Committee of the Whole Summary 06/21/21
June 21, 2021
COUNCIL MEMBERS PRESENT:
M. Goodman-Hinnershitz, D. Reed, L. Sihelnik, J. Cepeda-Freytiz, J. Waltman (all electronically), M. Ventura, S. Marmarou (via dial-in)
L. Kelleher, M. Rodriguez, F. Lachat, S. Smith, F. Denbowski, S. Rugis, J. Abodalo, J. Kelly, J. Long, N. Judge, C. Crespo, N. Rivera, W. Stoudt
The meeting was called to order at approximately 5:08 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.
- Skate Board Park Update
Mr. Denbowski stated that the City of Reading is partnering with the Reading Skate Park Association (RSA), Reading Recreation Commission and the Reading Redevelopment Authority (RRA) to develop a skate park at 601 Canal Street through a 25 year no cost lease with the RRA.
The RSA was founded in 2016 by a small group of motivated members of the community to partner with the City to facilitate the installation of a free public concrete outdoor skate park. In 2020, it became a city sponsored project.
The project funding is provided through:
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Greenways, Trails and Recreation
Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund
$200,000 Reading Skate Park
$250,000 Tony Hawk $25,000 City of Reading
Capital Fund allocated in 2020
$300,000 Additional Capital Fund request (June 2021) $240,000
TOTAL: $830,000 for Phase One
Mr. Denbowski noted that an additional City contribution will be required in 2022. He stated that the funding provided by the RSA covered the start-up costs for planning, architectural work, etc. He noted that additional work was required as the park is located within the City’s flood plain area and due to MS4 storm water requirements. He stated that groundbreaking is planned for early March 2022 with the grand opening planned for early July.
In response to a question from Mr. Waltman, Mr. Denbowski stated that the Rec Commission will be the lead agency for site
management/maintenance with assistance from the RSA. An MOU will define the responsibilities of all organizations.
Mr. Rugis noted that the City is the project manager for the construction project. He noted that the maintenance will be similar to other city-owned rec facilities, adding that those who use the park will likely assist in the maintenance of the bowl.
Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz thanked everyone for the teamwork required to move this project forward. She inquired if any delays are expected due to the shortage of some construction materials due to the pandemic. Mr. Rugis replied that delays are not expected.
Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned if this site is located near Canal Street. Mr. Rugis replied in the affirmative.
Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz noted that the budget was prepared in 2018 and she inquired about potential project increases. Mr. Rugis expressed the belief that the budget is solid, as it contains a 15-20% contingency.
Ms. Sihelnik thanked everyone involved in creating this successful public-private partnership that is a model for future projects. She noted that City parks, trails and recreation facilities attract people from outside the region. She reminded the group that there is currently a Reading resident on the Olympic skate board team.
Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz noted the other key features in this area.
Mr. Waltman expressed the belief that due to the increased cost of wood and other construction materials, the final project cost will increase slightly. He also warned about the need to properly maintain the bowl to reduce the City’s liability.
- Charter Amendment re Council Solicitor
Mr. Waltman apologized for forgetting to prepare his list of questions for the independent legal counsel. He agreed with the need to have outside legal assistance as Council works through the process to create this position over the next 60-90 day period so the position can be funded in the 2022 budget.
Mr. Lachat stated that there is a list of attorneys who responded to an RFP for independent legal counsel for City Council. He noted that due to the experience of some of these attorneys Council may wish to retain the services of one of these attorneys as Council Solicitor. He suggested selecting an one of those on the list as Acting Council Solicitor to avoid the potential for conflict if City Council wishes to name the Acting Council Solicitor into the position.
Mr. Waltman asked Ms. Kelleher to circulate the list of attorneys to Council and he asked Council to send Ms. Kelleher their top pick for the Acting Council Solicitor by next Monday the 28th.
American Rescue Plan (ARP) Funding Update
Mr. Kelly explained that ARP allocations will be approved by Council as per the City’s purchasing policies. Council approval is required for allocations in excess of $34,999 and bids are required for purchases in excess of $10,000. He stated that the administration recognizes Council’s desire for additional scrutiny for these federal funds.
Ms. Reed expressed the need for Council to enact an ordinance that will require Council approval or authorization for all allocations from this funding to protect the City leadership from innocent errors. She questioned why the mayor and managing director are absent as this discussion was scheduled for this COW.
Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz agreed with the need for an ordinance to define the approval process for the use of these federal dollars. She suggested a process similar to that required for CDBG funds.
Mr. Waltman expressed the belief that an ordinance is not necessary as he covered this need during a conversation he had with the managing director and Ms. Kelleher and the managing director was supportive.
Mr. Kelly again stated that the purchasing policies will be followed for the allocation of this funding: Council approval is required for spending in excess of $34,999 and bids are required for purchases in excess of $10,000. He stated that the Treasury Guidance applies stringent standards similar to those employed by HUD.
Mr. Denbowski stated that the administration is considering retaining a third party administrator/consultant to assist the City with developing the Action Plan, the application form and review process. The funding for this service can be covered by the ARP funds. He agreed with Mr. Kelly that the City will need to follow the purchasing policies.
Mr. Waltman asked Mr. Kelly to prepare a brief on the ARP controls and approval requirements.
Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz stated that the administration previously stated that Council will be presented with a spending plan in September. She inquired if the administration could create a work group to develop the plan that includes a Council liaison.
Mr. Waltman stated that Council will receive an update on this funding two times per month, which will provide Council with the ability to provide input. He suggested that Council can also submit suggestions/proposals via email to the managing director and Ms. Kelleher.
Ms. Sihelnik noted the need for the plan to be aligned with the City’s priorities and needs, avoiding a scattered approach. She suggested breaking out the plan projects by Council District.
Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz stated that she finds it unsettling that the administration is already receiving and considering funding requests from various organizations and agencies. She expressed the belief that requests for funding should not occur prior to the creation of an application and review criteria. She stressed the need to use this one time funding to invest in the community and create an approval process that safeguards these public funds.
Ms. Rodriguez noted that there are restrictions on how the funding can be spent, quarterly reporting requirements and audit requirements.
Mr. Rivera stated that while he understands Council’s concerns, he suggested that Council may be objecting too quickly. He explained that while the mayor has an open door policy to hear requests from people and organizations, no commitments have been made. He recognized the need for Council approval but noted that this will not be a free for all.
Ms. Reed expressed the belief that an ordinance would memorialize the approval process. She also noted the availability of receiving project funding reports from the County and State and the need to coordinate to make sure applicants are not double-dipping. She expressed the belief that the City should also have access to project funding from the County and the State. Mr. Waltman and Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz agreed.
Mr. Waltman again stressed the need for Council to receive a briefing on the Federal controls for ARP funding.
Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz suggested performing a City needs assessment before considering projects. She also noted that the retreat held last summer identified City project priorities and she suggested considering that list prior to making decisions on the use of these funds.
Mr. Waltman agreed with the need for strategic planning for the use of these funds.
Ms. Sihelnik questioned how local controls would work with Federal controls.
Mr. Marmarou stressed the need for people to return to their jobs as they will not receive funding from the ARP funds.
Mr. Kelly stated that he is unsure if the City is eligible to receive project funding from the County and State, as the City is a direct entitlement community.
Ms. Reed requested adding a Council liaison and the Auditor to the work group.
Mr. Kelly stated that the Auditor has been included in the work group. Mr. Waltman asked Mr. Kelly to also include a Council liaison.
Mr. Waltman asked Mr. Kelly to provide a brief on Federal controls and Ms. Kelleher to inquire about the City’s eligibility for project funding from the County and State.
1st Quarter Financial Report
Mr. Kelly highlighted the report attached to the agenda and distributed to the group electronically. He stated that to date the City has received 81% of the real estate tax revenue, 44% of the EIT revenue (which is lagging behind 2020 receipts) 55% of the Act 111 revenue and 38% of the license, permit and fees revenue – totaling 49% of the budgeted revenues. He noted that City expenses are at $35M which is less than that budgeted.
Mr. Kelly stated that the 2022 budget process will begin on Excel spreadsheets but will eventually move into the new ERP software. He noted the availability of the City’s financial information on Open Gov on the City’s website. He stated that the site has been updated from 2018-present. He stated that the public information is updated monthly and the internal information is updated twice per month.
Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz inquired if the increased RPA payments are occurring.
Mr. Kelly stated that he has received payments for March, April and May and that he expects the June payment in early July.
Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz thanked the administration for improving the financial reporting. She inquired if she could have the finance report in Excel, rather than the graphs provided. Mr. Kelly reminded the group that the City will be moving from Excel to ERP.
- Dana South Update
Mr. Abodalo stated that the last study on the development of this site occurred in 2019. The study identified deficiencies such as the need for the River Road extension to be completed before Dana South can be developed for industrial purposes. He noted that the work to complete this extension is underway. He stated that this site has multi-use zoning and that when Greater Berks Development acquired the parcel they also purchased the area with the Norfolk Southern rail lines which creates additional development challenges. He stated that he has been listening to developers and real estate experts about this site from across the nation and there is concern that the utility grid is not up to capacity, that the WWTP effluent discharge and conveyance needs improvement and the River Road project has not been completed. He noted the need to attract the knowledge industry for high paying manufacturing and office jobs but less discharge to the WWTP and the overall utility grid.
Mr. Abodalo expressed the belief that the site should not contain single family housing as that will tax the WWTP. To attract an industrial developer, there must be a connection with Route 422 and I76. He noted that the first two (2) environmental studies were completed in 2004. The Phase 3 study must be completed by the buyer and it is believed that the contaminants are volatile organics, rather than heavy metals.
Mr. Abodalo stated that he will be considering input from Desman (parking consultant – parking study) and Stantec (planning/design consultant – downtown market analysis) about when and how to market this property, as the site is not far from the downtown. He stated that he hoped marketing can begin soon.
Ms. Reed noted the continual problems with dumping and dirt-bike riding on the site and Mr. Denbowski’s update about improving the security of the site. She noted the need to maintain this site due to its proximity to the Clinton Street Pool. She noted that Mr. Abodalo was vague about the marketing of the property and she questioned how the Stantec and Desman studies intersect with this property. She added that Council amended the zoning for this area creating a mixed use parcel that includes residential.
Mr. Abodalo stated that there will be a look at residential for this area; however, industrial/manufacturing is preferred. He stated that additional residential in this area would interfere with the industrial uses. He suggested considering pharmaceutical companies, for this site. He noted that in King of Prussia the opening of pharmaceutical companies created the need for additional housing in the area. He suggested inviting that type of development here. However, he noted that 300 additional single family housing units will increase/overload the organic load on the site and the WWTP. He stated that marketing vendors will assist in defining the reuse of this site. He noted that the Alvernia CollegeTowne project downtown is now seeking housing for staff. He noted that new high-end manufacturing jobs will also require employee housing in areas such as the Hampden Blvd. area. He estimated that the market analysis should be completed in a month and decisions about Dana South can then move forward.
Ms. Sihelnik urged Mr. Abodalo to be cautious about expectations for the Stantec market analysis to include the Dana South site since this area is disconnected from the downtown area. In addition, she stressed the need for the City and Mr. Abodalo to consider the other multiple City and RRA owned properties that need to be sold and redeveloped. She questioned the City’s capacity to manage all these properties and the need to market them. She inquired about Mr. Abodalo’s statement that the Phase 3 environmental study is the responsibility of the buyer, noting that the City purchased the property from the RRA. She inquired if the City is the buyer who must perform the study. She also inquired if the City’s EAC has been invited to provide input on the potential reuse of the property due to its proximity to the river and the need to avoid the potential contamination of the river.
Mr. Abodalo stated that the environmental study and consent order obtained in 2002-03 addressed the environmental issues and he noted that various new potential contaminants have been relocated to Dana South from other development sites which creates a risk that will need to be handled by the developer. However, he suggested obtaining new Phase 1 and 2 studies of the site. He stated that new development discharge, including a pharmaceutical reuse, will be highly regulated and moderated by the DEP, EPA, etc. He noted that the Planning Commission would also question environmental concerns.
Mr. Abodalo stated that Stantec is not addressing the Dana South site. They are looking at the downtown plus and will be making recommendations on the need for housing, mainly apartments in the downtown area. However, the study can assist in defining the need for housing in the Dana South neighborhood for relocated industrial/manufacturing employees and new employees.
Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz inquired if any legal agreements or commitments were made to certain developers. Mr. Abodalo assured Council that there are no standing legal agreements or promises for Dana South as the City’s procedures to sell City-owned properties must be followed.
Ms. Reed asked Chief Stoudt to provide information on the fire caused by fireworks at a property on Windsor St. on Sunday.
Chief Stoudt confirmed that the fire on the roof of a commercial building in the 1000 blk of Windsor St. was caused by fireworks, proven by the debris on the roof. He stated that Fire staff collected a number of unused commercial grade fireworks devices from the roof. He stated that the fire was contained by a citizen with a fire extinguisher which prevented the fire from spreading to adjoining properties until the Fire Department arrived.
Chief Stoudt noted that the sound of fireworks is a regular occurrence which points to the irresponsibility of the State legislators who voted in favor of legalizing the sale of fireworks that can be used in limited areas and not within cities.
The meeting was closed for an executive session on personnel at 7:10 pm. The seven members of Council, Ms. Kelleher, Ms. Smith, Mr. Denbowski, Mr. Rivera and Mr. Lachat remained in the meeting. Captain Pentheny joined the executive session at approximately 7:15 pm. The executive session concluded at approximately 7:35 pm
Respectfully Submitted by
Linda A. Kelleher, CMC, City Clerk