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CITY COUNCIL

Regular Council Meeting Minutes 02/22/21

 

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City of Reading City Council
Virtual Regular Meeting
Council Chambers
February 22, 2021
At the conclusion of the COW Meeting

Council President Waltman called the meeting to order at approximately 7:00 pm.

Due to COVID-19 Emergency Declaration, the City was forced to change their meeting format to prohibit the public's ability to physically attend the meeting and for public comment to be provided through alternative methods. The public comment can occur in writing (email message and letter clearly marked for public comment) or via telephone or internet connection with the virtual app. While the City Clerk is present in Council Chambers, all other attendees are participating remotely by phone or electronically through a computer application. The meetings can be viewed live on the BCTV MAC Channel 99 or on the City's website at https://www.readingpa.gov/content/city-council-video.

Pastors Cesar & Rhode Herrera, South 7th Street Christian Fellowship Church, gave the invocation.

All present pledged to the flag.

There was an executive session held after the Committee of the Whole meetings on Feb 8th on personnel and on Feb 16th regarding agency business re PA Sunshine Act Title 65 § 708. Executive Sessions (a) 1 and 5.

ATTENDANCE

Council President Waltman - electronically
Councilor Sihelnik, District 1 - electronically
Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz, District 2 - electronically
Councilor Ventura, District 3 - via telephone
Councilor Marmarou, District 4 - via telephone
Councilor Reed, District 5 - electronically
Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz, District 6 - electronically
Solicitor E. Kraft - electronically
City Clerk L. Kelleher - electronically
City Auditor M. Rodriguez - electronically
Mayor's Assistants F. Denbowski and N. Rivera - electronically

PROCLAMATIONS AND PRESENTATIONS
None.

PUBLIC COMMENT
Council President Waltman announced that there was one (1) citizen registered to provide public comment on a non-agenda topic. Councilor Reed reviewed the public speaking rules located in the Administrative Code. The City Clerk announced that the person registered to comment was not connected to the meeting.

APPROVAL OF THE AGENDA & MINUTES
Council President Waltman called Council's attention to the agenda for this meeting, including the legislation listed under the Consent Agenda heading, and the minutes from the February 8th Regular Meeting and the meeting summaries from the COWs held on February 8th and 16th. He noted the need to withdraw Consent Agenda Resolution D regarding the Joint Enterprise Zone and move the Award of Contract for the ERP project to the Resolution section of the agenda.

The minutes from the February 8th Regular Meeting and the summations of discussion as listed and the agenda, as amended, were approved by acclimation.

Consent Agenda
The Consent Agenda is designed to provide efficient approval of non-controversial legislation that does not require discussion/debate by giving approval via acclimation when the meeting agenda is approved. The President of Council will call Council's attention to the list of Consent Agenda legislation at the meeting before action is taken, which allows Council to remove a piece of legislation for separate consideration.

A. Award of Contract - for the municipal ERP project to Tyler Technologies at a cost of $1,110,468 with $700,000 available in FY 2021 and the remaining costs covered in FY 2022 for reprogramming property parcel data

B. Resolution 22-2021 - authorizing the Solicitor to ACCEPT Repository Bids on 1314 Kenney St and 741-743 Neversink Alley and to REJECT Repository Bids on 818 Culvert St and 428-434 Spring Garden St

C. Resolution 23-2021 - authorizing the amendment of Resolution 185-20 to extend the period during which the DID may remain in existence to 90 days from December 31, 2020 unless further extended by City Council, for the purpose of winding down its day-to-day operations, settling its accounts and taking all other reasonable and necessary efforts to responsibly conclude its business

Withdrawn until the March 8th Meeting
D. Resolution 24-2021 - authorizing the submission of a Joint Enterprise Zone application to the PA DCED, which offers a State tax incentive to stimulate economic development within communities (submitted by the GRCA and managed by the Greater Berks Development Fund)

ADMINISTRATIVE REPORT

The managing director stated that the mayor extends his thanks to all who sent well wishes for his recovery and he highlighted the report attached to the agenda and distributed electronically; in summary:

  • The forgiveness of 127 loans (DCED micro-loan EZFRD, CDBG microenterprise, and unprogrammed) to small businesses within the City of Reading as authorized by City Council to assist with the strain created by the pandemic.
  • The CD staff continues to assist the Human Relations Commission with invoicing verification, intake, and finalizing approvals for the rental assistance program to prevent homelessness. To date, 797 applications were processed and $348,162 in ESG-CV1 funds has been disbursed to assist families with rental assistance.
  • The Finance Department is currently working on creating a business welcome packet that can be provided to any company awarded a City contract. The packet will include W9 information, Business License Application, and directions on how to submit invoices to City.
  • The Reading Police Department Traffic Division has a new portable traffic sign to direct traffic at large events and when significant detours are in place. The new equipment can also be used to conduct traffic studies and monitor speed.
  • The Reading Police Department is in the final stages of purchasing a firearms simulator for the Police Academy. The simulator will allow for more realistic training and will reduce ammunition-related expenses.
  • The City Hall energy audit and the LED streetlight project, which are part of the draft Climate Action Plan, are in progress. The energy audit is currently underway for five City buildings (one is complete, four are at the preliminary report stage). A contract was awarded to Hirneisen Electric for the LED streetlight project and in the equipment review phase before the project commences.

Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz noted that various people are having difficulties using iRequest and she inquired about correcting that deficiency. The managing director stated that the Communications Coordinator and CSC Manager are working to correct the problems with the iRequest app.

Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz stated that she is pleased to learn that the administration has agreed to employ a gun buy-back program and work with the Youth Violence Prevention task force. The managing director stated that the administration will be taking guidance locally and more broadly.

Councilor Reed stated that she was pleased with the grassroots response from a broad range of the community.

Councilor Sihelnik thanked the administration for the thorough written reports submitted to Council on the various departmental activities. She requested an update on the return of City employees to City Hall and the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine for employees. The managing director stated that the COVID-19 work group meets every other week. Currently there are two (2) employees who have tested positive for COVID-19. He noted that vaccines are not yet available on a broad scale and the State Department of Health is still concentrating on providing vaccines to the first “1a” group; first responders and those over the age of 65. He stated that the administration will continue to monitor employee cases and the availability of vaccines for staff.

Council President Waltman noted the need for all City residents to assist the Police Department by providing information that can help them protect the community.

AUDITOR'S REPORT

The Auditor highlighted the report attached to the agenda and distributed electronically. In summary:

  • Real Estate Transfer Tax - The City receives a tax levy of 3.5% (1.5% is levied by the Reading School District) on the sales price of any properties sold. For the fiscal year of 2021, the City budgeted $4.7M and for the month of January, 2021, the City has collected $535,849.04. For the fiscal year of 2020, the City ended up with a surplus of $2,391,062.41 for this line item.
  • Property Tax - For the fiscal year of 2020, the City budgeted $24.8M in revenue for property taxes and as of December 31, 2020, the City has collected $24.3M or 98% of total amount budgeted. Recently, the City received about $70,000 more for the Property Tax Prior line item and this revenue will be accrued to the 2020 fiscal year. This revenue will decrease the negative variance from $497,699.70 to about $427,700 dollars instead; and the majority of the revenue collected for Penalty & Interest is due to prior year’s unpaid Property Taxes.

REPORT FROM DEPT. DIRECTORS, BOARDS, AUTHORITIES, & COMMISSIONS

Lee Olsen, Pagoda Foundation board member, stated that his involvement with the Pagoda organization dates back to the task force created by former Mayor McMahon prior to the creation of the Foundation as a 501c3. He noted that the Pagoda has been closed since the pandemic started in mid-February 2020. However, the 13 member Foundation board continues to hold virtual meetings on a monthly basis. He thanked the Public Works team for their assistance with repairs and maintenance of this iconic facility.

Mr. Olsen reported that the Foundation board held a Strategic Planning meeting in November and developed long-term goals and take-a-ways that can be implemented within a six (6) month period. He stated that the board agrees with the need to hire an executive director to assist this volunteer based board.

Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz explained the materials used to construct the Pagoda and the challenges with maintaining a building of this type at this location. She stated that while facing the challenges imposed by the pandemic, the board has begun planning for some outdoor and socially distant activities to highlight the Pagoda and its grounds during the upcoming warm weather months.

Councilor Reed thanked Public Works for following through on work to address the quality of life issues at the Pagoda parking lot which will allow the gating of the lot, returning serenity to the Pagoda grounds.

Councilor Sihelnik noted the importance of this landmark to the area and she stated that she is pleased to learn that the board is following through with the strategic planning process and considering adding a paid executive director. She inquired about how this position will be funded and sustained.

Mr. Olsen noted the need for the board to begin broad based fundraising activities to hire and retain an executive director and to address the ADA compliance of this facility. He stated that while the facility has been registered as a Federal landmark, that status does not eliminate the need for the building to be ADA compliant. He stated that the building is registered as a museum/hotel and ADA compliance can be achieved through the addition of a bridge from the parking area to the first floor porch to allow access to the first level of the building then offering a remote monitor where one can take in the view offered at the observation area. He also noted the need to expand upon the rental uses for the facility within reason.

Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz inquired about the total amount of funding required to sustain staff and building improvements. Mr. Olsen stated that the total required will not be known until a facilities study is completed around June of this year. He stated that the repair of the dry-laid foundation wall has been included in the City’s capital plan.

ORDINANCES FOR FINAL PASSAGE

A. Bill 12-2021 - amending the 2021 Position Ordinance by reclassifying one position in the Human Resources Department from Human Resources Assistant to Training & Employment Coordinator Introduced at the January 25 regular meeting; Tabled at the February 8 regular meeting

Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz moved, seconded by Councilor Reed, to enact Bill No. 12-2021.

Bill No. 12-2021 was enacted by the following vote:
Yeas: Cepeda-Freytiz, Goodman-Hinnershitz, Marmarou, Reed, Sihelnik, Ventura, Waltman, President – 7
Nays: None - 0

B. Bill 13-2021 - authorizing a budget transfer in the amount $60,000 for the Pagoda Foundation to make the contributions from 2018-2020 that were never made, as per the agreement with the Foundation Introduced at the February 8 regular meeting

Councilor Marmarou moved, seconded by Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz, to enact Bill No. 13-2021.

Councilors Reed and Goodman-Hinnershitz announced the need for their abstention on this vote due to their positions as officers on the Pagoda Foundation Board, as per the Solicitor.

Bill No. 13-2021 was enacted by the following vote:
Yeas: Cepeda-Freytiz, Marmarou, Sihelnik, Ventura, Waltman, President – 5
Abstention: Goodman-Hinnershitz, Reed - 2
Nays: None - 0

C. Bill 14-2021 - increasing the Property Maintenance Manager’s salary from $61,398.16 to $69,000 Introduced at the February 8 regular meeting

Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz moved, seconded by Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz, to enact Bill No. 14-2021.

Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz stated that Mr. Mann from PFM was invited to the March 1st Committee of the Whole meeting to provide Council with information on the Salary Cap requirements for the four (4) City work groups as listed in the Act 47 Exit Plan.

Bill No. 12-2021 was enacted by the following vote:
Yeas: Cepeda-Freytiz, Goodman-Hinnershitz, Marmarou, Reed, Sihelnik, Ventura, Waltman, President – 7
Nays: None - 0

INTRODUCTION OF NEW ORDINANCES
Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz read the following ordinances into the record.

A. Ordinance - authorizing the write off of a General Fund receivable, approved via Bill 86-2015, from the Community Development Fund which will have the effect of increasing General Fund ‘transfer to Community Development Fund’ (an expenditure) of $500,000, and increasing Community Development Fund ‘transfer from General Fund’ (a ‘revenue’) of $500,000.

B. Ordinance – authorizing the write off of a net General Fund receivable from the Community Development Fund from 2015 to prior to 2002 which will have the effect of increasing General Fund ‘transfer to Community Development Fund’ (an expenditure) of $835,102.00 and ‘transfer from Community Development Fund’ (a ‘revenue’) of $69,440.95, and increasing Community Development Fund ‘transfer from General Fund’ (a ‘revenue’) of $835,102.00 and increasing ‘transfer to General Fund’ (an expenditure) of $69,440.95.

C. Ordinance – authorizing the write off of this net General Fund receivable from the City’s Water Fund from 2011 to prior to 2002 which will have the effect of increasing General Fund ‘transfer to Water Fund’ (an expenditure) of $2,000,000.00 and increasing City Water Fund ‘transfer from General Fund’ (a ‘revenue’) of $2,000,000.00.

D. Ordinance – authorizing the write off of this net General Fund payable to the City’s Capital Reserve Sewer Fund recorded between 2003 and 2005 which will have the effect of increasing General Fund ‘transfer from Capital Reserve Sewer Fund’ (a ‘revenue’) of $1,521,154.38 and increasing City’s Capital Reserve Sewer Fund ‘transfer to General Fund’ (an expenditure) of $1,521,154.38.

E. Ordinance – authorizing the write off of this net General Fund payable to the City’s Sewer Fund recorded between 2010 and 2012 which will have the effect of increasing General Fund ‘transfer from Sewer Fund’ (a ‘revenue’) of $2,338,270.50 and increasing City’s Sewer Fund ‘transfer to General Fund’ (an expenditure) of $2,338,270.50.

RESOLUTIONS

A. Resolution 25-2021 - authorizing a promotion salary for the Codes Manager from $61,398 to $69,000, which is a greater than 3% increase, retroactive to January 1, 2021.

Councilor Reed moved, seconded by Councilor Ventura, to adopt Resolution No. 25-2021.

Bill No. 25-2021 was adopted by the following vote:
Yeas: Cepeda-Freytiz, Goodman-Hinnershitz, Marmarou, Reed, Sihelnik, Ventura, Waltman, President – 7
Nays: None - 0

From the Consent Agenda
A. Award of Contract -for the municipal ERP project to Tyler Technologies at a cost of $1,110,468 with $700,000 available in FY 2021 and the remaining costs covered in FY 2022

Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz moved to approve the award of contract

Councilor Ventura moved, seconded by Councilor Reed, to table this Award of Contract

Bill No. 25-2021 was tabled by the following vote:
Yeas: Cepeda-Freytiz, Marmarou, Reed, Ventura– 4
Nays: Goodman-Hinnershitz, Sihelnik, Waltman, President - 3

COUNCIL COMMENT

Councilor Reed thanked the Public Works team for their great response to the disruptive snow events over the past few weeks. The Deputy Public Works Director explained the work of the City-wide team effort, around the clock, to clear snow off streets so City services can continue beginning January 27th. He stated that the multiple snow events have shown the need to refine operations such as waiting to clear snow from park properties until after the streets are cleared and issuing tickets to parked cars that are blocking intersections, preventing the entrance of plows and trash trucks.

Councilor Marmarou complimented the Public Works crews for their effective snow removal. He asked the Police and Parking Authority to enforce the No Parking regulations for large trucks/trailers, noting that several large trucks/trailers have been parked in the 1100 block of Hampden Blvd for months.

Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz thanked residents for their use of snow clearing equipment in areas that Public Works equipment cannot access. She also urged citizens to take advantage of parking in the parking garages during snow events that will allow the curb-to-curb removal of snow. She thanked the administration for correcting their compliance with the MOU with the Pagoda Foundation by making the required annual contribution. She noted the recent popularity of taking car photos at the Torii Gate at the Pagoda; however, she noted that the gate has been damaged when vehicles back into the gate. She suggested seeking repairs from a volunteer group.

Councilor Sihelnik stated that while she was pleased with the City’s snow removal endeavors, she was also pleased with neighbors helping neighbors and she urged residents to connect with their communities. She announced the clean-up planned for March 27th on the Schuylkill River Trail.

Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz noted the upcoming flag raising ceremony planned for Dominican Independence Day on February 27th.

Council President Waltman reviewed the upcoming Council meeting schedule.

Councilor Marmarou moved, seconded by Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz, to adjourn the regular meeting of Council.