Water Steam Cleaning Machine (Hotsy)
Mr. Rugis explained that the Hotsy machine will clean the underside of sweepers and other large vehicles. He stated that it easily removes salt and will extend the life of the snow removal machinery. He explained that the lift will allow large apparatus to be lifted to determine what repairs are needed and will increase the safety of employees.
Mr. Waltman questioned the lifespan of the equipment. Mr. Rugis stated that the Hotsy will last approximately 5 years and the lift will last between 15 and 20 years. He expressed the belief that the crew will maintain the lift so that it may last up to 25 years.
Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz noted her concern with delaying work on the Pagoda wall.
Mr. Rugis stated that this project is moving forward. He stated that he will be meeting with Purchasing about the other Pagoda projects and the wall is in line.
Ms. Reed also noted her concern with the work on the Pagoda wall. Mr. Rugis stated that borings and core samples of the wall will be needed. He stated that the wall is showing its age. He stated that some of the water infiltration issues will be addressed as part of the traffic improvement project which will channel the water runoff away from the wall.
Ms. Reed questioned if this transfer will delay the wall project.
Mr. Rugis expressed the belief that it would not.
Ms. Reed then expressed the belief that this is a win-win. Mr. Rugis agreed and stated that the City has very dedicated employees.
The meeting adjourned at 6:53 pm.
Respectfully Submitted by
Linda A. Kelleher, CMC, City Clerk