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CITY COUNCIL

Regular Council Meeting Minutes 05/24/21



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City of Reading City Council
Virtual Regular Meeting
May 24, 2021
At the conclusion of the COW Meeting

Council President Waltman called the meeting to order at approximately 7:25 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.

Councilor Sihelnik gave the invocation.

All present pledged to the flag.

There was an executive session on employment contracts as per PA Sunshine Act. 65 § 708. Executive sessions. (a) (1).

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
None.

PUBLIC COMMENT
Council President Waltman announced that there were four (4) citizens registered to provide public comment on agenda topics – three (3) in writing and one (1) speaking by connecting with the meeting. Councilor Reed read the public speaking rules adopted by ordinance.

Victor Perez, no address provided, explained his inquiries relating to the enforcement of meters and kiosks and exemptions. He expressed his belief that the language is currently unclear creating the potential for a broader meaning and misinterpretation. He noted that prior to 2017 there was no meter/kiosk enforcement after 8 pm and on weekends; however in 2019 that changed and he began receiving citations timestamped after 8 pm and he when he questioned the hours of enforcement, he was told that the Parking Authority enforcement is a 24/7 operation. He stated that confusing responses to his questions caused him to question the enforcement of other non-moving violations.

Mr. Perez stated that, in the past at a hearing, a person represented by an attorney appealed his non-moving violation and the attorney challenged the validity of local ordinances for non-moving violations vs. the State Motor Vehicle Code and the judge agreed and threw the citation out. He expressed the belief that the parking fees and fines are excessive and coupled with excessive enforcement has created difficulties for him and others.

The City Clerk read the written comments submitted (attached in their entirety) from the following:

Tynesha Fichter, no address provided, spoke in opposition of the FOP contract and the subsequent need to increase the Police Budget

Becky Ellis, of South 19th St, spoke in opposition of the FOP contract and suggested increasing funding for social services rather than police salary increases.

Christopher Ellis, no address provided, spoke in opposition of the FOP contract.

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 May 10th Regular Meeting and the meeting summaries from the COWs held on May 10th and 17th. He stated that the administration has withdrawn the PROCHAMPS Resolution listed on the Consent Agenda as the current contract does not expire until the end of 2021.

The minutes from the May 10th 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 –

B. Award of Contract –

C. Resolution 49-2021 – authorizing the solicitor to execute the acknowledgement forms from the Berks Tax Claim office accepting the repository bids on 213 Hudson St., 527 and 519 Strong Alley and 416 Orange St

D. Resolution 49-2021 – authorizing the submission of an application for a PA Walkworks grant with the Pennsylvania Department of Health in the amount of $20,000

Withdrawn by the Administration

E. Resolution 49-2021 – authorizing a 1 year extension of the PROCHAMP registration program

F. Resolution 49-2021 – authorizing the submission of the PennDOT “Traffic signal Maintenance Agreement” for all traffic signals and signs in the City

ADMINISTRATIVE REPORT
The managing director highlighted the mayor’s activities since the last meeting and the report provided in writing, in summary:

COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT:

 

  • The CD Department received confirmation from the Pennsylvania Department of Health that Reading will be a sub-recipient of the Lead Hazard Reduction award. CD will learn about the initial steps for starting a successful program at an initial meeting on May 18th .
  • The CD Department, in collaboration with Penn State Health, Penn State Berks, GRCA, recently collaborated on a grant application submission for active transportation programming. The application, prepared by Stantec staff, encourages walkability by utilizing activity, friendly routes that connect to everyday destinations.

FINANCE:

 

HUMAN RELATIONS COMMISSION:

  • The Finance Department’s Information Technology Division is installing new Cisco licensing, which provides Softphone (Desktop application, allows home access), instant messaging, and video call services. It also includes Cisco’s version of teams for team workspace.
  • The IT Division contacted Integra to finish up the dual-authentication rollout to meet President Biden’s executive order of 180 days to implement. In addition, IT is also researching Zero Trust networking, as mentioned in the executive order.
  • The Finance Department’s Treasury Division has been operating with three additional staff members to process Housing bills at the discount rate. The City should be caught up with all accounts at the discount rate by the week of May 17th. Staff will then work to process the Housing bills at the flat rate, which has a June 1st deadline.
  • The Finance Department Grants Division is preparing a DCED Commonwealth Financing Authority Greenways, Trails and Recreation Program grant application for submission by the May 31st deadline. The requested grant amount is $250,000, which would go towards the $325,000 Egelman’s Park Improvements Project. The City’s Capital Improvement Program will provide the required local match of $75,000. The improvements will include repairing the existing stormwater pipe and inlet system, cleaning existing drain piping, and installing a new drain pipe and related catch basins.
  • As of May 14th, HRC has:
    • 922 total rent and utility assistance applications were received (an addition of 13 applications since last reported.)
      • 913 applications for rental assistance
        • 616 applicants were facing eviction
        • 215 applicants were not actively facing eviction
        • 82 applicants resided outside of the City but within the county.
      • 9 applications for utility assistance
    • The majority of applications now being submitted do not have evictions and are being referred to BCEH.

POLICE:

 

  • RPD’s Traffic Law Enforcement Unit is currently conducting operations with patrol officers to address aggressive driving, occupant safety, and pedestrian safety.
  • The RPD continues to see progress on department projects. Current projects include:
    • Patrol Division office renovations
    • Training simulator
    • Policy and Software updates
    • VSU upgrade (This is nearing completion. It focuses on infrastructure and camera replacement. Currently, the workstations in City Hall are being updated.)
  • The RPD Youth Police Academy continues in the planning phase. Conversations continue with Olivet Boys and Girls Club leadership to get programs up and running soon. A full briefing on the program will be provided in the coming weeks.

PUBLIC WORKS:

 

  • The Public Works Department conducted a Pothole Blitz event on Wednesday, May 10th. City Public Works crews partnered with UGI and RAWA crews to canvass the city and repair potholes. The day was highly successful, and as a result, a second Pothole Blitz event is being planned. In the interim, Public Works will continue utilizing a second crew to stay ahead of potholes in 2021.
  • On Friday, April 30th, the City celebrated Arbor Day at City Park. Twelve trees were planted earlier in the week as part of the celebration, two at Eglemans Park and ten at City Park.
  • PW Clean City Program is continuing with great success. The statistics for April are as follows:
    • Storm Drains Checked 176
    • Storm Drains Cleaned 106
    • Residential Electronics picked up for recycling 159
    • Lbs. of electronic devices recycled 11,439 (5.72 tons)
    • Tires picked up for recycling 57
    • Dead animal carcasses picked up 24
    • Graffiti Abatement Projects 37
    • Illegal signs removed 267
    • Illegal Dumping calls remediated (staff clean-up projects) 12
    • Clean City projects completed (Staff) 75
    • Clean City projects completed (Volunteers) 20
    • Number of volunteers 329
    • Total Clean Up projects completed 107
    • Tonnage of material disposed of from cleanups(bags, yard waste, bulk items combined) Tons- 20.88

Councilor Sihelnik noted that work is being done on the tree pits located at 4th and Penn Streets. She inquired how property owners can seek assistance with the tree pits at their downtown properties. The managing director stated that inquiries should be forwarded to his office.

Councilor Sihelnik requested an update on the repair of the Schlegel Park Pool. The managing director stated that he is optimistic that the pool will open by 4th of July weekend.

Councilor Reed noted her appreciation of the beautiful plantings in the downtown along with the weeding and overall maintenance that is occurring, noting that this is a wonderful contrast to last year.

Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz requested an update on the repair and refilling of Egelman’s Dam. The managing director stated that he can provide an update tomorrow.

Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz described her recent observation of two separate and very positive interactions neighbors had with patrol officers.

Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz questioned the grant for lead abatement. The managing director stated that there are lead pipes and paint in many old homes and the grant will be used to abate the lead. Additional specifics will be provided moving forward.

AUDITOR'S REPORT

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

Real Estate Transfer Tax Revenue - Update as of April 30, 2021
For the month of April of the current year, the City collected $717,308.73 in revenue for Real Estate Transfer Tax, and as of April 30, 2021, a total of $2,955,344.27 has already been received which is 63% of total amount budgeted. Out of this amount $884,799.64 has been received for properties sold for more than a half of million dollars threshold. Also, there has been a total of 851 transactions for Real Estate Transfer Tax, of which 721 transactions were taxable and 130 were not taxable transactions.

Earned Income Tax and Earned Income Tax Prior – Update as of April 30, 2021
For the current fiscal year, the City budgeted $20,242,120.00 for Earned Income Tax & Earned Income Tax Prior, and as of April 30, 2021, the City has collected $6,578,927.10 of total amount budgeted. The table below illustrates that the revenue collected for Earned Income Tax this year is greater by $797,333.86 compared to the revenue collected for the same period of time in 2020.

2020 Fiscal Year Audit - Update
On Tuesday, May 18, 2021, the external auditor, Megan Thompson from Herbein & Company communicated to the City Auditor that about 60% of the testing for the fiscal audit of 2020 has been completed. Ms. Thompson stated that a very good progress has been made through the audit process.

Council President Waltman noted that the revenue from the Real Estate Transfer Tax is dependent on the real estate market. He stated that although there are individuals and groups that dislike this tax, the tax has assisted the City financially and prevented the increase of other taxes.

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

Dr. John Dethoff, Board of Health (BOH) Chair, thanked Council for the opportunity to provide an update on the Board’s activities over the past two (2) years. He stated that the Board meets bimonthly on the 1st Tuesday. He noted that since the start of the pandemic meetings are conducted on Zoom which has increased attendance. He noted that Zoom meetings are working so well, that the Board may choose to continue meeting on that platform after the pandemic.

Dr. Dethoff stated that the BOH can have five (5) members and two (2) alternates, a mix of health professionals and citizens. Currently the BOH has two (2) physicians, a registered nurse and one (1) citizen. He stated that the 5th member, as per State requirements, is to be a person experienced in the environmental area, with a specialty in Codes. He noted the great staff support provided by Ms. Smith and Ms. LaMano.

Dr. Dethoff explained that the Board is responsible for abating or removing all conditions found by it to be detrimental to the public health and include those that increase the spread of infectious or contagious disease and/or any other nuisance deemed prejudiced to the public health. However, the Board’s ability to assist during the pandemic was limited as they are not a Department of Health. He stated that there are six (6) counties within Pennsylvania that operate Departments of Health and those counties are able to obtain specific information about the spread of the disease and perform contact tracing. He noted that his inquiries to the State Department of Health to obtain that information for Berks County spawned the conversation at the County level about beginning a local Department of Health. He stated that Dr. Kelleher, a public health physician and member of the Board, is assisting with those discussions.

Dr. Dethoff stated that the Board is also active in the Berks Teens Matter work to reduce teen pregnancy and provide sexual health information in the Reading/Berks area. They also receive updates on lead abatement. He noted that the local Health Code has not been updated since 2003, although the State has updated its legislation in 2013 and 2015. He noted that the Board has been requesting an update to the local code for multiple years.

Councilor Sihelnik inquired about the Board’s participation in local health center surveys and outcomes. Dr. Dethoff stated that the Board does not participate; however, he suggested directing that question to Dr. Kelleher.

Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz agreed with the need to initiate a local Department of Health. She inquired how the City can assist in the education of the public about health issues. Dr. Dethoff noted the area’s overall problem with high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes, etc. and the need for people to make smarter life choices to reduce the health risks associate with those medical conditions. He added that the best lesson was identified during the pandemic due to the mortality of obese individuals.

Council members thanked the BOH for their dedicated work and advice.

ORDINANCES FOR FINAL PASSAGE

Revisions requested at the May 17th COW

Bill 40-2021 –Amending City Code Section 576-403, Parking Prohibited in Specific Areas by adding the requirement to park inside parking stall lines Introduced at the May 10 regular meeting

Bill 41-2021 – Amending City Code Section 576-416 by adding a fine of $45 and additional 10 and 30 day penalties each in the amount of $22.50 for parking outside the parking stall lines Introduced at the May 10 regular meeting

A. Bill 38-2021 – authorizing an appropriations transfer of $40,634.03 from Project #31-01-03, GL#01-00-00-2990 – Fund Balance to project #31-01-03 under GL #31-01-00-4510 General Plant Supplies in order to make the Samuel Pottieger Trust donations available for use during the current fiscal year Introduced at the April 26 regular meeting; tabled at the May 10 regular meeting

Councilor Marmarou moved, seconded by Councilor Reed, to enact Bill No. 38-2021.

Bill No. 38-2021, was enacted by the following vote:
Yeas: Cepeda-Freytiz, Goodman-Hinnershitz, Marmarou, Reed, Sihelnik, Ventura, Waltman, President – 7
Nays: None - 0

B. Bill 42-2021 – authorizing the total transfer of $99,000 from General Ledger Rental – Parking Authority, to General Ledger - Contracted Services to provide funding for Special Counsel to the Planning Commission to provide specialized legal advice relating to subdivision and land development projects; review of ordinance amendments, agreements, and resolutions; and general legal matters involving planning and zoning Introduced at the May 10 regular meeting

Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz moved, seconded by Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz, to enact Bill No. 42-2021.

Bill No. 42-2021 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 City Code Chapter 576 Vehicles & Traffic Section 503 clarifying that parking meter enforcement is exempted on Sundays, New Year's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Eve and Christmas

B. Ordinance – amending City Code Chapter 576 Vehicles and Traffic, Part 13 Motorized Devices and All-Terrain Vehicles by modifying the enforcement process and adding due process and an appeals process which will allow the Police Department to destroy the vehicles seized

C. Ordinance – amending City Code Chapter 23 Boards and Commissions Part 23 Code and License Appeals Board by adding appeals to Chapter 576 Part 13 Motorized Devices and All-Terrain Vehicles

D. Ordinance – amending the City Code Fee Schedule 212-144 by adding fees for the towing, relocation and storage of ATV’s and dirt bikes

DescriptionFeeOrdinance No.Code Citation
Reclamation cost for impounded ATV, snow mobile, dirt bike $50 Bill No. 2021 § 576-1305
Towing/relocation fee for ATV, Snow mobile $120 Bill No. 2021 § 576-1305
Towing/relocation fee for dirt bike $120 Bill No. 2021 § 576-1305
Storage fee for ATV, snow mobile, dirt bike $25 per day Bill No. 2021 § 576-

E. Ordinance – authorizing an appropriations transfer of $241,000 from General Fund Rental – Parking Authority to Capital Fund Public Works – Parks, to enable the construction of the Canal Street Skate Park

F. Ordinance – restricting parking, to maintain the requisite number of No Parking signs along both sides of North Ninth Street in the 1100 and 1200 blocks as depicted on the parking drawing titled Exhibit “A“. The purpose is to comply with the conditions of PennDOT Highway Occupancy Permit Application No. 238205 associated with the Marion Street Fire Station Project.

G. Ordinance – authorizing the total appropriations transfer of $294,336.75 from General Fund Rental – Parking Authority to General Fund Part Time Wages in order to increase base pay to $15 for most part time staff.

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