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Committee of the Whole Summary 09/07/21


September 7, 2021

5:00 P.M.

Hybrid Meeting



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



L. Kelleher (in person), M. Rodriguez, F. Lachat, S. Smith, S. Rugis, J. Long, C. Crespo, A. Amoros, W. Stoudt, M. Oppenheimer, J. Abodalo, J. Kelly, A. Acevedo, M. Fiucci, M. Gombar, M. Ehlerman (all electronically)


The meeting was called to order at approximately 5:06 pm by Mr. Waltman.  Due to COVID-19, the public is prohibited from physically attending the meeting; however, citizens without internet access or dial-in capability can view the meeting in the Penn Room.  The meeting is convened via virtual app.


I.       Berks County Convention Center Authority

Mr. Amoros introduced Berks County Convention Center Authority representatives Mr. Ehlerman, Mr. Gombar and Mr. Fiucci.  He explained that $3M in ARPA funding was earmarked to the Convention Center Authority.  He stated that originally the Authority requested a partial appropriation but they revised their request to the full $3M to avoid returning to obtain funding for multiple projects as needs arise.  He noted that the Royals season opens on October 23rd.   He also noted that Mr. Moran supports the appropriation of the full $3M.


Mr. Gombar stated that originally the Authority representatives attending the prior COW thought that the original resolution adopted made the appropriation; however, he stated that they now understand that the appropriations legislation is separate from the resolution making the earmark. 


Mr. Ehlerman explained that the Authority originally asked the Managing Director for an appropriation of $1.2M to cover the cost of the new ice plant that is needed prior to the start of the Royals season; however, afterwards they recognized the need to avoid future project delays by returning for additional appropriations and modified the request for the full amount earmarked.  He described the additional projects planned for the $1.8M.


Ms. Sihelnik voiced her support for the appropriation of the full $3M.


Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned if the County has made their matching appropriation.  Mr. Gombar stated that the County, like the City, committed $3M but they have not made their official appropriation to date. He noted that the capital improvements and upgrades planned will allow Reading to compete with centers in Hershey and Allentown.


Mr. Ehlerman explained that the 18 month COVID shutdown created the need to use capital funding to cover expenses and PNC Bank agreed to delay the $1.3M in principal loan payments until January 2022. The City’s appropriation to assist with capital expenditures will enable the Authority to make the payments due to PNC Bank.


Mr. Fiucci explained the use of the ice plant, noting that it will be using CO2 rather than Freon and the lighting will be upgraded to LEDs, starting the Convention Center’s move to green technology.


Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz agreed with the full appropriation of $3M and the need to make improvements to both facilities.


Mr. Kelly asked Mr. Gombar to prepare the draft ordinance.  After a discussion, Mr. Waltman asked Ms. Kelleher to prepare the required ordinance and work with Mr. Kelly and Mr. Gombar to finalize it


Mr. Marmarou left the meeting.


II.      ARPA Funding Update

Mr. Kelly explained that the City’s COVID related lost revenue for 2020 is approximately $12M, which can be drawn down from the first tranche of $30M, freeing the $12M from the ARPA regulations.  He expressed the belief that over the next 3-4 years approximately 98% of the total ARPA funds will be available to replace lost funding. He stated that the required Lost Revenue report was filed with the Treasury by the August 31st deadline. 


According to the Guidelines the next report is due October 31th then 30 days following the end of each quarter.


Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz requested a flow chart outlining the funding protocol and process as per the Guidelines. 


Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz requested a list of the projects the administration is planning to fund with ARPA.  Mr. Amoros stated that the list of projects was previously provided in the last two (2) ARPA PowerPoint presentations.  He stated that he will resend the list. He stated that the administration plans 2-3 public meetings in the community in late October, noting that he has reached out to four organizations about hosting meetings but he has not yet had responses. 


During a discussion about the organization of the meetings and the need for translation services to be provided, Council suggested that the administration consider hosting the hearings on Zoom to increase public participation and to safeguard the public due to the Delta variant. 


Ms. Sihelnik suggested that the administration broaden the public’s ability to comment or provide questions, as Council did with their meetings.


Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz suggested restarting the Finance Committee.  Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz noted that this Council has elected not to use a committee structure and to use COWs instead.


Mr. Waltman asked Ms. Kelleher to continue to schedule ARPA updates at COWs.


III.    Other

Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz noted the abundance of overnight drug activity and homeless activity on Penn Street.  Mr. Amoros asked her to provide specific locations.


Ms. Rodriguez left the meeting at this time.


Ms. Reed agreed with the increased overnight activities observed by Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz and she questioned if this increase is related to the disbandment of DID. She stated that some downtown employees and business owners also brought this issue to her attention.


Ms. Sihelnik noted the employment posting for a Downtown Ambassador and she requested a copy of the job description.  She also questioned which department/division oversees the downtown.  Mr. Amoros stated that Ms. Castner is in charge of overseeing the downtown.


Ms. Sihelnik inquired about the status of the 18th Wonder/Ward maintenance.


Mr. Rugis stated that PFM recently approved the addition of two new PW employees for maintenance projects/activities. He noted the problem and overgrowth caused by all the rain events that have recently occurred.


The COW concluded at approximately 6:10pm.


Respectfully Submitted by

Linda A. Kelleher, CMC, City Clerk