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CITY COUNCIL

Regular Council Meeting Minutes 04/12/21



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City of Reading City Council
Virtual Regular Meeting
April 12, 2021
At the conclusion of the COW Meeting

Council President Waltman called the meeting to order at approximately 7:15 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 invocation was given by Father Theodore Petrides, Sts Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church.

All present pledged to the flag.

There were executive sessions held after the Committee of the Whole meetings on March 22nd, April 5th and April 12th on litigation re PA Sunshine Act Title 65 § 708. Executive Sessions (a) 4.

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
Asst. Solicitor F. Lachat – electronically
City Clerk L. Kelleher - electronically
City Auditor M. Rodriguez – electronically
Managing Director A. Amoros – electronically

PROCLAMATIONS AND PRESENTATIONS
A commendation was issued celebrating National Library Week.

PUBLIC COMMENT
Council President Waltman announced that there was one (1) citizen registered to provide public comment on non-agenda topics and five (5) written submissions on non-agenda topics.

Dominic Raneri, of South 18th Street, stated that he would like the City to stop the use of fireworks and ATVs within Reading. He expressed the belief that the lack of proper enforcement allows these problems to escalate. He suggested that attacking these issues proactively on all fronts can yield positive results and encouraged the use of strict enforcement to curb the use of fireworks and ATVs. He stated that failure is not an option. He described the problems created by the use of fireworks and ATVs in all Reading neighborhoods. He requested that the City act accordingly to stop the lawlessness.

The following written submissions were received, read aloud by Councilors Ventura and Goodman-Hinnershitz and are attached in full:

Brian Grubb, of North 14th Street, submitted complaints about the noise emanating from the Pagoda, the lack of parking and moving violations enforcement and lack of zoning for a business operating from a residential property on North 14th St.

David Hohl, of North 14th Street, submitted complaints about noise emanating from the Pagoda.

Marge Lawlor, of North 14th Street, submitted complaints about noise emanating from the Pagoda.

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 March 22nd Regular Meeting and the meeting summaries from the COWs held on March 22nd and April 5th, along with the April 5th Nominations Committee meeting summary. He noted the need to amend the agenda by withdrawing Ordinance F under Introduction of New Ordinances regarding the transfer of funds from the Pottieger Estate. There were no objections to the agenda modifications.

The minutes from the March 22nd Regular Meeting, 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 purchase of a 2021 Ford E450 AEV Ambulance to Speclin Emergency Vehicle Sales & Service, Scottdale PA in the amount of $178,286.00

B. Resolution 37-2021 – authorizing the disposition of records as set forth in Resolution 134-2009, adopted December 14, 2009 in accordance with Act 428 of 1968 the Retention and Disposition Schedule for Records of Pennsylvania Municipalities for all Information Technology system/server backup tapes from 2013 and earlier

C. Resolution 38-2021 – authorizing the disposition of records as set forth in Resolution 134-2009, adopted December 14, 2009 in accordance with Act 428 of 1968 the Retention and Disposition Schedule for Records of Pennsylvania Municipalities for 2013 Accounts Payable Invoices

D. Resolution 39-2021 – authorize the execution and submission of a PA DCED Keystone Communities Program Development Grant for the Reading Downtown 800 Block of Penn Street South Courtyard Improvement Project

ADMINISTRATIVE REPORT
The managing director highlighted the mayor’s activities since the last report and the report attached to the agenda and distributed electronically; in summary:

  • The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) pay year (PY2022) has opened. CD will continue to receive funding request applications through June 30th. Criteria for qualified applications are stipulated to meet the Mayor’s priorities for improving the City, the five-year consolidated action plan, and other initiatives for energy-efficient programs.
  • The CD Department met with Albright’s Chief Financial Officer and a representative from Mediplex Development regarding multiple initiatives. Topics included a multi-million dollar investment to build a new 350 student dormitory replacing an existing facility and the expansion of the athletic center to include electronic sports (e-sports) for students and the neighboring community.
  • The IRequest mobile application issue is resolved, and residents can now access the system via their mobile devices.
  • The Property Maintenance Division will be mailing housing bills this week to rental property owners. After numerous delays in achieving an acceptable document through the lockbox due to MICR scan line and check digit issues, we have opted to have the payments mailed in-house for processing by the CSC and Treasury to avoid further delays.
  • The Finance Department Grants Division submitted a RACP application for resubmission of the 9th and Marion Fire Station Development Project on March 15th. The request is for $4,013,030. Also, recently prepared and submitted was a DCED Keystone Communities Program Grant application for the 800 Block of Penn South Courtyards Improvement Project.
  • The Reading Fire Department Tower Ladder Replacement Project is underway. The apparatus is now on the assembly line and is slated for delivery late summer of 2021.
  • As of April 2nd, HRC has:
    • 890 total rent and utility assistance applications were received (an addition of 20 applications since last reported. The previous report stated 890 applications were received. That number was reported in error as 870 applications were received at that time).
      • 835 applications for rental assistance
    • 606 applicants were facing eviction
    • 106 applicants were not actively facing eviction
    • 79 applicants resided outside of the city, but in the county.
      • 8 applications for utility assistance
  • On April 24th the RPD will be holding a gun buyback event from 10 am- 2 pm at the parking lots of the Segunda Iglesia Teslonica located at 924 Greenwich Street and St. John Missionary Baptist Church located at 436 S. 7th Street.
  • RPD met with Alvernia University to finalize the details related to the Police Academy move to the Upland Center in June 2021.
  • PW has increased pothole remediation efforts due to the change of weather. The warmer weather has also allowed crews to increase cleaning and clearing efforts of City parks and trails in preparation for increased spring and summer usage.
  • PW has restored all basketball rims to City playgrounds.

Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz thanked the administration for the comprehensive report. She thanked the Police Department and all other Departments and Divisions involved in addressing the issues at 1570 Cotton Street. She stated that the community appreciates the teamwork and effort to curb this problem quickly.

AUDITOR'S REPORT

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

  • The 2020 Municipal Annual Audit and financial report has been completed and filed with the State by our Controller and external auditor, Herbein and Company, showing an unadjusted general fund deficit of ($677,882).
  • On March 30, 2021, the City received $1,976,407.72 in revenue from the Commonwealth of PA for the City’s Liquid Fuels (Motor License) Fund creating a balance of $8,383,687.87. This is for costs associated with construction/ reconstruction and maintenance for local roads, streets and bridges. The major part of this balance is a carry-over from prior years.
  • The majority of the revenue of the EIT Prior is collected during the first quarter of the year. For the current fiscal year, the City budgeted $4,730,000.00 and as of March 31, 2021, $4,430,061.46 in revenue has been collected for this line item. The City collected $1,051,606.50 more in 2020 than in 2021.
  • The Fines Motor Codes revenue is the money that the City receives for parking violation tickets issued by City Police Officers and collected by the Reading Parking Authority. For the fiscal year of 2020, the City budgeted $347,480.00 in revenue and collected a total of $192,475.00, creating a negative variance of $155,005.00.

REPORT FROM DEPT. DIRECTORS, BOARDS, AUTHORITIES, & COMMISSIONS1.

Shade Tree Commission Report – Lester Kissinger, City Arborist, listed the Shade Tree Commission members and staff members who are affiliated with the Commission. He stated that he has been with the City for 10 years and he is certified as an arborist and certified to apply pesticides. He stated that the City is home to 7,000 trees, not including the trees located in the City’s park system. He noted that the Shade Tree Commission was formed in 1973 to manage the urban forest.

Mr. Kissinger stated that the Commission plants 70-100 trees annually. They manage the ash borer infestation which has existed since 2006, damaging many ash trees and work to suppress the spotted lanternflies. This year the City celebrates its 37th anniversary as a Tree City USA. He explained the work to maintain the City’s shade trees and the adopt-a-tree program for Reading residents.

Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz thanked Mr. Kissinger and the Commission for their work to protect the City’s urban canopy. She noted the large deer population on Mt. Penn and Neversink Mountain and questioned the impact on the trees. Mr. Kissinger stated that the deer population mainly damages the small saplings and the invasive species.

Councilor Sihelnik invited Mr. Kissinger and the Commission to assist with tree management in the 18th Ward. She stated that she recently participated in one of the local programs by having four (4) trees planted on her property.

Councilor Reed stated that she is the liaison to the Shade Tree Commission and it is difficult for her to attend the meetings, as the meetings take place on a Monday at 6 pm during the Committee of the Whole meetings. She requested that the Commission consider changing their meeting date so she can participate. She also noted some of the activities planned for Arbor Day on April 30th.

ORDINANCES FOR FINAL PASSAGE

A. Bill 21-2021 – 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 Introduced at the March 8 regular meeting

Councilor Sihelnik moved, seconded by Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz, to enact Bill No. 21-2021.

Bill No. 21-2021 was enacted by the following vote:
Yeas: Cepeda-Freytiz, Goodman-Hinnershitz, Marmarou, Reed, Sihelnik, Ventura, Waltman, President – 7
Nays: None - 0

B. Bill 25-2021 – Liggett Ave. intersection Realignment and Topo Map revision Introduced at the March 8 regular meeting

Councilor Sihelnik moved, seconded by Councilor Reed, to enact Bill No. 25-2021.

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

C. Bill 27-2021 – amending the Police Chief’s contract by adding the benefits, excluding overtime, granted under the current MOU between the City and the FOP and any collective bargaining agreement that supersedes or amends the current agreement, as he is entitled under the PA Chief’s Act due to his extended service as a Police Officer on June 1, 2000, followed by his promotions to Sergeant, Lieutenant and Captain working in multiple capacities for the City of Reading Introduced at the March 22 regular meeting

Councilor Marmarou moved, seconded by Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz, to enact Bill No. 27-2021.

Bill No. 27-2021 was enacted by the following vote:
Yeas: Cepeda-Freytiz, Goodman-Hinnershitz, Marmarou, Reed, Sihelnik, Ventura, Waltman, President – 7
Nays: None - 0

D. Bill 28-2021 – authorizing the acceptance of the MS4 Pollution Reduction Plan (PRP) for the City of Reading by adding two rain gardens in District 5 to benefit the Tulpehocken Creek Introduced at the March 22 regular meeting

Councilor Reed moved, seconded by Councilor Sihelnik, to enact Bill No. 28-2021.

Bill No. 28-2021 was enacted by the following vote:
Yeas: Cepeda-Freytiz, Goodman-Hinnershitz, Marmarou, Reed, Sihelnik, Ventura, Waltman, President – 7
Nays: None - 0

E. Bill 29-2021 – authorizing the following: changing median width from 24 feet to 26 feet on the 100 block through the 400 blocks of Hancock Boulevard and on the 800 block through 900 block of East Wyomissing Boulevard, reducing the cart way width to 23 feet. Changing median width from 24 feet to 28 feet on the 1000 block through the 1300 blocks of East Wyomissing Boulevard reducing the cart way width to 23 feet Introduced at the March 22 regular meeting

Councilor Sihelnik moved, seconded by Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz, to enact Bill No. 29-2021.

Councilor Sihelnik explained that these changes will increase the safety of this area for pedestrians and vehicular traffic.

Bill No. 29-2021 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 - Amending the 2021 Position ordinance by reassigning two (2) police Officers from the Patrol Division to the Criminal Investigation Division who will be assigned to the State Police Auto Task Force, fully funded by the Pennsylvania State Police Auto Theft Taskforce.

B. Ordinance – Amending the City Code Chapter 77, Part 1 Police Department by amending the experience requirements for the position of Captain and striking Section 110 College Credits for Sergeant, Lieutenant and Captain and reserving that section

C. Ordinance – authorizing the Agreement of Sale for 313 A South 8th Street for $600, after followed its purchasing policy by notifying the surrounding neighbors of the property that the property was available for bid

D. Ordinance – authorizing the Agreement of Sale for 423 Schuylkill Venue, Reading PA to the Reading Parking Authority for $25,000.

Withdrawn

E. Ordinance – authorizing an appropriations transfer of donations from the Samuel Pottiger Trust currently in Fund Balance into an Agency Fund Account for active use to be distributed Monday

RESOLUTIONS

A. Resolution 40-2021– reappointing Joseph Amprey to the Ethics Board

B. Resolution 41-2021– appointing John Zabala as liaison to the Youth Commission

Councilor Marmarou moved, seconded by Councilor Ventura, to adopt Resolutions 40 and 41-2021

Councilors Marmarou and Goodman-Hinnershitz described the strengths and skills these individuals will bring to their perspective boards.

Resolutions 40 and 41-2021 were adopted by the following vote:
Yeas: Cepeda-Freytiz, Goodman-Hinnershitz, Marmarou, Reed, Sihelnik, Ventura, Waltman, President – 7
Nays: None - 0

COUNCIL COMMENT

Councilor Marmarou stated that he received complaints about the noise coming from the Pagoda area. He suggested that as the Pagoda is located within Lower Alsace Township that Central Berks Police should handle these problems. He noted the importance of working together. He also noted receiving noise complaints from other areas and he suggested saturating problem areas with police until the problem is resolved. He reminded everyone of the importance of police visibility and noted that the City needs more officers.

Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz reported on the partnership of various local organizations to come together to vaccinate 3,500 people last weekend, noting that another mass vaccination site will occur this coming weekend at Olivet.

Councilor Reed stated that Council received an email message regarding a festival at First Energy Stadium over the past weekend for BaseballTowne Charities, which was sanctioned by the City. She stated that as it was a large event a City EMS unit was on standby. She stated that this was a large gathering, without social distancing and with a large number of attendees not wearing masks. While she recognized that more individuals are being vaccinated, the number of COVID cases are still rising. She questioned why the City would sanction a large event like this.

The managing director stated that the festival was discussed at the daily briefing meeting this morning and the mayor had no knowledge about the event. He stated that he will follow up to find how arrangements were made with Fire for the EMS unit.

Councilor Reed questioned why the City endorses super-spreader type events while City Hall remains closed to the public and during a time when event permits are not being issued.

The managing director promised to follow up.

Councilor Sihelnik reported that Alvernia received 500 vaccines for staff, students and community members. She noted the availability of five gardens at the Oakbrook Community Garden area. Reservations can be made by contacting the Housing Authority. She described the ongoing work of the 18th Wonder organization to coordinate various projects and initiatives that benefit the community.

Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz noted the need to correct the misstatement from Councilor Marmarou regarding the location of the Pagoda. She stated that the Pagoda is within the City’s boundaries. While the Reading Police Department takes the lead on enforcement at the Pagoda, support is provided by Central Berks Police and Lower Alsace Township. She noted that a project to close the Pagoda parking area to through traffic is underway and she asked residents disturbed by the noise to be patient.

Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz announced the prescription take-back this weekend coordinated by Berks Medical Society.

Council President Waltman reviewed the upcoming Council meeting schedule.

Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz moved, seconded by Councilor Reed, to adjourn the regular meeting of Council.

Respectfully submitted by Linda A. Kelleher CMC, City Clerk