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CITY COUNCIL

Regular Council Meeting Minutes 06/14/21



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City of Reading City Council

Virtual Regular Meeting

June 14, 2021

At the conclusion of the COW Meeting
 

Council President Waltman called the meeting to order at approximately 7:02 pm.
 

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

Pastor Tony Perez, of Iglessia Betania/Bethany Church, gave the invocation.
 

All present pledged to the flag.
 

There was an executive session for a quarterly update on litigation cases on June 7th as per PA Sunshine Act. 65 § 708. Executive sessions. (a) (4).
 

ATTENDANCE

Council President Waltman - 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 F. Lachat – electronically

City Clerk L. Kelleher - electronically

Audit Coordinator C. Rodriguez – electronically

Managing Director A. Amoros – electronically

 

Council President Waltman stated that Councilor Sihelnik is excused from the meeting due to health issue.

 

PROCLAMATIONS AND PRESENTATIONS

A commendation was issued to Olivet Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year Princess Lovett.
 

PUBLIC COMMENT

Council President Waltman announced that there were three (3) citizens who provided written public comment on general matters and one (1) speaking by connecting with the meeting virtually. However, the individual registered to speak at the meeting was not connected.
 

Councilor Reed read the written comment provided (attached in full).
 

Jocelyn Young, Property Consultant, Cheiti Universal Services LLC, no address provided, questioned why the CD Department reduced payment of the judgment approved by a City MDJ for rental/utility assistance by $700.
 

Christopher Ellis, South 19th St, wrote in opposition of the ordinance to reinstate the parking stall lines in the City and the charge corresponding fines.
 

Teresa Hartman, of Fairview St., submitted complaints about the condition of several properties in the Fairview Street area, which were submitted to the administration through the prescribed process.

 

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 24th Regular Meeting, the June 1st Special Meeting, the meeting summaries from the COWs held on May 24th and June 7th and the meeting summary from the June 7th Nominations meeting.  
 

The minutes from the May 24th Regular Meeting and the June 1st Special Meeting, the summations of discussion listed and the agenda 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 demolition of 604 N. 9th St., 519 Cedar St., 1103 Spruce St., and 515 Wunder St., Reading, PA in the amount of $219,427.00 to Northeast Industrial Services Corp
 

B. Award of Contract –
 

C. Resolution 55-2021 – authorizing the submission of a PY2021 HOME Action Plan Amendment in the amount of $ 774,495.82 as follows:

    • $588,000 from the PY2021 HOME Acquisition, Rehabilitation, and Resale Project
    • $100,000 from the PY2019 HOME Acquisition, Rehabilitation, and Resale Project
    • $ 86,495.82 from the PY2021 HOME Program Income funds

 

D. Resolution 56-2021 – authorizing the Solicitor to execute the forms accepting the Repository Bids submitted by the Berks County Tax Claim Office for the following properties: 523 Maple St. and 709 and 735A Neversink Alley and denying the Repository Bid for 442 Rosenthal St.

 

E. Resolution 57-2021– authorizing the Mayor and Controller to use the PennDOT dotgrants on-line reporting system to file the required Liquid Fuels forms annually; including but not limited to the MS965, MS-329 and MS-999 forms through the adoption of this resolution which must be executed by a majority of Council.

 

F. Resolution 58-2021 – authorizing the submission of an application for RACP funds in the amount of $4,000,000.00 for the Alvernia University CollegeTown Infrastructure and Renovation Project as required by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

 

G. Resolution 60-2021– authorizing the submission of the Sewage Planning Module for 114-118 Belvedere Ave
 

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 Community Development Department has the final draft of the Housing Strategy Study conducted by Hailstone Economics. The study recommends establishing Gateway Façade improvement projects to increase awareness of the ongoing revitalization efforts. The study also addresses necessary mechanisms through which blighted properties can be conveyed to Reading Redevelopment Authority. The final component of the study is addressing available funding to establish a land bank.
    • The CD Department continues to attend biweekly meetings with the Downtown Coordinator, Solid Waste Manager, Zoning, and PMI divisions to collaboratively develop plans for increasing foot traffic in the commercial corridor. The interest of attracting small events should be coordinated and covered through multiple social media.
    • The CD Department, on behalf of the City Administration, attended an event organized by Fight Crime Invest in Kids (FCIK) Association to increase awareness of lead poisoning in children. Reading, PA falls below the national average of childhood blood screening. The average is 30%, and Reading is less than 19%.

FINANCE:

    • The Finance Department’s Information Technology Division will be launching the new Cisco licensing, which provides Softphone (Desktop application, allows home access), instant messaging, and video call services in the next two weeks.
    • The Finance Department Grants Division submitted the DCED Commonwealth Financing Authority Greenways, Trails and Recreation Program grant for the Egelman’s Park Improvements Project. The requested amount is $250,000, of the total project cost of $325,000. The required local match of $75,000 will be provided by the City’s Capital Improvement Program. The improvements will include repairing the existing stormwater pipe and inlet system, cleaning existing drain piping, and installing new drain pipes and related catch basins.
    • The Finance Department Grants Division was awarded a DCED Blight Remediation Program grant for $125,000 for the Buttonwood Gateway West Improvements Project. The funds will be used towards construction, engineering, and infrastructure costs for street improvements to the roadway, curbs, ADA ramps, pavement markings, and the replacement of stormwater inlets along the 400 block of Miltimore Street. This road and sidewalk area was designated as a blighted area by the City.

HUMAN RELATIONS COMMISSION:

    • As of June 4th, HRC has:
        • 951 total rent and utility assistance applications were received (an addition of 29 applications since last reported).
            • 939 applications for rental assistance
                • 622 applicants were facing eviction
                • 232 applicants were not actively facing eviction
                • 85 applicants resided outside of the City but within the county.
            • 12 applications for utility assistance
        • The HRC is also co-sponsoring the ”Do’s & Don’ts Regarding Landlord/Tenant Actions” event on June 23rd. This virtual event will include information on handling a court appearance and discussing all that is available to landlords regarding financial assistance, the mortgage eviction moratorium, and other related topics. This is a collaboration of the HRC, the Berks County Bar Association, Attorney Scott Hoh, Reading-Berks Realtors Association and MidPenn Legal Services. Those interested in participating in this free event must register at the following link:

LIBRARY:

    • The Reading Public Library launched its participation in the “Fine Free” pilot program on June 1st. Seven other libraries in the County are also participating. The initiative allows for the elimination of fines on overdue items such as books, movies, music, and magazines returned one to 29 days after their due date. 
    • The RPL provided 7,666 Go Packs through the Reading Recreation food distributions between May 2020 and April 2021. At the cost of $3.00 per pack, the total cost to the library was $22,995. This number does NOT include Go Packs and Family Lit Kits distributed at the library. For the last 12 months, most of the youth programming budget has gone to Go Packs.

POLICE:

    • The Reading Police Department’s Operation Cease Fire conducted three enforcement details in the past two weeks. Two were Operation Night Light Details completed with the assistance of Berks County detectives and probation officers. One day patrol based operation was also completed.  The three details resulted in the following: 
        • 1 misdemeanor arrest
        • 2 summary arrests
        • 2 warrants served
        • 17 traffic citations
        • 7 bar checks
    • The RPD is working with the Reading Redevelopment Authority and Public Works to discuss enforcement efforts at Riverfront Park due to crowd size and noise/disorderly activity.

 RPD Deputy Chief Javier Ruiz is finalizing the planning and implementation of the City’s Police Youth Academy.  DC Ruiz has a meeting scheduled with the Olivet Boys and Girls Club to discuss the final details.

    • The RPD will participate in the first Police-Community Blacktop Talks at City Park on June 12th from 2 pm to 4 pm.
    • The RPD will be participating in National Night Out on August 3rd. Planning is currently underway—more details to follow.

 PUBLIC WORKS:

    • The Public Works Department conducted the second Pothole Blitz event on Wednesday, May 26th. City PW crews partnered with UGI and RAWA crews to canvass the city and repair potholes. The day was highly successful.  Crews were able to address 612 potholes and depressed utility cuts. The second PW pothole crew will continue to address reported issues to stay ahead of potholes in 2021.
    • PW is happy to announce that Camp Lilly/Jolly is ready for use by the Easter Seals organization.

Councilor Reed noted that City Council members often attend the same events as the mayor.  She asked the managing director to consider acknowledging the attendance of other elected officials at public events, as that is proper protocol.  She also noted the great coordination around the Earth Day event this past Sunday in City Park.

Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz thanked Public Works for their work and coordination at the Pagoda for the Flag Raising ceremony over the past weekend. She also recognized the fast response by the Fire Department to a fire in the District 2 area.

 

AUDITOR’S REPORT

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

 

Business Privilege Tax–Update as of 4/30/2021

For the current fiscal year, the City budgeted $1,466,400.00 for Business Privilege Tax and Business   Privilege Tax Prior and as of 4/30/2021, the City has collected $904,994.98 or 62 % of total revenue

budgeted. Although $624,500.00 less was budgeted in revenue in 2021 for this line item compared   with 2020, the City has collected $109,273.11 more this year than in 2020 for the same period of time.

User Fees Revenue Collected as of 4/30/2021

For the current fiscal year, the City budgeted $3,009,500.00 for the User Fees revenue which is the revenue collected for the EMS service that the City provides. As of April 30, 2021, the City has received $1,138,438.40 or 38% of total amount budgeted for this line item. If the revenue for this line item continues its current trend there is a high probability that the User Fees revenue line item will meet its budget target in 2021. 

 

Fire Escrow Audit Update

The City Auditor Office has completed an audit of the Fire Escrow Account for the fiscal year of 2020.

 A meeting with the administration and the Law Department will be scheduled to discuss the City’s current liability for the Fire Escrow account. This audit will be distributed and presented to Council once the City Auditor meets with the administration.

 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

Erin Weller, Historical Architectural Review Board (HARB) Chair & Amy Johnson Historic Preservation Specialist provided a report on the HARB activities over the past 18 months.
 

Ms. Johnson stated that in 1978 Callowhill was the first historic district approved, followed by Centre Park, Prince, Penn’s Commons and the Height’s (conservation district).  She noted that the Queen Ann district also exists but that district is not regulated by HARB. She described the current HARB membership and the process and policies in place.  She stated that over the past 18 months HARB has heard 77 applications for building alterations/additions and two (2) demolitions resulting in only one (1) appeal to City Council.
 

Ms. Weller stated that although there were challenges during the pandemic, the HARB shifted to virtual meetings seamlessly and she thanked the City staff members who provided assistance. She highlighted some of the more significant applications considered such as 401 Penn Street (Alvernia CollegeTowne), the art installation projects in Penn Street building storefronts and the seminary at 1711 Hampden Blvd.
 

Ms. Weller described the challenges of having only a single employee managing the five (5) active historic districts, providing support to the board, and handing violations process.  She noted that there are 3,375 properties within the five (5) historic districts and there are over 30 violations in process. She asked Council and the administration to assist in identifying new HARB members.
 

Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz inquired about the optimum number of staff members to assist with the HARB functions.  Ms. Johnson stated that she currently receives assistance from the part-time assistant in Zoning and that an additional full-time employee would be a great help.
 

Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz questioned if additional assistance would improve handling the violations and educating new home owners who have moved into historic districts.  Ms. Johnson stated that having additional help would improve both those issues.  She noted that in the past Property Maintenance assisted by sending letters to new property owners in historic districts, but that process has been stalled out for unknown reasons.
 

Councilor Reed inquired if the HARB board or office has a relationship with R-BAR and if local realtors help with home buyer education.  Ms. Weller stated that some realtors are supportive with education but it’s a mixed bag.  Ms. Johnson stated that prior to the pandemic there were lunch and learn programs with the realtors about various City ordinances and programs.
 

Council President Waltman thanked Ms. Weller and Ms. Johnson for the report and for their service to the HARB Board.
 

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 43-2021 – 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 Introduced at the May 24 regular meeting

 

Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz moved, seconded by Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz, to enact Bill No. 43-2021.

 

Bill No. 43-2021 was enacted by the following vote:

 

Yeas:  Cepeda-Freytiz, Goodman-Hinnershitz, Reed, Ventura, Waltman, President – 5

Nays:  None - 0

 

Note:  Councilor Marmarou was disconnected from the meeting at this point in time.

 

B. Bill 44-2021 – 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 Introduced at the May 24 regular meeting

 

Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz moved, seconded by Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz, to enact Bill No. 44-2021.

 

Council President Waltman explained that this ordinance revision establishes a due process procedure for vehicles that have been seized by the police.  He noted the importance of providing the police with the necessary tools to address this public safety issue.

 

Councilor Marmarou reconnected with the meeting.

 

Bill No. 44-2021 was enacted by the following vote:

 

Yeas:  Cepeda-Freytiz, Goodman-Hinnershitz, Marmarou, Reed, Ventura, Waltman, President – 6

Nays:  None - 0

C. Bill 45-2021 – 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 Introduced at the May 24 regular meeting

 

Councilor Reed moved, seconded by Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz, to enact Bill No. 45-2021.

 

Bill No. 45-2021 was enacted by the following vote:

 

Yeas:  Cepeda-Freytiz, Goodman-Hinnershitz, Marmarou, Reed, Ventura, Waltman, President – 6

Nays:  None - 0

D. Bill 46-2021 – amending the City Code Fee Schedule 212-144 by adding fees for the towing, relocation and storage of ATV’s and dirt bikes Introduced at the May 24 regular meeting

Description

Fee

Ordinance No.

Code Citation

Reclamation cost for impounded ATV, snow mobile, dirt bike

$50

Bill No. 46-2021

§ 576-1305

Towing/relocation fee for ATV, Snow mobile

$120

Bill No. 46-2021

§ 576-1305

Towing/relocation fee for dirt bike

$120

Bill No.  46-2021

§ 576-1305

Storage fee for ATV, snow mobile, dirt bike

$25 per day

Bill No.   46-2021

§ 576-1305

Councilor Marmarou moved, seconded by Councilor Reed, to enact Bill No. 46-2021.

 

Bill No. 46-2021 was enacted by the following vote:

 

Yeas:  Cepeda-Freytiz, Goodman-Hinnershitz, Marmarou, Reed, Ventura, Waltman, President – 6

Nays:  None - 0

E. Bill 47-2021 – 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 Introduced at the May 24 regular meeting

 

Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz moved, seconded by Councilor Reed, to table Bill No. 47-2021.

 

Bill No. 47-2021 was tabled by the following vote:

 

Yeas:  Cepeda-Freytiz, Goodman-Hinnershitz, Marmarou, Reed, Ventura, Waltman, President – 6

Nays:  None - 0
 

F. Bill 48-2021 – 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 Introduced at the May 24 regular meeting

 

Councilor Marmarou moved to enact Bill No. 48-2021. The motion failed due to a lack of a second.

 

Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz moved, seconded by Councilor Ventura, to table Bill No. 48-2021.

 

Bill No. 48-2021 was tabled by the following vote:

 

Yeas:  Cepeda-Freytiz, Goodman-Hinnershitz, , Reed, Ventura, Waltman, President – 5

Nays:  Marmarou - 1
 

INTRODUCTION OF NEW ORDINANCES

Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz read the following ordinances into the record. 

 

A. Ordinance – authorizing the Administration to enter into a one-year intergovernmental cooperation agreement with the Reading School District, with the option for subsequent one-year renewals at both parties written agreement, regarding the collection, transportation, and processing of various recyclable items generated from the Reading School District, effective July 01, 2021

B. Ordinance – authorizing a budget transfer within the Waste Water Treatment Plant in the amount of $332,700 for employee training and develop operational support tools and manual for optimization of new treatment plant processes and funds to provide operational support and guidance related to current process control and upsets

 

 

RESOLUTIONS

 

A. Resolution 60-2021 – authorizing the submission a PennDOT permit application for driveways, warning sign devices, parking restrictions and similar features and related PennDOT forms to secure a permit for the 9th and Marion Fire Station
 

Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz moved, seconded by Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz, to table Resolution 60-2021.

 

The motion to table Resolution 60-2021 was approved by the following vote:

 

Yeas:  Cepeda-Freytiz, Goodman-Hinnershitz, Reed, Ventura, Waltman, President – 5

            Nays:  Marmarou - 1
 

B. Resolution 61-2021 – appointing Samantha Martinez-Escobar to the Youth Commission

representing District 2
 

Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz moved, seconded by Councilor Marmarou, to adopt Resolution 61-2021.

 

The motion to adopt Resolution 61-2021 was approved by the following vote:

 

Yeas:  Cepeda-Freytiz, Goodman-Hinnershitz, Marmarou, Reed, Ventura, Waltman, President – 6

            Nays:  None - 0
 

COUNCIL COMMENT

Councilor Reed noted the superb and highly successful food program organized at Hope Lutheran Church by Pastors Wolfe and Johnson. She recognized the countless number of volunteer hours by parishioners to make this program serve so many in the community. 
 

Council President Waltman stated that he attended one of the events which recharged his outlook for the remainder of the day.  He noted that the food programs at this church are recognized as the best of the existing 300 local programs available.
 

Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz noted the improper opening of the fire hydrants in a District 2 neighborhood and the disrespectful way the neighbors interacted with City officials who responded to take corrective action.  She noted that doing this could create water pressure problems that could affect the Fire Department’s ability to respond to a neighborhood fire. She commended the District 2 property owners who are making home improvements.  She thanked everyone who assisted with arranging the Flag Day ceremony at the Pagoda. She also noted the upcoming Pagoda Hill Climb, which is a permitted event.
 

Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz thanked all officials for their collective work to move the City forward. She noted that virtual tours are still available for the Downtown Investment Property Tour organized by the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance (GRCA).  She described the upcoming events associated with this year’s Juneteenth celebration. She described the film fest and the weekly Penn St Market that runs each Thursday in the 7th and Penn State Parking Lot from 10 am – 2 pm.
 

Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz noted the beauty of the landscaping in the medians and planters in the downtown.
 

Councilor Reed announced that there will be a vaccine event held at Centre Park on June 18th from 4-8 pm.
 

Council President Waltman reviewed the upcoming Council meeting schedule.
 

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

                                                           

                                                            Respectfully submitted by Linda A. Kelleher CMC, City Clerk