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CITY COUNCIL

Committee of the Whole Summary & Budget Review 10/19/21

 

SUMMARY

October 19, 2021

Hybrid Meeting

 

DOWNLOAD PDF HERE

 

COUNCIL MEMBERS PRESENT:

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

OTHERS PRESENT:

L. Kelleher (in person), S. Smith, J. Kelly, F. Lachat, A. Acevedo, C. Crespo, W. Stoudt, F. Denbowski, A. Amoros, M. Rodriguez, J. Long, T. Krall, M. Oppenheimer  (all electronically)

The meeting was called to order at approximately 5:49 pm by Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz.  Due to COVID-19, the public is prohibited from physically attending the meeting.  People can observe the hybrid meeting through the virtual link or phone number on the posted agenda, or watch Facebook Live.  Citizens without internet access or dial-in capability can view the meeting in the Penn Room. 


I.       Capital Budget Review

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz stated that the capital budget is tab 25 of the budget binder.  She stated that future meetings will follow the most updated pdf version of the budget.  She stated that she was invited to attend a capital budget planning meeting last month that was very helpful. 

Mr. Kelly screen shared the capital budget.  He stated that his screen share has the most updated and accurate information. 

Mr. Kelly stated that the IT expense for computer replacements is due to the transition from tower computers in offices to laptops for remote work flexibility. 

Mr. Rugis stated that the $1.6 million for downtown fire station improvements covers four stations to address the heating, roofing, plumbing, kitchen and bathrooms.  He stated that work at the Riverside station will be provided through CDBG funding and will include painting and kitchen upgrades. 

Ms. Rodriguez questioned if ARPA funds could be used for the fire stations. 

Mr. Kelly stated that the projects have been budgeted as capital expenses and are not utilizing ARPA funding at this time.

Ms. Rodriguez questioned if ARPA funds would be used for the 9th & Marion fire station.  Mr. Kelly stated that ARPA funds will be reviewed later in the process and are Fund 47. 

Mr. Rugis stated that $5 million of ARPA funding has been earmarked for the 9th & Marion fire station.

Mr. Kelly stated that the Police camera update project continues.  He stated that the LTW upgrade in 2019 has allowed additional cameras to be connected to the system.  He stated that the radio room project is complete but that it will be paid for over five years.  He explained that the Police pole barn will be a stand-alone building which will be used to store police vehicles and equipment and other City vehicles. 

Mr. Rugis stated that the Police Academy will also relocate to the pole barn.

Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned where the pole barn will be located.  Mr. Kelly stated that the City owns a parcel of land near the WWTP and it will be located there.

Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned if Police Records and the Quartermaster will also be relocating to the pole barn.  Mr. Kelly stated that they will remain in City Hall.

Ms. Rodriguez questioned the funding of the Police Youth Academy.  Mr. Kelly stated that this funding is not part of the capital budget.

Ms. Sihelnik questioned the purchase of police motorcycles.  Mr. Kelly stated that he will verify with the Chief but he believes that these motorcycles will be more nimble to address the dirt bikes and will not be large Harleys that are used for parades and motorcades. 

Mr. Rugis agreed.

Ms. Sihelnik questioned the number of vehicles which will be purchased.  Mr. Rugis expressed the belief that this funding will purchase two motorcycles.

  • Verify type of motorcycles to be purchased by Police Department

Mr. Rugis stated that the $500,000 budgeted for streets equipment will replace sweepers and snow removal equipment.

Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned the use of the former DID equipment.  Mr. Rugis stated that Public Works uses some equipment but that much of it was not operable.  He stated that the City will be selling the segways.

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz questioned how forest maintenance on Mt. Penn and Neversink will be
accomplished.  Mr. Rugis stated that there will be trimming, plantings and general maintenance.

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz stated that she has noted the loss of many trees and suggested a forest study.

  • Forest study

Mr. Rugis stated that $875,000 has been set aside for parks and playgrounds.  He stated that Ms. Castner has been working closely with the Recreation Commission.  He stated that parks and playgrounds will be repaired and expanded.

Ms. Rodriguez questioned if ARPA funds will also be earmarked for parks and playgrounds.  Mr. Kelly stated that it has been and that, again, ARPA will be discussed separately.

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz stated that she has served on the Rec Commission since it was formed.  She stated that the City has not given parks and playgrounds the necessary attention over the years.  She stated that she is glad that ARPA funding is available.

Mr. Kelly stated, again, that ARPA funding is not being reviewed this evening but that almost $4 million of ARPA funds has been earmarked for parks and playgrounds overall.  He stated that specifics will be decided by the Administration and Council.

Ms. Sihelnik questioned the inclusion of the Reading Iron Playground. 

Mr. Rugis stated that this upgrade is part of the $875,000 and work will continue there through 2023.  He stated that he understands what this park needs.

Ms. Sihelnik stated that a grant application has been submitted and she is glad to learn that this project is moving forward.

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz stated that it would be helpful for Council to see how the $875,000 is broken down.  She requested this detail before the adoption of the capital budget.

  • Provide breakdown of $875,000 of park and playground project funding

Mr. Kelly stated that in the past, grant funding was added to the budget before it was awarded.  He stated that the City will now add grant funding after it has been received.

Mr. Kelly stated that the City Hall HVAC project will also receive ARPA funding because this project will cost a total of $6 million.  He explained that the Berks County District Attorney has committed $100,000 for the Library camera system upgrade.

Mr. Rugis stated that twelve firms attended the RFP walk through for the Pagoda wall project.  He noted his hope that the firm would be chosen by the beginning of December.  He stated that the Pagoda cameras will be stand alone and will be high speed but they cannot be connected to the current Police camera system.  He explained that the City Hall roof project will be done in phases and noted his hope that this project would begin in 2 – 3 months.

Mr. Waltman stated that he will be unable to comment much this evening but he will send his questions via email.

Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned funding to maintain the Penn Street Properties. 

Mr. Kelly stated that there is no specific funding for this but that he is excited by the RFQ and noted his hope that it would be issued by the end of this month.

Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned the former East Reading Pool property. 

Mr. Rugis noted the need for this property to be a separate discussion.  He stated that there is a life guard shortage and that it will be very expensive to address this neglected property.  He expressed the belief that it would be approximately $4 million to restore this pool for approximately 100 people to use it per day during the summer.  He deferred this topic to another time.

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz thanked Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz for bringing this project forward.  She expressed the belief that the City may address other projects outside the capital budget.  She reminded all that the City will lose the non-resident EIT revenue allocated for capital needs when it exits Act 47.

Ms. Reed questioned why there is no funding included for the City Park greenhouse. 

Mr. Rugis stated that the greenhouse needs extensive repairs.  He stated that Cedarville Engineering will be accessing the greenhouse’s needs and expressed the belief that the cost would be between $400,000 and $500,000 for rehab.  He stated that most grants now require ADA compliance which will be difficult at this property and he reminded all that there is currently no parking area.  He stated that the County is looking at the greenhouse as a central food location.  He stated that the greenhouse mechanical systems, stone work and glass shell will need repairs.

Ms. Reed noted the need for staff to refer to the City Park Master Plan.  She noted the need to discuss the greenhouse.  Mr. Rugis stated that there is funding available through the USDA but that the costs must be understood. 

Ms. Reed questioned if the greenhouse would be used to grow food.

Mr. Rugis stated that this is a project by the Berks County Conservation District.  Ms. Smith noted in the chat that this is being considered as part of the grant the Conservation District received to address urban agriculture.

  • Review City Park Master Plan regarding greenhouse

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz expressed the belief that this discussion should take place outside the budget review. 

Ms. Sihelnik questioned the best way to submit her questions.  She requested that all of Council receive the responses so that everyone has the same information.  She requested the agreements the City has with other organizations that may delineate who is responsible for specific maintenance items.  She expressed the belief that $5 million is heavy for the City when it has working partners that should be helping to sustain the properties.  She requested this information before the adoption of the budget.

Mr. Kelly requested more specific information.  He stated that the City has earmarked $2 million to assist the Rec Commission.

Ms. Sihelnik requested the agreement with the Rec Commission and any other entities that have agreements to use City parks and properties.  She stated that these situations differ from City business taking place in City properties, such as City Hall.

Mr. Rugis agreed that there are other organizations with agreements and used Rotary Park and little league baseball as an example.  He stated that the trend has been that the organization has done the required maintenance on its own and that it is not always up to City standards.  He stated that he will provide the information that Ms. Sihelnik has requested.

  • Provide agreements between City and other organizations relative to property maintenance and funding

Ms. Sihelnik stated that she is glad to learn that the signage project funding is carrying over into 2022.  She stated that the City’s gateways are important.

Mr. Waltman stated that this is a robust plan.  He expressed the belief that the City receives quite a bit of funding for capital projects through the non-resident EIT.  He stated that this will remain in place for 2022 and noted the need for the City to lobby for the State to make this a permanent revenue source.  He expressed the belief that the City puts the funding to good use.

Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz requested the current list of capital projects.  She stated that PFM had reported in the past that only two projects were completed.  She requested a progress report.

  • Capital project progress report

Mr. Kelly stated that additional projects have been completed.  He stated that PFM will provide another report by the end of 2021.  He explained that additional funding is included in 2022 to attempt to complete more projects.  He stated that PFM has opined that the capital budget does not need to be balanced.  He stated that he will work to mark projects complete and move them to a separate area of the spreadsheet for better clarity to Council and to the public.  He stated that it will be easier to see what the City has accomplished.

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz questioned if the City anticipates supply chain impacts on the projects. 

Mr. Rugis stated that he is expecting impacts.  He stated that there may also be cost increases and delivery delays.  He stated that this will make project completion more challenging.

Mr. Kelly stated that the City has an aggressive schedule but noted the need to get projects started to get in line for supplies.

Ms. Sihelnik stated that the City should be excited about the projects they have completed and used the 5th St sidewalk vault as an example. 

Mr. Rugis stated that Mr. Krall and Mr. Lachat worked hard on this project.

Mr. Kelly stated that this is a great time for Councilors to speak with State legislators about the non-resident EIT becoming permanent.  He stated that he recently heard the State House Speaker talk about the impact that is made when legislators are contact en masse about issues.

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz noted the need to be proactive so the City doesn’t lose this revenue.

Mr. Kelly questioned if Harrisburg recently received this revenue permanently.  Ms. Kelleher stated that the legislation renamed “Payroll Tax” has been stuck in Committee.

Mr. Waltman stated that he will work with the Mayor on this important issue.

  • Contact State legislators to make the non-resident EIT permanent

Mr. Kelly questioned if Council wished to review ARPA funding at this time.

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz expressed the belief that it would be best to wait and to keep to the budget review calendar.

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz stated that moving forward, the most recent update of the draft budget will be uploaded to the website.  She requested that Councilors review that version, and not the budget binder, before the budget review sessions.  She stated that anyone who does not have a device to view the information may borrow one from the Council Office.

Mr. Kelly demonstrated where the link will be located on the website.  He stated that the next update will be posted by end of business tomorrow.

Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz stated that Council heard a presentation on the update of the City website.  She questioned when this would occur and if additional funding is needed.  Mr. Kelly stated that this project is being completed internally.  He stated that several Council member bios are still needed and that the updated website will go live on November 1.

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz expressed the belief that this will be a very interactive site.  She stated that she is excited that this is the first time that Council will receive real time budget updates.  She stated that digital devices should replace the budget binder and expressed the belief that laptops or tablets would work best because phone screen size is too small.    

II.      Finance Department

Mr. Kelly screen shared the Department budget.  He stated that the purchasing office provides supplies to many offices and that IT has been working hard to reduce the cost of maintenance agreements.  He stated that there is an overall reduction in expenses in the Finance Department.

Mr. Kelly asked Council to consider a salary increase for the Purchasing Coordinator because this position functions as a division manager.  He stated that the salary for this position is low relative to other division managers and that the $55,000 salary that he is requesting is still well below other division managers.

  • Salary increase for the Purchasing Coordinator to $55,000 annually

Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz questioned if the fringe benefits line items have been corrected and updated.  Mr. Kelly stated that fringe benefits include vision, medical, dental and life insurance and that the City recently received its 2022 rates.  He stated that updates will be done shortly and requested an executive session at a future budget review meeting since each employee’s benefits are itemized on the spreadsheet.

Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz noted her agreement with the salary increase for the Purchasing Coordinator.  She noted the many disparities between similar positions and between male and female salaries.  She noted the need for a salary study so that salaries are fair and equal.

Mr. Kelly cautioned that this could drastically increase the City’s costs.

Mr. Waltman cautioned reviewing this information in executive session.  He requested clarity from Mr. Lachat.  Mr. Lachat stated that a deep dive into fringe benefits will show individual employee plan choices.  He stated that this would be a personnel discussion and that personnel is exempt from both Sunshine and Right to Know Laws.

  • Executive session to review fringe benefits

Mr. Waltman suggested using fictitious samples in open session with similar information.

Ms. Rodriguez stated that the Auditor’s Office budget was already reviewed but that she would like to request the addition of a part time employee to address day to day activities so that she and the Audit Coordinator can focus on additional internal audits.

  • Council consider additional part time employee in the Auditor’s Office at approximately $20,000

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz noted the need for this discussion to occur when Council reviews the overall positions for 2022.

Mr. Lachat continued that the City Personnel Code requires an executive session when discussing salary increases.

 

III.    Upcoming Budget Review Schedule

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz reminded all to review the updated budget on the City’s website before budget review meetings begin.  She also reminded all to contact the Clerk’s office if a Councilor needs to borrow an office IPad. 

Ms. Rodriguez again noted the need for a part time employee in her office. 

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz again noted the need for this discussion to occur when all positions are reviewed.

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz reminded all to submit their questions and requests to Ms. Kelleher who will provide them to the Administration.  She stated that this will allow all questions to be answered thoroughly and for all of Council to see the responses.  She stated that the “Parking Lot” has been started and all issues and requests will be grouped into categories.  She stated that the “Parking Lot” items will be reviewed after the first round of budget reviews are complete.

Ms. Cepeda-Freytiz stated that she appreciated today’s meeting and stated that it went much more smoothly.  She thanked all for their work.

Ms. Goodman-Hinnershitz stated that next week’s sessions are as follows:

 

Mon Oct 25 - 5 - 6 pm – Committee of the Whole

  • 2021 External Audit
  • Community Development Department including the CDBG Action Plan

 

Tues Oct 26 - 5-7 pm

  • Fire Department
  • Human Resources Department

 

Meeting adjourned at 7:03 pm.

Respectfully Submitted by

Linda A. Kelleher, CMC, City Clerk