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CITY COUNCIL

 

Committee of the Whole Summary 09/13/21

 

SUMMARY

September 13, 2021

5:00 P.M.

Hybrid Meeting

 
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COUNCIL MEMBERS PRESENT:

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

OTHERS PRESENT:

L. Kelleher (in person), S. Smith, A. Amoros, S. Rugis, C. Crespo, N. Judge, M. Rodriguez, J. London, J. Kelly, J. Long, W. Stoudt, K. Dearstyne, J. Abodalo, L. Kissinger, M. Oppenheimer, F. Denbowski (all electronically)

The meeting was called to order at 5:03 pm by Ms. Sihelnik. 

I.       Lead Abatement

Mr. Amoros stated that the City has been awarded a $3.3 million grant to remediate lead in 150 homes over a three year period.  He stated that lead has been problematic in the City for many years because most of its housing stock was built before 1948 and contains lead paint.  He expressed the belief that Reading has been battling lead for decades.

Mr. Abodalo reviewed a Power Point presentation that he shared with Council in the past.

Mr. Lachat, Ms. Acevedo and Police Chief Tornielli joined the meeting at this time.

Mr. Abodalo stated that the City will be targeting local, small contractors for the lead remediation.  He explained that removing lead is a long process and he thanked all the City’s partners in this grant. 

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz agreed that lead is a chronic problem in Reading.  She stated that as a social worker she has directly seen the results in children.  She questioned how to direct residents to these removal services.  Mr. Abodalo stated that residents will be referred through the Berks Community Health Center and the CDC.  He stated that there will also be an educational component to the program.

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz noted the need to monitor the outcomes of those served with this grant to measure progress.

 

Ms. Sihelnik agreed with Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz and expressed the belief that measurements will be required by HUD.

Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned who is leading this effort.  She questioned if additional employees would be hired and if this was a temporary program. 

Mr. Abodalo stated that this grant is for a three year period but that the City can continue to reapply.  He stated that Allentown, Lancaster and several other PA sister cities have been receiving this grant for several rounds.  He expressed the belief that 150 homes will barely scratch the surface because 80% of Reading’s housing was built before 1978.  He stated that there may also be a State program in the future to address lead abatement.

Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned when the program would begin. 

Mr. Abodalo stated that an initial report is due to HUD on October 31, 2021.  He stated that this report will describe the staff that will be involved and the spending plan.  He expressed the belief that the abatement can begin in January 2022.

Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned if the funding had been received. 

Mr. Abodalo explained that the City will spend the funds and be reimbursed.

Ms. Sihelnik suggested modeling Reading’s program after programs successfully used in its sister cities.  She expressed the belief that having only 150 slots available will make this very competitive.  She requested regular updates and progress reports.

II.      Deer Management Program

Mr. Kissinger stated that this program will take place on County-owned land near Antietam Lake. 

Ms. Kelleher shared the map that was included in Council’s agenda packet.

Mr. Kissinger stated that the deer population is out of balance with nature.  He stated that this program will begin on September 18.  He stated that the program is run through the USDA and the hunters have been vetted and trained.  He stated that this is an archery program.  He stated that the City is not participating at this time and there should be no hunting on City property. 

Mr. Kissinger stated that the USDA found approximately 18 tree stands that were placed without permission.  He stated that several of the owners have been identified and were notified that they are illegal.  He stated that the hunters who are approved as part of this program will install stands that will be clearly marked.  He stated that the hunters must identify themselves on request and that warning signs will be posted at parking lots and trail kiosks. 

Mr. Kissinger stated that after the hunt has concluded USDA will reassess the deer population to determine if a sharp shooter program is necessary.  He stated that if this step is taken these hunters will also be vetted and trained by USDA. 

Mr. Kissinger expressed the belief that this is an effective program.  He noted his hope that the City would participate in the future because deer will travel across all the forested land.  He reiterated that there should be no gunfire with this initial program and to call the police if gunfire is heard.

Ms. Sihelnik questioned if there would be outreach to residents.  Mr. Kissinger stated that the County is doing a press release.  He stated that information would be posted to the City’s social media pages in hopes of reducing phone calls and resident concerns.

Ms. Reed suggested that the information also be provided in Spanish.  She noted the need for regional outreach since many use the mountain’s hiking and biking trails.  She noted her concern for safety.  She suggested that the trails be closed during the hunts.

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz expressed the belief that deer hunting us not usually done during daylight hours.  Mr. Kissinger stated that hunting will occur during the day.  He stated that there will be no nighttime hunting as part of this program.  He stated that the program will run from ½ hour before sunrise to ½ hour after sunset.  He stated that these are strict timelines.

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz stated that the hunt was discussed at a Mt. Penn Preserve Partnership (MP3) meeting but that members were not informed that a decision had been made to hold the hunt.  She suggested that the MP3 also publicize the event and stated that she will follow up with the chair and vice chair.  She agreed that deer are eating saplings and the tree stock is disappearing.  She stated that deer have no local predators and she has been seeing them more often.

Mr. Kissinger again noted his hope that the City will participate in this program in the future.  He reiterated that there should be no hunting on City property and hunting will only occur during daytime.

Ms. Kelleher noted that there will be 14 hunters and each will have their own territory.

III.    Public Works Updates

Mr. Rugis commended the work of Ms. Judge, Ms. Ayers-Fisher and Mr. Harrity.  He stated that he is proud of the work that is occurring on sustainability.  He stated that a summit was held with members of the City’s EAC.

  • EAC / Administration Summit

Ms. Judge described the summit held on Sept 10.  She stated that it was a three hour meeting and all attendees got to meet one another and learn everyone’s roles and responsibilities.  She stated that there was also a presentation on Reading for 100.  She expressed the belief that the summit was very productive.

Ms. Sihelnik stated that she was sorry she missed that meeting.  She expressed the belief that this is a great direction to move in.  She questioned if the summit was recorded.  Ms. Judge stated that it was recorded and will be available to view shortly.

  • WWTP Energy Program

Ms. Judge stated that the WWTP staff will be working with the US Dept of Energy’s efficiency program.  She stated that the hope is to reduce energy consumption by 10-20%.  She stated that past data will be shared along with current and future data to track progress.  She stated that an RFQ for consultants will be issued next week with the hope of beginning the program in May 2022.  She stated that participating plant operators will receive training credits for their work.

  • LED Streetlight Replacement Project

Ms. Judge stated that work is beginning on phase two of this project.  She stated that she and Mr. Zeiber met with representatives from Hirneisen Electric.  She stated that 752 streetlights need to be replaced and 203 have been completed.  She estimated that the remainder would be completed within the first quarter of 2022.  She stated that the Hampden Blvd area, Wyomissing Park, Oakbrook, Schlegel Park, and Riverfront Dr are complete.  She stated that Hirneisen will provide monthly progress updates.

  • Rain Gardens

Mr. Rugis stated that he will be working to install a rain garden at the large asphalt triangle on Museum Rd.  He stated that it will be a large project but will yield extraordinary results.  He stated that this will assist with the City’s MS4 needs.

Ms. Reed agreed that this has always been a problem area and is an eye sore.  She agreed with a green space and stated that it would improve one of the City gateways.

Mr. Rugis noted the need to use native plants and avoid invasives.  He agreed that this would beautify a City gateway.

Ms. Reed suggested that Mr. Rugis search for an old welcome sign to install there.

Ms. Sihelnik stated that she would love to see the plans and renderings.  She agreed that this would assist with MS4 for Reading, West Reading and Wyomissing.  She stated that several small bridges have been washed away due to the runoff in this area.  She suggested working together and stated that she is glad the project is moving forward.

Mr. Kissinger left the meeting at this time.

IV.    Agenda Review

Council reviewed this evening’s agenda including the following:

  • Public Comment

Ms. Kelleher stated that no one has registered to speak.

  • Resolution authorizing the flying of the POW / MIA flag over City buildings or facilities when possible

Mr. Amoros noted the Administration’s hope to fly the flags wherever there is an American flag.  He stated that Mr. Denbowski has ordered the flags.

Ms. Kelleher stated that similar legislation was adopted in 2008 and this is already in place.

 

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz questioned if this was necessary since it is duplicative.

Mr. Denbowski stated that the resolution is redundant and requested that it be withdrawn.  He stated that he has ordered approximately 20 flags and a larger one has been donated to the City to fly at the Pagoda.  He stated that the flag at the Pagoda will be raised during a special ceremony in the near future.

  • Resolution authorizing the purchase of IT firewall maintenance renewal for a three year period from IntegraOne in the amount of $150,564.51

Mr. Kelly stated that this item was renewed annually in the past.  He stated that one year would cost $75,000 rather than the three years at $150,000.

  • Award of Contract to Stryker Medical in the amount of $1,082,040 for the purchase of EMS equipment that will be shared by partnering EMS and Fire agencies that are part of the Regional Assistance to Firefighters grant

Fire Chief Stoudt stated that this is a FEMA grant and there are seven regional agency partners.  He stated that 47% of the equipment will remain in Reading.  He explained that this is a reimbursement grant and funding is tied to Ordinance E being introduced this evening.  He stated that this will be similar to an appropriations transfer after the partner legislation is enacted.  He stated that the City’s cost is approximately $48,000 and is already included in the 2021 capital budget.

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz questioned the need to amend the language of the ordinance to reflect the appropriations transfer.  Chief Stoudt stated that this language is included in Section 2 of the ordinance.

Ms. Rodriguez agreed that FEMA’s grants require the entity to spend the funds and then get reimbursed.

  • Resolution authorizing conditional offers of employment to Abigail Rogers, Benjamin Schearer and Nicole McClintock as probationary paramedics effective Sept 16, 2021

Chief Stoudt stated that these candidates have completed the civil service and background requirements.  He stated that this resolution allows them to begin at the Fire Academy.  He stated that additional paramedics are needed.

  • Ordinance directing the Berks County Board of Elections to place a referendum question before City voters on the 2022 Primary Election Ballot which would amend the Charter by eliminating Section 907 as it is in violation of State Statute 53 Pa. C.S. 2962 (b) which does not allow a Charter to place taxation limitations on the governing body, apart from State Act 511

Mr. Lachat suggested that the ordinance be amended and placed on the 2022 Primary Election ballot.  Ms. Kelleher stated that the current language reflects the 2022 Primary ballot.

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz noted the need to address another ballot issue.  She stated that she is unhappy with the Board of Elections’ decision not to place an ordinance requested to be on the 2021 General Election ballot.

Ms. Reed agreed and suggested an executive session.

Ms. Sihelnik questioned if Mr. Lachat was prepared to discuss this issue.  Mr. Lachat stated that he is prepared.

Ms. Sihelnik stated that an executive session would be held before the start of the regular meeting.

  • Ordinance authorizing the transfer of $32,000 in grant funding from the PA EMS Provider Foundation / Highmark line into the Grants and Gifts line of the agency fund budget for the replacement / purchase of stair chairs for the department’s ambulances

Chief Stoudt stated that the grant funds have been received.  He stated that this transfer is necessary so that the equipment can be purchased.

  • Ordinance authorizing a transfer of $45,000 within the Public Works budget to pay for storm-related electrical costs for the remainder of 2021

Mr. Rugis stated that this reallocation is needed for storm response costs.  He thanked Mr. Kelly for his assistance.

  • Ordinance vacating and removing from the topographical survey of the City a portion of the City right of way for SR 3422 known as Penn St and authorizing the execution of a deed transferring the vacated portion to Reading Area Community College (RACC)

Mr. Rugis stated that this will improve the college campus.

Mr. Dearstyne stated that RACC appreciates the City’s willingness to vacate this portion of Penn St.  He expressed the belief that work will be completed by the end of the calendar year and will include new signage.

Ms. London stated that she will prepare the easement documents for legal review.  She stated that this will beautify another of the City’s gateways.

Ms. London and Mr. Dearstyne left the meeting at this time.

  • Ordinance authorizing a budget transfer for legal services rendered to the Charter Board in the amount of $30,000 from the Law Office budget

Mr. Kelly stated that there are several outstanding invoices that need to be paid and he has projected through the end of the year to avoid other future transfers.

Mr. Lachat expressed the belief that the City may also need funding to defend a Charter lawsuit.

  • Ordinance authorizing a CIP budget amendment by providing $248,578 in funding for the cost of the fire system upgrades at the main library

Mr. Rugis again thanked Mr. Kelly for his assistance.  He stated that all the fire systems are being updated.

  • Ordinance authorizing the transfer of $1.,033,992.26 within the agency fund for the purchase of EMS equipment using FEMA grant funding

Mr. Kelly stated that this is the transfer tied to the award of contract.

  • Ordinance authorizing the appropriation of $3 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to the Berks County Convention Center Authority for the Santander Arena and Performing Arts Center to assist with recovering from the financial losses due to the closure of the facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic

Ms. Sihelnik questioned if the Administration was ready to move this forward.  Mr. Kelly stated that they are ready.

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz thanked the Authority for the outline of needed repairs.  She expressed the belief that they may need additional funding for future projects.

Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned if there is a tracking system for the use of the funding and if the Authority would need to provide receipts for work done. 

Mr. Kelly stated that there is a tracking system and that receipts would be provided. 

Ms. Sihelnik requested an explanation on the process to use the funding.  Mr. Kelly stated that any group that receives funds must provide receipts.  He stated that the City must provide this information to the US Treasury Dept.

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz questioned if the City’s use of the funds would be audited if the proper process is not followed.  Mr. Amoros stated that this is correct.  Mr. Kelly stated that the City must also receive this type of information for other grants.

Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned if this is the first use of the ARPA funds.  Mr. Amoros stated that it is.

Ms. Rodriguez requested that documentation on the use of ARPA funds also be provided to her. 

Mr. Kelly stated that he will provide documentation to her.

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz noted the need to track the presentations made, the passage of a resolution to support the project, the passage of the ordinance to provide the funding, the project status, etc.  She also noted the need for public meetings.

Mr. Kelly stated that ARPA fund spending will be a separate budget tab.

Ms. Reed noted the need for this information to be on the City’s homepage.  She noted the need for easy access and explanations. 

Mr. Amoros agreed.

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz noted the need for visible projects so residents can see tangible results.

Ms. Sihelnik questioned if signage at projects would include the use of ARPA funds.  Mr. Kelly stated that this is required.

Mr. Crespo shared the Berks County ARPA dashboard via the chat feature.

  • Ordinance authorizing the amendment of the CIP budget to transfer funds in the amount of $46,425 to cover the cost of the 3rd & Spruce gym HVAC system

Mr. Rugis stated that this was an emergency repair.  He stated that both rooftop units failed.  He stated that the system for the entire building is being re-designed.

Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned if the issue was solved.  Mr. Rugis stated that it has been resolved and took approximately 10 days.

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz stated that there have been several HVAC emergencies at City facilities.

  • Ordinance increasing the salary of Deputy Police Chief Javier Ortiz to $101,757.04 per annum

Mr. Lachat stated that this is similar to the increase provided to the Police Chief as part of the PA Chiefs Act.  He again expressed the belief that this Act does not apply to Reading.  He noted the need to retain the Departmental hierarchy.

Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz stated that the Police Department was already provided with a 4.5% increase in 2021.  Mr. Lachat stated that the 4.5% increase did not apply to the Police Chief or the Deputy Police Chief as they are no longer members of the FOP.

Mr. Kelly stated that the Police Chief and Deputy Police Chief are considered management positions.

Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned if another increase will be provided in 2021. 

Mr. Amoros stated that this increase was not given automatically to the Deputy Police Chief.  He noted the need for Council to take separate action.

Ms. Reed questioned the amount of this increase.  Mr. Lachat stated that it is 4.5%.

Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz stated that all management employees received increases in 2021.  Mr. Lachat stated that Police Chief Tornielli received an increase in April.  He stated that the Deputy Police Chief’s increase will be retroactive.

Mr. Marmarou stated that the Chief and Deputy Chief are members of the FOP but not in the bargaining unit.

Ms. Sihelnik noted the need to be prepared to vote on this increase in two weeks and she suggested adding this ordinance to the Sept 20th COW agenda.

 

V.      Executive Session

Mr. Lachat noted the need for an executive session regarding potential litigation.

Council entered executive session at 6:39 pm.

The six members of Council, Ms. Kelleher, Ms. Smith, Mr. Lachat, Mr. Amoros, and Mr. Denbowski remained in the meeting. 

The executive session ended and the meeting adjourned at 6:56 pm.

Respectfully Submitted by

Linda A. Kelleher, CMC, City Clerk