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CITY COUNCIL

Committee of the Whole Summary after GF Hearing 10/18/21

 

SUMMARY
October 18, 2021
Immediately following the GF Public Hearing
Hybrid Meeting

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

OTHERS PRESENT:
L. Kelleher (in person), M. Rodriguez, F. Lachat, S. Smith, J. Long, R. Tornielli, C. Crespo, A. Amoros, W. Stoudt, J. Kelly, A. Acevedo, M. Oppenheimer, F. Denbowski, D. Kostival (all electronically)

The meeting was called to order at approximately 5:30 pm by Mr. Waltman. Due to COVID-19, the public is prohibited from physically attending the meeting. People can observe the virtual meeting through the virtual link or phone number on the posted agenda, or watching BCTV MAC Channel 99 or Facebook Live. Citizens without internet access or dial-in capability can view the meeting in the Penn Room.

  1. Dangerous Intersections

    Chief Tornielli stated that the full report was emailed to the group earlier this afternoon. He stated that this is a report on the dangerous intersections spreadsheet compiled by the Council Office in late summer. He noted that most of these intersections have some type of traffic control or line of sight issues and a history of vehicle crashes. However, Kenhorst Blvd, Hampden Blvd and North 8th St between Spring and Oley and Oley and Walnut Streets have no traffic controls making these streets a speeding hazard.

    The study looks at a 19-month period between January 2020 and July 2021.

    Chief Tornielli reported that there were 5,425 vehicle accidents in the City and 136 accidents involving pedestrians, noting that many of the pedestrian related accidents were on Penn Street. The majority of these accidents occurred at intersections without traffic signs/signals, have poor line of sight and/or involve speeding.

    Chief Tornielli stated that there were significant amount of crashes on North 8th Street, a high speeding area as there are no signs/signals between Spring and Oley Streets and Oley and Walnut Streets. He noted that North 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th Streets are high volume roads that are well signed; however, the signage does not have an impede speeding. He reported that the majority of accidents are caused by line of sight issues and disregard of traffic signage/signals.

    Chief Tornielli noted that speeding issues on Hampden Blvd are well documented and the accidents on this roadway are much more serious due to the high rate of speed traveled. He stated that this is a 3-5 lane open roadway that needs physical traffic calming improvements to visually reduce the expanse.

    Chief Tornielli stated that although Schuylkill Avenue is well signed and signaled, accidents are caused by speeding, disregard for the signs and signals and line of sight issues. He noted the problems associated with making left turns at Avenue B and Schuylkill Avenue which causes the majority of the accidents at this intersection. He stated that the Glenside Development Avenue A provides one-way ingress and Avenue B provides one-way egress. The majority of the accidents are pedestrian related from residents crossing the street to visit businesses. He suggested eliminating left hand turns at Avenue B to decrease the number of accidents.

    Chief Tornielli stated that while there are a high number of crashes at 4th and Cherry and 6th and Franklin, there is less damage due to lower speeds. He expressed the belief that the majority of these accidents are caused by drivers trying to beat the traffic signals or doing a rolling stop through the stop signs.

    Ms. Reed thanked the Chief for this detailed report. She questioned if the pedestrian related accidents were lower due to the pandemic. The Chief stated that he also looked at the crash data in 2019 and he found the rate of pedestrian accidents to be in the same range.

    Ms. Sihelnik inquired if the accident rates are similar in other 3rd class cities. The Chief stated that accident rates in other municipalities were not considered. He noted that as an officer with 20+ years’ experience, he believes that the majority of the accidents in the City are on the highway system.

    Ms. Sihelnik suggested a public safety campaign to address the disregard of traffic signals/signs, distracted driving and pedestrian safety. The Chief stated that the Traffic Office has obtained many grants to conduct various enforcement and education.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz agreed with the need for a public safety campaign to address driving and pedestrian practices, noting the need for people, drivers and pedestrians, o follow the law and use good judgment.

    Ms. Sihelnik questioned how the City can ask PennDOT to address issues with roads in the State Highway system. The Chief stated that Mr. Rugis is on the RATS Technical Committee and Ms. Reed is on the RATS Coordinating Committee. Both individuals can help bring issues to the attention of PennDOT.

    Mr. Rugis stated that the West Shore Bypass improvements planned should address some of the accident problems in that area of the City. However, Ms. Reed noted that design will not begin for about a year with construction delayed until 2030.

    Mr. Marmarou noted the pedestrian safety issues caused by double parking in the north and south bound lanes at Northeast Middle School and 13th and Union Elementary School. The Chief concurred that similar problems exist at several inner-city schools.

  2. Council Solicitor

    Mr. Waltman read the duties and responsibilities outlined in the job description drafted by the City Clerk. He explained the primary responsibilities that would be included under the retainer and those that would be provided through the assignment of an hourly rate.

    Ms. Kelleher stated that there are Council Solicitor positions in Bethlehem and Scranton:

    • Bethlehem - $26,000 plus healthcare coverage; job description similar to ours; attends all Council meetings unless excused by the Council President
    • Scranton - $46,000 – attends all Council regular meetings and caucus meetings (similar to our COWs)

    Ms. Sihelnik questioned how this position differs from the language in the Charter allowing Council to seek the assistance of outside legal counsel. Mr. Waltman explained that the Charter amendment providing a Council Solicitor eliminates the need to obtain outside legal counsel and provides City Council with the flexibility to define the role and responsibilities.

    Mr. Lachat agreed that the amendment is intentionally vague to provide Council with the ability to define this role based on the needs of the body. He expressed the belief that the Council Solicitor should attend regular meetings to advise Council about their
    proceedings. He stated that it would not be proper for the City Solicitor to advise City Council as Council has its own representation.
    He stated that the City Solicitor will attend regular meetings but should not advise the body. He also suggested that the Council Solicitor be copied on all communications such as emails, memos, etc.

    Ms. Sihelnik stated that this should remove some burden from the Law Department.

    Mr. Lachat agreed.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz reminded the body that this is new territory that will require management and policy. Mr. Waltman agreed, noting that the adoption of a resolution or ordinance to set this policy may be required.

    Mr. Waltman asked Ms. Kelleher to work with Mr. Lachat to prepare a new budget recommendation for this position for consideration at the October 25th COW.

    Ms. Sihelnik stressed the need to make sure the retainer is sufficient to cover the primary responsibilities and with additional funding to cover extra needs.

  3. Budget Review

    Mr. Waltman stated that he, Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz and Mr. Kelly will be meeting with Mr. Amoros tomorrow to refine the procedure to provide Council with copies of budget revisions.

    Ms. Sihelnik noted that it is nearly impossible to perfect this process as the budget document is constantly being modified during the review process.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz reminded everyone to send their budget related questions to Ms. Kelleher and copied to Council in advance of the review meetings so timely responses can be obtained. She also reminded the public about their ability to comment on all budget related documents at each regular meeting.

    Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned how Council and the public can understand the data when it is constantly changing and timely copies are not provided for review. She also questioned why some material is hidden.

    Mr. Waltman stated that nothing is hidden; however, some documentation in the budget is not provided for Council consideration or public review as it is proprietary information relating to the health related benefits of employees. He explained that the City offers a variety of health care plans, disability insurance, AFLAC, etc. that all impact the cost of fringe benefits. This information is not open to the public. The cost of the health care plans the cost is split between the employee and the City. He reminded everyone that two (2) years ago the City was able to reduce the fringe benefit costs by approximately $2M when the administration stopped budgeting with the assumption that all employees select the most expensive plan.

    • Sewer Fund, Sewer Retail & Shade Tree

    Mr. Waltman stated that these funds are all enterprise funds. The Sewer Fund is fully funded by the sewer fees paid by City customers and customers from municipalities that contract with the City. Sewer Retail is storm water system related. The Shade Tree is funded by 0.002 mils of the City’s property taxes, equal to approximately $270K.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz noted the need for an update on the negotiation of inter-municipal agreements (IMAs). Currently only three municipalities have adopted new agreements – Reading, Muhlenberg and Laureldale. She also suggested a session explaining the fringe benefit calculation.

    ->IMA Update

    ->Review session on the fringe benefit calculation.

    Mr. Kelly stated that a new PDF version of the budget would be sent tomorrow with the changes highlighted.

    Ms. Sihelnik noted the need to understand Council’s budget requests and the staff time required to make modifications and get the revised budget documents out in time for Council to review the new version prior to the meeting.

  4. Veterans Handicapped Parking

    Mr. Waltman stated that Mr. Lachat researched this issue and like the former Acting Public Works Director he recommends that the City avoid designating an additional type of handicapped parking spaces. He, too, could not fine another municipality that offers separate handicapped spaces for veterans in public parking areas and he could not find another State that allows this practice. He noted the potential multiple legal ramifications and ADA violations if this initiative moves forward. He suggested, instead, seeking an amendment to State and Federal law to provide this option.

    Ms. Reed stated that she visited this area and noticed that there are already multiple handicapped spaces in this block and multiple homes that are converted to apartments which exacerbates the parking stress. She suggested looking to see if rear yard parking is an option. If so, assistance may be available through the County Veterans Services Department.

  5. Redistricting Commission

    Ms. Sihelnik inquired if there is representation from each district and from the administration. Ms. Kelleher stated that each Council member is tasked with making one nomination from their district as per the Administrative Code, with the President making an at-large appointment. The Planning Commission appoints two (2) representatives. The administration does not make appointments to this Commission.

    Mr. Waltman stressed the need to activate this commission. He asked those who have not made nominations to send their candidate to Ms. Kelleher by Thursday, October 21st.

  6. Other

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz noted the opening of a new Lynn Nottage play entitled “Clyde’s Sandwich Shop” which may be another play based on Reading.

    Ms. Reed noted her consternation over a political event held at near the Riverfront on City property using a pavilion. She noted the need to obtain a permit and use the proper process and protocol to hold an event at a City pavilion.

    Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz agreed but noted that we need to recognize that sometimes spur of the moment issues require a group to move into a pavilion.

    Mr. Waltman agreed and added that while reserving a pavilion guarantees that the facility will be available to your group, groups are not prohibited from using an unreserved pavilion if it is unoccupied.

    Ms. Sihelnik noted the need for everyone to have an understanding of the process to reserve City-owned facilities and when a permit is required.

    Mr. Marmarou moved, seconded by Ms. Sihelnik, to adjourn at 7:30 pm

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