Regular Council Meeting Minutes 03/08/21
City of Reading City Council
Virtual Regular Meeting
March 8, 2021
At the conclusion of the COW Meeting
Council President Waltman called the meeting to order at approximately 7:34 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.
The Council President called for a moment of silence. All present pledged to the flag. There was an executive session held after the Committee of the Whole meetings on March 1st on personnel and on March 8th on litigation re PA Sunshine Act Title 65 § 708. Executive Sessions (a) 1 and 4.
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
Asst. Solicitor F. Lachat – electronically
Asst. Solicitor A. LaMano - electronically
City Clerk L. Kelleher - electronically
City Auditor M. Rodriguez – electronically
Managing Director A. Amoros – electronically
Mayor’s Assistant Frank Denbowski - electronically
PROCLAMATIONS AND PRESENTATIONS
Council President Waltman announced that there were three (3) citizens registered to provide public comment on non-agenda topics. The City Clerk announced that only two (2) citizens were connected to the meeting. Councilor Reed reviewed the public speaking rules located in the Administrative Code and approved by ordinance.
Wynton Butler II, of Linden St, stated that he resides in District 4 and questioned the status of the Youth Commission as the required clearances were provided in January.
Luis Cintron, of South 16th Street, thanked Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz for her assistance in providing a petition to circulate regarding the nuisance bar located at 1570 Cotton Street. He noted that this establishment is operating as a bar, without food service, ignoring the clearances for indoor gatherings as ordered by the Governor during the pandemic and operating after 2 am. He stated that this establishment continues to create extreme quality of life problems in this normally peaceful neighborhood that range from people urinating in public, hit and run car accidents to gun shots fired. The majority of the problems occur between 11 pm and 3 am on Thursday-Saturday. He stated that there are also prostitution activities in the apartment above the bar with arrangements made in the bar. He stated that he has collected 100 signatures from neighborhood residents requesting that this establishment be shutdown.
Councilor Sihelnik stated that there is an internal meeting this Wednesday afternoon to discuss the start-up of the Youth Commission meetings.
Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz thanked Mr. Cintron for working to gather signatures on the petition which will be provided to the proper law enforcement agencies. She noted that she recently learned that this establishment may not have a valid liquor license. She noted that she has heard gun shots coming from this establishment when the bar closes in the early morning hours.
Council President Waltman suggested modifying the agenda order by having the reports from the Charter Board and Convention Center Authority at this time. No member of Council objected.
REPORT FROM DEPT. DIRECTORS, BOARDS, AUTHORITIES, & COMMISSIONS
1. Charter Board Report – Shane McFarlane, Chair, wished everyone Happy International Women’s Day. He explained that the Home Rule Charter became the the City’s governing document starting in 1996 and he explained its purpose, limitations and boundaries. He stated that it is important for City officials to adhere to the Charter’s requirements to prevent instability in operations.
Mr. McFarlane explained that the Charter Board was approved by voter referendum when it was discovered that those who are required to adhere to the Charter requirements could violate the terms of the Charter. He next explained the complaint process handled by the Board’s Investigative Officer and the process used by the Charter Board to evaluate the facts and findings of the complaint and issue a final order or dismiss the complaint. Since the Charter Board began, eight (8) final orders have been issued over the past 10 years, two (2) of the final orders were issued during the past administration. He noted that less than half of those final orders have been appealed. He stated that the Charter Board has issued 30 advisory opinions at the request of eligible City officials; 14-15 during the last administration.
Mr. McFarlane stated that the Charter Board must also educate officials and the public about the Charter. He stated that the Board recognizes that educational outreach must improve while containing expenses, as the Board recognizes that its services are not revenue neutral. He described the Board’s intent to send a monthly newsletter about the Charter to City employees and officials and publish an annotated Charter annually that codifies the Advisory Opinions and Final Orders.
Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz thanked Mr. McFarlane for his very informative presentation and she inquired how often municipal officials and employees are trained. Mr. McFarlane stated that a training session is offered after each municipal election (every other year); however, the last session was delayed due to the pandemic.
Councilor Reed suggested scheduling a training session via Zoom.
Councilor Sihelnik thanked Mr. McFarlane for the presentation and noted her appreciation on the start of a Charter Board newsletter and the publication of an annual annotated Charter. She noted that the Charter is filled with ambiguities and grey areas that create difficulties and she noted the need for revisions to clean up the Charter language.
2. Convention Center Authority – Mike Ehlerman, Chair and City appointees Mike Gombar, Mike Fiucci and Izzy Gonzalez were present to make the report.
Mr. Gombar stated that the Convention Center Authority exists to manage the Santander Arena and Performing Arts Center (SPAC) which has been closed since the pandemic began almost a year ago. He stated that the arena and the SPAC are supported by revenue
generated through scheduled events and the hotel tax. He stated that since operations ceased due to the pandemic the Convention Center has worked to defer debt payments and fees. He stated that this has been a difficult year and noted his hope that attendance limitations would expand so that the arena and SPAC could reopen this fall. He noted that September 6th marks the 20 year anniversary of the opening of the arena and they hope to mark the anniversary through some type of celebratory event.
Mr. Fiucci highlighted the Royals Youth hockey program and the Convention Center’s purchase of the Royals franchise, affiliated with the Philadelphia Flyers, in 2019 to prevent the franchise from relocating. He stated that the Royals season was shut down in March 2020 and while some ECHL organizations restarted with limited attendance, the Authority decided not to participate due to the financial constraints created by the attendance limitations. He stated that the 2021 season begins October 23rd. He noted that due to the financial constraints caused by the pandemic the scholarships issued to local students will not be awarded this year.
Mr. Gonzalez noted the rehab of the former Pearl Building and its prime location next to the arena at 8th and Penn Streets. He noted the City property values have risen by 26% and described the very low real estate inventory currently on the market. He expressed the belief that the former Pearl Building is prime for economic development.
Mr. Ehlerman explained that the Arena and SPAC need to have a 70% attendance rate to break even due to the overhead of running the arena. He noted that events at both centers have attracted 200,000-400,000 people annually. People who pay to park, pay the admissions fee ($550K generated for the City annually), and visit local bars and restaurants. He expressed hope that operations can resume in the fall, noting that they are prepared to undertake the required cleaning and additional precautions. He stated that it will take the arena about 3-4 months to re-staff and retrain etc. noting that the majority of arena staff was furloughed during the pandemic.
Mr. Ehlerman stated that the Authority is applying for the pandemic relief available for shuttered businesses through the SBA (Small Business Administration), noting that while the arena is eligible the members are unsure when and if the arena will be approved for this relief funding.
Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz inquired about the cost and marketing of the Youth hockey program. Mr. Fiucci stated that the program is marketed through the website, Facebook, the schools and other social media. The cost ranges from $35 for beginners to $400 for full ice sessions.
Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz suggested that Authority contact Olivet and the Rec
Commission to add marketing materials in the meal packets that are distributed.
Councilor Reed encouraged the Authority to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Arena, noting that the anniversary of 9-11 is days later.
Councilor Sihelnik thanked the Authority for their presentation and for the rehab of the Pearl Building.
Council President Waltman thanked the Authority for their continued dedication to the arena and SPAC.
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 22nd Regular Meeting and the meeting summaries from the COWs held on March 1st and 8th, along with the March 8th Nominations Committee meeting summary.
The minutes from the February 22nd Regular Meeting and the summations of discussion as listed and the agenda, were approved by acclimation.
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 LTW (Lets Think Wireless) for maintenance/ support services and software updates for the Police VSU at the cost of $83,208.99
B. Award of Contract – to Vitra Systems, Tempe AZ, to upgrade the current police simulation trainer at a cost of $69,249.54 for police marksmanship training. This includes a trade value of $10,000 for our current obsolete training system.
C. Resolution 26-2021 – authorizing the purchase of the Microsoft Server 2019 exchange licenses to modernize the email communication platform used across the entire City government from Southern Computer Warehouse (SCW), a COSTARS vendor, at the cost of $62,753.07, as authorized by the enactment of Bill No. 68-2020
D. Resolution 27-2021 – 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) To be distributed on Monday
E. Resolution 28-2021 – authorizing the disposal of the Bid Files, Tabulations, Purchase Orders, Invoices, and General Correspondence for 2011 and 2012 for the Purchasing Division, as per the Retention and Disposition Schedule for Records of Pennsylvania Municipalities issued in 2009
F. Resolution 29-2021 – authorizing the purchase of a 2021 Transit-150 Cargo Van from Tom Masano Ford, Shillington Pa. in the amount of $36,476.95 through the use of the PA cooperative purchasing program Costars
G. Resolution 30-2021 – authorizing the disposition of Bid Files, Tabulations, Purchase Orders, Invoices, and General Correspondence for 2011 and 2012 for the Purchasing Division, as per the PA Retention and Disposition Schedule for Records of Municipalities issued in 2009
H. Award of Contract – for the replacement of the 11th and Pike Playground Fencing to ProMax Fencing, Reading, PA for the full perimeter of the park $40,725.00
I. Resolution 31-2021 – authorizing the Police Chief to execute the Letter of Agreement with TRITECH for support services for 1 (one) year (3/22/21 – 3/22/22) and remit payment to TRITECH Software Systems in the total amount of $ $134,693.33 for the provision of those Services for Police CAD (computer aided dispatch), RMS (records management system), and Police Analytics for the police department
J. Award of Contract – for purchase of a 2021 F-150 4x4 SuperCab Styleside 6.5’ box 145” WB XL (X1E) to Whitmoyer Ford Inc., Mount Joy, PA, a PA COSTARS Vendor, in the amount of $42,950.00 for the replacement of one of the Department of Fire and Rescue Services Deputy Chief’s vehicle
Council President Waltman noted that the mayor was unavailable this evening due to a medical issue.
The managing director stated that the mayor extends his thanks to all who sent well wishes for his recovery.
Mr. Denbowski highlighted the mayor’s activities since the last report and the attached to the agenda and distributed electronically; in summary:
- The Information Technology Department is nearing completion of the Penn Street bridge sign replacement project. The new sign is being delivered to a local installer. It is expected to be ready for installation by the end of March.
- The Finance Department continues to address the Accela/Public Stuff issue with Apple. Until the issue is resolved, residents may access the system through their internet browser at www.publicstuff.com/submit
- As of February 26th, Human Relations has:
- 843 total applications for rent and utility assistance were received (an addition of 38 applications since last reported).
- 835 applications for rental assistance
- 8 applications for utility assistance
- 843 total applications for rent and utility assistance were received (an addition of 38 applications since last reported).
- The Reading Public Library hosted the For the Culture book discussion group of authors of color. Ten virtual participants partook in the event.
- The RPL Southeast Branch will hold a memorial bench dedication on March 23rd at 3:00 in honor of Lisa McCoy. The flyer for this event is included at the end of this report.
- The Reading Police Department Traffic Division was awarded a $2,500 grant for aggressive driving enforcement in the City.
- The Reading Police Department is conducting joint patrol/investigation details targeting gun violence in the City. These details have made four arrests, including one involving the recovery of a stolen firearm.
- PW continues to conduct DID activities. Street sweepers are servicing the downtown regularly when weather permits. Third-shift PW crews are emptying trash receptacles daily. PW crews have also begun moving equipment and other items out of the former DID office.
- PW is conducting evaluations along street sweeper routes in preparation to address pruning and elevation concerns for clearance of sweepers.
Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz inquired about the availability of the COVID vaccination for City staff. Mr. Amoros stated that the work group is still meeting and attempting to coordinate with Tower Health. He stated that the distribution is still in the 1a phase. He acknowledged the problems with the distribution of the vaccine and stated that the mayor has taken a leadership role in communicating with communities of color.
Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz noted the work of local agencies to help get seniors vaccinated.
Councilor Reed noted Mr. Gonzalez’s reference to the recent increase in City real estate values, as this will play a large role in City revenue for the Real Estate Transfer Tax, etc. She suggested a presentation at an upcoming COW. The managing director agreed to arrange this presentation.
Councilor Sihelnik thanked the administration for reporting on Public Works work to attend to the clean portion of the former DID function. She inquired if the greening and Downtown Live events will occur. The managing director stated that there have been some groups volunteering to assist with the greening in the downtown.
The Auditor highlighted the report attached to the agenda and distributed electronically. In summary:
- Cable Franchise Fee Collection - For the fiscal year of 2020, the City budgeted $875,000.00 in revenue for the Cable Franchise Fees and collected $818,497.20 resulting in a negative variance of $56,502.80.
- User Fees aka EMS Services - the City budgeted $3,196,000.00 for User Fees and $58,000.00 was been added to this budget line item to cover the collection expense. As of December 31, 2020, the City collected $2,405,142.53 resulting in a shortfall of $790,857.47.
- On February 10, 2021, the City received a check from the Commonwealth of PA in the amount of $300,000.00 for the River Road Extension project.
- The 2020 FY financial statements audit is in progress. The City external auditors, Herbein and Company has started doing preliminary testing. The City Auditor office along with the Finance Department are working diligently in providing all the necessary and requested information that is needed for the completion of this audit.
ORDINANCES FOR FINAL PASSAGE
A. Bill 15-2021 – 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 Introduced at the February 22 regular meeting
B. Bill 16-2021 – 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 Introduced at the February 22 regular meeting
C. Bill 17-2021 – 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 Introduced at the February 22 regular meeting
Councilor Marmarou moved, seconded by Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz, to enact Bill No. 17-2021.
D. Bill 18-2021 – 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 Introduced at the February 22 regular meeting
Councilor Marmarou moved, seconded by Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz, to enact Bill No. 18-2021.
E. Bill 19-2021 – 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 Introduced at the February 22 regular meeting
The managing director noted that due to the request for additional information by the Auditor, the administration requests that Council table these ordinances this evening.
Councilor Reed moved, seconded by Councilor Marmarou, to table Bill Nos. 15-19-2021.
Bill Nos. 15-19-2021 were tabled 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 - amending the 2021 Water Fund Budget by $47,400 to offset an increase for the Carryover to Reserve. There is no overall impact on the Water Fund Operating budget.
B. Ordinance – vacating a portion of Liggett Avenue and removing it from the City’s topographical map, as requested by the petition presented by the Reading Housing Authority and recommended by the Reading Planning Commission and Public Works Department
C. Ordinance – amending the City of Reading City Code Chapter 515, Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance (SALDO)
D. Ordinance – amending the General Fund Budget by transferring of $123,499 from the Fund Balance to the Agency Fund Project to finance a comprehensive Citywide parking study
E. Ordinance – amending the General Fund Budget by transferring $92,000 from the Fund
Balance to the Agency Fund for construction costs related to the New 9th & Marion Fire Station project
F. Ordinance – Liggett Ave. intersection Realignment and Topo Map revision
G. Ordinance – amending the City Code Chapter 576 Vehicles and Traffic, Part 4 Parking, Section 576-404 Blocking Garage Entrance by adding rear parking areas and Section 576-407 Storage of Vehicles by removing the language regarding the parking of tractor/trailers bringing the section into compliance with the prohibition on tractor/trailer parking in Chapter 564
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 Tabled at the 2-22-21 regular meeting
Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz moved, seconded by Councilor Marmarou, to table the Award of Contract.
The Award of Contract for Tyler Technologies was tabled by the following vote:
Yeas: Cepeda-Freytiz, Goodman-Hinnershitz, Marmarou, Reed, Ventura, , Waltman, President – 6
Nays: Sihelnik – 1
B. Resolution 32-2021 – reappointing Steve Belinski to the Reading Housing Authority
Councilor Marmarou moved, seconded by Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz, to adopt Resolution No. 32-2021.
Resolution No. 32-2021 was adopted by the following vote:
Yeas: Cepeda-Freytiz, Goodman-Hinnershitz, Marmarou, Reed, Sihelnik, Ventura, Waltman, President – 7
Nays: – None - 0
C. Resolution 33-2021 – confirming the appointment of Fred Lachat as Acting City Solicitor for a 180 day period.
Councilor Reed moved, seconded by Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz, to table Resolution No. 33-2021
Resolution No. 33-2021 was tabled by the following vote:
Yeas: Cepeda-Freytiz, Goodman-Hinnershitz, Marmarou, Reed, Ventura, Sihelnik, Waltman, President – 7
Nays: None – 0
Councilor Sihelnik thanked Council for their advocacy for the federal Equality Act and the letter of support sent to Senator Toomey. She noted the opening of a new community garden in the 18th Ward area and a South of Penn ice cream event for the Reading Police. She stated that an internal meeting is planned on this Wednesday at 5 pm to kick-off the Youth Commission. She wished all her female colleagues a happy International Women’s History day, noting that the majority of City Council is now women.
Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz noted the work of the Dominican Association to assist those seeking citizenship. She thanked Centro Hispano and other agencies for their work to vaccinate seniors.
Councilor Marmarou noted his attendance at a vaccination event hosted at Centro Hispano and how well the event was organized.
Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz thanked Pat at the Penns Commons building for assisting seniors to access vaccines. She also announced that an event to counter violence is scheduled for this Saturday at 7 pm at the Pendora Olivet building. She noted the bravery of the community to fight back against the disruption of the nuisance bar in the 1500 block of Cotton Street.
Councilor Reed noted the challenges experienced with the roll-out of the vaccines and expressed hope that distribution will improve shortly. She also noted the build-up of trash at various City properties and asked property owners to take responsibility and attend to this problem.
Council President Waltman reviewed the upcoming Council meeting schedule.
Councilor Marmarou moved, seconded by Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz, to adjourn the regular meeting of Council.