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CITY COUNCIL



Committee of the Whole Summary 06/28/21

 


June 28, 2021
5:00 P.M.
Virtual Meeting

DOWNLOAD PDF HERE

 

COUNCIL MEMBERS PRESENT:
M. Goodman-Hinnershitz, D. Reed, J. Cepeda-Freytiz, J. Waltman (all electronically), M. Ventura, S. Marmarou (via dial in)

OTHERS PRESENT:
L. Kelleher, S. Smith, S. Rugis, R. Tornielli, J. Kelly, A. Amoros, C. Jones, M. Rodriguez, F. Denbowski, J. Long, W. Stoudt, J. Bol, C. Crespo, N. Judge, A. Acevedo (all electronically)

The meeting was called to order at 5:05 pm by Mr. Waltman. Due to COVID-19, the public is prohibited from physically attending the meeting. The meeting is convened via virtual app.

While waiting for the Solicitor to join the meeting, Council discussed meeting in person.

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz questioned the need to continue social distancing. Mr. Amoros stated that masks are no longer necessary if the individual has been vaccinated. He stated that masks continue to be required in large gatherings.

Mr. Lachat arrived at this time.

Ms. Reed stated that it is difficult to justify Council not meeting in person. She suggested holding hybrid meetings to include the public. She stated that many businesses have re-opened and expressed the belief that it is wrong for Council to continue meeting virtually. She requested that in person meetings begin on July 12.

Mr. Waltman noted the need to meet in the third floor conference room. He requested that Ms. Kelleher research meeting in person and report to Council. Ms. Kelleher stated that progress is being made to allow for hybrid meetings in Council Chambers.

Mr. Marmarou questioned why the City waited to prepare Chambers for hybrid meetings. He stated that staff should have started working on this in advance. Mr. Waltman stated that work has begun but that equipment upgrades are not yet complete.

  1. Conservation District Urban Ag Projects

    Mr. Bol reviewed his power point presentation on community gardens on City-owned parcels.

    Mr. Oppenheimer and Mr. Krall arrived at this time.

    Mr. Marmarou questioned where the funding would come from. Mr. Bol explained that the Conservation District has received grant funding.

    Mr. Marmarou questioned if the City would need to provide future funding. Mr. Bol stated that if additional funding is needed, the Conservation District would apply for additional grants.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz thanked Mr. Bol for his presentation. She stated that this work has been needed for the past several decades. She noted her observation that more people are gardening and growing their own food. She noted the need to address the City greenhouse and the need to maximize its use. She expressed the belief that this should be a priority. Mr. Bol stated that he has met with Ms. Ayers-Fisher about the unique opportunity at the greenhouse.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz stated that this is exciting work. She questioned the cost of the project and the amount of funding available. Mr. Bol stated that approximately $40,000 is available.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned if Mr. Bol would be working with food businesses to turn waste into compost to help supply the gardens. Mr. Bol stated that he would need to do additional research and suggested that this may be added in the future. He stated that his current focus is working with Berks Nature at their established community gardens.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz suggested also teaching backyard farming including container gardening for those who do not have large green spaces. Mr. Bol stated that this is a great idea and that he will discuss it with the project partners.

  2. Charter Amendment requiring Council to employ its own Solicitor

    Mr. Waltman noted the need for Councilors to submit their recommendation for counsel to assist with this topic. Ms. Kelleher stated that she has gotten recommendations from Mr. Waltman, Ms. Reed, Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz and Ms. Sihelnik.

    Ms. Ventura questioned if Council should make their choice based on lowest cost. She stated that she reviewed the information provided by Mr. Lachat but is not familiar with any of the attorneys. Mr. Waltman suggested that the choice should not be made solely on the cost. He stated that it is unfortunate that Ms. Ventura is not familiar with any of the attorneys. He stated that Council has had the opportunity to work with several of them in the past. He requested that Ms. Ventura, Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz, and Mr. Marmarou provide their choice to Ms. Kelleher tomorrow. He requested that Ms. Kelleher provide the choices to Council so that discussions on which attorney to work with can be finalized.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz requested the attorney’s resumes. She noted the need to understand their skill sets and knowledge. Mr. Waltman suggested that Ms. Kelleher can provide some guidance. He noted the need for all to be comfortable with the final decision.

    Ms. Kelleher stated that Mr. Lachat provided resumes to Councilors last week. Mr. Lachat stated that he will resend the information via email.

    Mr. Waltman noted the need to move this forward without rushing.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz noted the volume of emails received and requested that the information be resent. Mr. Lachat resent the information.

    Mr. Waltman stated that four Councilors’ email inboxes are full and messages are now undeliverable. He noted the need for Councilors who requested City emails to manage their City inbox and requested that Council’s personal emails be included in the email distribution list.

    Ms. Kelleher stated that personal email addresses are included in the distribution list. She reiterated that mailboxes are full.

    Mr. Waltman suggested that readingpa.gov addresses that are not monitored should be disabled.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned why mailboxes are full. Mr. Kelly explained that the City does not have unlimited storage space. He noted the need for all to manage their mailboxes.

    Mr. Waltman suggested that Councilors work with Ms. Kelleher and Ms. Smith to manage their mailboxes and to request they be disabled if not monitored.

  3. Policy on Use and Approval of American Rescue Plan (ARP) Funding

     

    Chief Tornielli and Mr. Abodalo joined the meeting at this time.

    Mr. Waltman stated that Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz and Ms. Reed would like the guidelines affirmed via legislation. He stated that the spending of any of these funds, regardless of the dollar amount, should receive Council approval. He questioned if projects within the City would also be eligible for County or State ARP funding. Ms. Kelleher stated that Senator Schwank’s staff indicated that the City is eligible to apply for County and/or State funding.

    Mr. Waltman questioned if the guidelines are the same for County and State funding. Ms. Kelleher expressed the belief that there would be differences. She stated that she must do further review of those guidelines.

    Mr. Waltman noted the need for Council to participate in the planning for the use of these funds. He stated that the Administration is drafting a plan and requested that Councilors submit project ideas. He suggested that a Councilor serve on this work group with City staff.

    Mr. Amoros stated that a meeting with Directors is scheduled for Tuesday. He stated that a rubric with a score sheet including eligibility and project ideas is being drafted. He stated that the City will collaborate with the County as it is able and stated that he has a meeting scheduled with Commissioner Rivera. He stated that he has researched other local municipalities and they have very little Council involvement. He stated that the plan will be shared with Council but will not be approved or any funds spent without Council approval. He stated that information would be provided to Council in a timely manner.

    Mr. Waltman suggested sharing the working document with Council for input. He noted the need for Council input on the concept of the plan. He expressed the belief that the City’s regulations on spending these funds may need to be stronger than the guidelines. He noted the need for all to participate in planning the use of the funds. He noted the need to provide the information to Council so that their ideas can be considered and so that they do not feel rushed at the end of the planning process. He noted the need to protect all elected officials and staff.

    Ms. Reed noted her concerns were not intended to be accusatory or disrespectful. She stated that Reading has had issues in the past with spending funds and noted her hope that the ARP funds are spent properly. She stated that she is glad to hear that Mr. Amoros is meeting with Commissioner Rivera. She stated that she understands the role of Council and encouraged the Administration to work with Council as full partners and as part of the planning process. She expressed the belief that legislation would guarantee the guidelines are followed and that City processes already in place are also followed. She noted the need to ensure Reading’s residents that this work is being done properly and noted the need for all to remain on the same page.

    Mr. Waltman encouraged all to provide their project recommendations to Mr. Amoros. He noted the need for Council to provide input in a cordial way.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz stated that it is important for the public to understand the process used by Reading for the use of these funds. She thanked Mr. Amoros for his update and noted the need for an ongoing dialog. She also encouraged collaboration with the County and noted the need for these projects to provide a lasting legacy. She stated that municipalities have not received this type of funding infusion in the recent past. She stated that she will reiterate her position at the business meeting.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz reminded all that Councilors are elected to represent their District constituents. She stated that there is frequent dialog with residents and Councilors receive information and can also disseminate it. She again suggested that a needs assessment should be completed as COVID has had many effects on the community. She also suggested revisiting the goals and priorities from the retreat.

    Mr. Amoros stated that he will gladly review the goals and priories set during the retreat and requested that this list be provided to him. He requested that Councilors send him suggestions or constituent concerns so they can be addressed. He noted the need for two way communication.

    Mr. Waltman suggested that there be a working list that is reviewed with Council before it is finalized. He agreed that Council’s comments are not meant to undermine the Administration. He noted the need for continued dialog and stated that Council will assist and provide support throughout this process.

  4. Increasing PT Hourly Wage

    Mr. Waltman questioned if this wage increase was approved by PFM. Mr. Amoros stated that it was approved.

    Mr. Waltman stated that he requested a spreadsheet with financial detail. Mr. Denbowski stated that he has a brief power point presentation and Mr. Kelly will provide financial information.

    Mr. Denbowski thanked Ms. Smith for helping him learn how to share his screen on Zoom. He reviewed his presentation.

    Mr. Denbowski stated that there are 15 vacancies since January 2021. He reminded all that the costs for the crossing guards are shared with the School District and stated that the City is still in discussions with the District on their wage increase. He stated that there are two seasonal employees. He stated that the wage increase will be retroactive to January 1, 2021 and the adjusted amount needed is $195,055.

    Mr. Kelly stated that he has shared a detailed spreadsheet. He stated that his initial analysis included all part time positions. He stated that this is an update.

    Mr. Waltman reviewed the spreadsheet. He requested that Mr. Kelly provide an example. Mr. Kelly stated that $11,500 per employee has been budgeted but that $19,500 per employee is needed. He stated that he initially calculated all part time employees working 25 hours per week (or 1,300 hours annually) at $15 per hour. He stated that when modified to specific hours, there is a difference of approximately $7,500.

    Mr. Waltman questioned the number of hours worked per week. Mr. Kelly stated that it depends on the position and the division that the employee is in. He stated that this is why he initially used a baseline calculation.

    Mr. Waltman stated that this wage increase affects only those part time employees currently earning less than $15. Mr. Kelly confirmed.

    Mr. Waltman stated that several part time employees already earn above $15. Mr. Kelly confirmed.

    Mr. Waltman questioned the inclusion of employees in Special Services who currently earn $16 per hour. Mr. Kelly stated that a budget correction is needed in cases where the employee already earns more than $15 per hour.

    Mr. Waltman questioned if employees who already earn more than $15 will have wage adjustments. Mr. Kelly stated that these employees will not receive a wage adjustment but that the budget will need to be corrected.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz recalled that the telecommunicator positions were adjusted to $17 per hour. Mr. Kelly stated that they were adjusted to $16 per hour and will not receive an additional increase at this time.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned the increase for the crossing guards. Mr. Kelly stated that this increase is not included at this time since the City is still negotiating with the School District.

    Mr. Waltman calculated an approximate $50,000 in budget corrections. He noted that several positions do not work 25 hours per week. Mr. Kelly agreed that some positions work less than 25 hours per week.

    Mr. Kelly stated that PFM has not approved these increases as it is not necessary for them to approve part time wages.

    Mr. Waltman questioned if PFM is aware of this increase. Mr. Kelly stated that they are.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz thanked Mr. Denbowski and Mr. Kelly for this additional information. She noted her concern about crossing guards and suggested that this be a priority. She stated that it is approximately two months to the start of the next school year. She noted the need for fairness with their wages. Mr. Kelly agreed and stated that the City is actively working with the District and that the intent is not to create a disparity.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz requested an update as soon as information is available.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned the increase for the crossing guards. Mr. Denbowski stated that this has not yet been established. He stated that there is a wider discussion on school crossing guard issues including the number needed and where they will be located.

    Ms. Ventura questioned if full-time positions will also be adjusted. Mr. Kelly stated that they will not be adjusted at this time. Mr. Waltman stated that there are also benefit costs to be considered for full-time employees. Mr. Kelly agreed and stated that many wage rates are set through collective bargaining.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz noted that several vacancies in sewer have never been filled. She questioned the need for additional allocations for these positions. Mr. Waltman noted the City’s hope that this wage increase will help fill these vacancies. He noted that a deeper conversation may be needed at a later date. Mr. Denbowski stated that the job market is changing and is very competitive at this time.

    Mr. Kelly agreed with Mr. Denbowski and stated that some businesses are also providing sign-on and vaccine bonuses.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned if COVID ARP funds could be used to recruit and retain employees. Mr. Kelly expressed the belief that these funds cannot be used for part-time employees. He expressed the belief that this is the best the City can do for them at this time.

    Ms. Rodriguez stated that this is generally a $3/hour increase. She requested confirmation that only those currently earning less than $15 per hour would have their wage increased. Mr. Kelly confirmed.

    Mr. Waltman stated that the economy is currently seeing wage inflation.

    Ms. Kelleher noted the need to amend the ordinance at the meeting. Mr. Kelly agreed and stated that the adjusted amount of the transfer is $195,055.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned if the increase and correction should be two separate ordinances. Mr. Waltman stated that one ordinance is appropriate.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz stated that she will move the amendment forward.

  5. Agenda Review

    Council reviewed this evening’s agenda including the following:

     

    • Public Comment

     

    Ms. Kelleher stated that one person has submitted written comment and two people will be speaking during the meeting. Ms. Reed offered to read and summarize the written comments due to their length. All will be speaking on non-agenda topics.

     

    • Award of Contract for a Sewer Equipment of America combination sewer cleaner with hydro-vac digging capability for the WWTP at a cost of $481,692.40

     

    Mr. Rugis stated that this is specialty equipment. He stated that this will replace the City’s current equipment which caught on fire last month.

    Mr. Waltman questioned if the City would be reimbursed by insurance. Mr. Rugis stated that it will not be. He stated that the fire was due to wear and tear.

    Mr. Waltman questioned the lifespan of this equipment. Mr. Rugis stated that it was 5 – 7 years.

    Mr. Waltman questioned if this purchase would be made through the sewer fund and not the general fund. Mr. Rugis confirmed that it would be made through the sewer fund.

    Mr. Waltman reminded all that sewer fund expenses are shared regionally.

     

    • Award of Contract to purchase two plow/dump trucks in the amount of $353,949.28

     

    Mr. Waltman questioned if this equipment would be used by Public Works. Mr. Rugis stated that it would.

    Mr. Marmarou questioned if this was replacement equipment. Mr. Rugis stated that it is.

    Mr. Kelly stated that both purchases are through a CoStars vendor but require Council approval due to the cost.

    Mr. Waltman reminded the Administration that Council is requesting that they approve ALL uses of the ARP funds. He noted the need to be very clear about that.

     

    • Resolution accepting the Repository Bids submitted by the Parking Authority for 818 Culvert St, 428 – 438 Spring Garden St and 442 Rosenthal St

     

    Mr. Denbowski stated that these vacant lots are an opportunity to increase off-street residential parking at a low cost to the Parking Authority.

     

    • Resolution accepting the Repository Bids for 1400 Chester St, 709 Neversink Al, 735 Neversink Al, 735 A Neversink Al, 737 Neversink Al, 238 R Plum St, 234 Hudson St, 240A Wood St, and 641 Orange Al

     

    Ms. Reed stated that 1400 Chester St abuts Route 12. She stated that this is a very thin sliver of land.

    Ms. Kelleher stated that the bidder does not need to reveal their plans for the reuse of the property. She reminded all that all repository bids are first offered to the Parking Authority and Conservation District before the bids are forwarded for Council approval.

    Ms. Reed suggested that Councilors view this piece of land before action is taken this evening. She stated that it is near a parcel that will be developed for storage units.

     

    • Resolution authorizing the Mayor and Managing Director to execute documents related to the North Front St Green Light Go grant agreement

     

    Mr. Rugis stated that this authorization is needed to allow updated signatories for this grant.

    Mr. Krall explained that the prior Mayor and Managing Director were the signatories and this will transfer authority to the current Mayor and Managing Director. He stated that this grant will address issues on N. Front St between Douglass and Windsor. He reminded all that PennDOT reduced their commitment to this project but it was recouped through the use of ARLE funding for construction costs.

    Mr. Rugis thanked Mr. Krall and Ms. DeGroote for their work on this issue.

    Ms. Reed thanked all for their work. She stated that this will impact District 5 and the Route 183 project.

    Ms. Rodriguez questioned how long the City has to spend this funding. Mr. Rugis stated that work will begin in 2022 and construction will be complete in 2023. He stated that PennDOT employees are still not back in their offices and there are slight delays.

     

    • Resolution authorizing the Mayor and Council to each appoint one representative to the AMERICA250PA Commission to plan the commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the US and PA’s integral role in that event and the role of its people in the nation’s past, present and future

     

    Mr. Denbowski stated that the County has formed a local committee and that he serves in that capacity. He stated that the anniversary is five years away but that planning has begun.

    Ms. Reed stated that she has had discussions with Mr. Denbowski and noted the need to coordinate with Reading’s 275th anniversary. She stated that it is important to be part of the planning process. She stated that many bi-centennial events were held and noted her hope that the events are inclusive.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz expressed the belief that it is important that there is honesty in the history of the nation. She noted the need to acknowledge the missteps through history.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz noted the need for the Youth Commission to be involved in this planning.

    Mr. Waltman suggested that Councilors email the group with their interest in serving. He noted the need to have the required time. He stated that a representative will be chosen once the group knows of everyone’s interest.

     

    • Ordinance authorizing an appropriations transfer of $241,000 from General Fund Rental – Parking Authority to Capital Fund Public Works – Parks to enable the construction of the Canal Street Skate Park

     

    Mr. Waltman stated that Council got a good overview of this project at its last meeting. He noted the need to commit the funding for the project to proceed.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz expressed the belief that this is a positive project. She stated that there is a Reading resident will be competing at the Olympics in street skateboarding. She noted her hope that he would return for the park’s groundbreaking.

     

    • Ordinance restricting parking in the 1100 and 1200 blocks of N 9th St due to the Marion Street Station project

     

    Mr. Waltman stated that Mr. Krall provided an updated drawing of the parking situation. He stated that additional parking will be available to residents since fire fighters can park on the Station lot.

    Mr. Krall stated that several additional spaces were lost due to line of sight issues. He stated that Public Works worked with BARTA to relocate the bus stop to an area that is already a no parking zone. He stated that this move allowed the addition of three spaces in the former bus stop. He stated that the net loss of spaces is three but that the ten spaces on the Station parcel will allow the fire fighters to park there and free up additional on-street parking. He stated that he is currently working with the Parking Authority on the southbound side of N 9th St since the center line has been adjusted. He stated that this work will require an additional ordinance in the future.

    Mr. Marmarou stated that he frequently visits this area. He stated that the neighbors didn’t realize what was happening but they were happy when they explained the project to them.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned if residents were notified about the project. Mr. Rugis stated that he has had contact with several neighbors and local businesses as the project moves forward.

    Fire Chief Stoudt reminded all that a public meeting was held at the beginning of the project.

    Mr. Waltman stated that he is excited that this project is moving forward.

     

    • 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 reminded all of the need to amend the amount to $195,055.

     

    • 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. Waltman stated that passage of this ordinance will allow the current program to continue.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned the cost of the program. Mr. Denbowski stated that the School District pays approximately $57,000 to cover the costs to the City. He stated that this is an ongoing partnership. He stated that the City is not looking for revenue from the program. He stated that the new agreement allows for annual 2% increases. He stated that the program works well.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz agreed with the need to collaborate and suggesting looking for other ways to share resources for cost savings.

     

    • 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. Waltman stated that this cost will be funded by the WWTP.

    Mr. Rugis stated that he has reviewed this with Ms. Rodriguez and that funding is available. He stated that the training and support will be provided by Hazen & Sawyer. He noted his hope that the City will be out of the consent decree soon. He noted the need to continue to improve best management practices.

     

    • 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)

     

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz noted her understanding of this need. She questioned if the current work at the Pagoda wall will continue and if emergency procurement is being used.

    Mr. Rugis confirmed that the current work will continue and that emergency procurement is being used. He stated that the work around the Pagoda wall also includes work on part of the trail in that area.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz noted the need to be clear that the City continues to invest in the Pagoda.

    Ms. Rodriguez stated that $500,000 has been budgeted for this project in 2021. Mr. Rugis and Mr. Kelly agreed.

     

    • Ordinance amending the City Code by adding a new Chapter 433 Public Art and to establish a process for the City to consider public art projects that will effectively enliven neighborhoods and create outcomes such as safety, livability, walkability, health, and economic development in City neighborhoods

     

    Mr. Waltman questioned if this legislation would be ready for Council action in two weeks. Ms. Kelleher stated that she will get Mr. Abodalo’s comments after the legislation is introduced.

    Ms. Reed stated that she, Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz and Ms. Kelleher have been working on this for some time. She reminded all that the work began with a request for rainbow crosswalks and has expanded. She stated that due diligence was done and the draft was shared with staff including legal, Public Works, and Mr. Abodalo. She stated that protocol was followed and noted the need to move forward. She thanked Ms. Kelleher and Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz for their work. She stated that the process has been followed in good faith. She expressed the belief that this legislation will allow neighborhoods and goodwill within the City to be enhanced.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz stated that there is time for further amendments if necessary. She stated that she does want to move forward.

    Mr. Waltman noted the need for the Administration to be comfortable with this.

    Ms. Reed and Mr. Waltman suggested discussing this ordinance at the next COW meeting.

     

    • Resolution authorizing the submission of a PennDOT permit application for driveways, warning sign devices, parking restrictions and similar features and related PennDOT forms to secure a permit for the 9th & Marion Fire Station

     

    Mr. Krall stated that this is a companion to the ordinance discussed earlier this evening. He stated that this finalizes the PennDOT requirements for the Fire Station project.

     

    • Resolution appointing Lynanne Bohn to the Board of Health
    • Resolution appointing Donald Snyder to the Plumbing Board

     

    Mr. Marmarou stated that these are good people.

  6. Other Matters

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz stated that she will be bringing legislation forward to amend the Charter to remove the requirement for the Public Works Director to be an engineer.

    Mr. Waltman suggested that this be discussed at next week’s COW meeting.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned progress made on researching the dangerous intersections. She stated that there was recently another accident at S 4th & Cherry Sts – the fifth accident in eight weeks at this location.

    Police Chief Tornielli stated that the Police Department is reviewing all intersections listed on the spreadsheet and stated that the evaluation will take approximately three months.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned why the Chief felt accidents have increased at this location. Chief Tornielli expressed the belief that either people aren’t paying attention or are confused by the series of traffic lights in this area.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz noted the importance of everyone following traffic regulations. She stated that this is challenging but the City must address safe driving habits.

    The meeting adjourned at 6:52 pm.

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