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CITY COUNCIL

Regular Council Meeting Minutes 07/12/21

 

City of Reading City Council

Hybrid Regular Meeting

July 12, 2021

At the conclusion of the COW Meeting
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Council President Waltman called the meeting to order at approximately 7:13 pm.

Due to COVID-19, the City was forced to change the meeting format to a hybrid 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. Comments posted in Zoom Chat and on Facebook are not considered public comment and a response may not occur. City officials are participating remotely or in-person.  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
 

Nancy Lennert, of Transformative Solutions Network, gave the invocation.
 

All present pledged to the flag.
 

The executive sessions held at the conclusion of the July 7th and 12th COW were regarding the recycling litigation as per the Sunshine Act Title 65, Section 708 a 4.
 

ATTENDANCE

Council President Waltman

Councilor Sihelnik, District 1

Councilor Ventura, District 3

Councilor Marmarou, District 4

Councilor Reed, District 5

Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz, District 6 - electronically

Asst. Solicitor A. LaMano – electronically

City Clerk L. Kelleher

Auditor M. Rodriguez – electronically

 

Council President Waltman stated that Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz has been excused from the meeting.

 

PROCLAMATIONS AND PRESENTATIONS

None.

 

PUBLIC COMMENT

Council President Waltman announced that there was one (1) citizen who provided written public comment and one (1) speaking personally about agenda matters.
 

Councilor Reed read the public speaking rules adopted by Council ordinance.
 

James Schlegel, North 5th St, submitted a letter to the City (attached) from the Stadium Commission asking the City to provide $3M towards the $15M project at FirstEnergy Stadium to bring the stadium in compliance with the Major League Baseball (MLB) requirements which will keep the Fightin Phils in Reading.  He noted Reading’s long history with baseball and with the Philadelphia Phillies.  He also noted the major capital improvements made to modernize the stadium, built during the 1950s, but retain the classic ballpark feel.  He stated that the Fightin’s are a regional economic driver and provide employment and internship opportunities to the people in our community. He asked Council to vote in support of the resolution to commit $3M toward this project.  He added that at Sunday’s game, the Fightin’s had the largest crowd in the minor league with 9000 Phans attending, many from outside Berks County.
 

Councilor Reed read a letter submitted from Craig Stein, managing partner of the Fightin Phils (attached)

 

Craig Stein, no address provided, committing $3M from the R-Phils organization. 
 

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 June 28th Regular Meeting,  the meeting summaries from the COWs held on June 28th and July 6th and the meeting summary from the July 6th Nominations meeting.  
 

The minutes from the June 28th Regular 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. Resolution 68-2021– authorizing conditional offers of employment for the hiring of the following as probationary patrol officers effective July 5, 2021: Zachary Dugan, Dean Ebersole, Paige Stuart and Emily Schreiner
 

B. Resolution 69-2021 – authorizing the purchase of Class 8 Lifting Equipment for the Public Works Fleet Division from Hyde Villa Auto Parts in the amount of $54,300.00

 

C. Resolution 70-2021 – authorizing the submission of a PA DCED Commonwealth Financing Authority Multimodal Transportation Fund Program Grant application for the City of Reading 18W Bicycle-Pedestrian Safety Trail Project-Layer 2                                        

 

D. Award of Contract– authorizing the purchase of 6 Patrol Police vehicles and 1 K-9 vehicle from New Holland Auto Group, a CoStars vendor, at the cost of $348,765 from the CIP Fund

 

E. Award of Contract – authorizing the purchase of 1 Police Evidence vehicle from Whitmoyer Ford Inc., a CoStars vendor, at the cost of $46,750 from the CIP fund
 

ADMINISTRATIVE REPORT

The mayor’s chief of staff read the report provided in writing, in summary:

 

COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT:  

  • The Community Development Department has received confirmation from the Pennsylvania Department of Health (PaDOH) that the City of Reading is an approved sub-recipient for the Lead Hazard Reduction program. The program requires staff training, developing a list of qualified vendors, lead inspectors, and a temporary family relocation program prior to being certified as a Lead Risk Assessor. In addition, the program budget will allow for the remediation of ten (10) housing units per unit. 
  • The CD Department presented on the topic of economic development in the City to the Alvernia University Board of Trustees and executive staff on behalf of Mayor Moran and the Administration. The presentation focused on the economic development impact of the CollegeTowne campus on local businesses when Alvernia opens its downtown campus in August 2021.
     
  • The CD Department’s Property Maintenance Division completed the following through May:
    • 568 residential inspections
    • 33 health inspections
    • 71 SWEEP inspections
    • 799 quality of life inspections
    • 2,873 notices of violation were issued for Code infractions

HUMAN RELATIONS COMMISSION:

  • As of June 4th, HRC has:
    • 962 total rent and utility assistance applications were received (an addition of 11 applications since last reported).
      • 948 applications for rental assistance
        • 626 applicants were facing eviction
        • 236 applicants were not actively facing eviction
        • 86 applicants resided outside of the City but within the County.
      • 14 applications for utility assistance

LIBRARY:

  • The Reading Public Library launched Summer@RPL on June 14th. The program will continue until August 14th. Those interested can track their reading, earn points with ReadSquared, and discover live stream performances and virtual programs.  For kids and teens, there are weekly live programs like Storytime, Science Lab, and more.  The flyer is included at the end of this report contains more information for all ages. 

POLICE:

  • The Reading Police Department’s Operation Cease Fire and other crime reduction initiatives continue to successfully assist in crime reduction in the City. By the end of May, the following reductions were seen:
    • 2% reduction in UCR Part 1 crimes compared to 2020
    • 21% reduction in UCR Part 1 crimes compared to 2019
    • 4% reduction in UCR Part 1 crimes compared to 2018

The current crime reduction trend is driven by the following:

  • 36% reduction in non-fatal shootings
  • 30% reduction in robberies
  • 25% reduction in burglaries
  • 20% reduction in thefts
  • RPD Chief Richard Tornielli met with RPD Diversity Task Force members to review diversity training provided to department members and plan future training programs and engagement. A special thank you to Kimberly Talbot, Human Relations Commission’s Director, for facilitating the HRC’s participation in the task force.
  • The RPD will participate in a Homeless Task Force. Officers will work with the Hope Rescue Mission, COCA, and other organizations to identify and divert homeless individuals to appropriate assistance programs.

PUBLIC WORKS:

The Public Works Department’s River Road project was issued a construction contract Notice to Proceed in April, with projected completion planned for November 2023.  Utility relocations are in progress.  UGI and Met-Ed relocations are complete.  Currently, Met-Ed is working on other utilities that are attached to their poles.  The Reading Area Water Authority will complete their work along with the highway contractor.  A groundbreaking ceremony is currently scheduled for the end of June.

  • PW has completed street paving on St. Bernardine Street, McClellan Street, and Museum Road. After a subsurface investigation to detect any additional sinkholes, we are happy to announce no additional sinkhole activity was detected, and the paving on Penn Street can proceed.
  • PW reports that the 11th and Pike spray pad is up and running. The Pendora Park spray pad is currently operating but requires further repair due to vandalism. The Front and Schiller spray pad is not currently working due to repair parts needed.

Councilor Reed inquired about the Quality of Life (QoL) tours being conducted by Property Maintenance and why there has not been outreach to District Councilors.  Mr. Denbowski explained the process to develop the tours and he stated that there will be outreach to Council in the future.  He stated that the tours focus solely on QoL issues for a four (4) day period to avoid scope creep.

Councilor Reed inquired if the administration will be providing a monthly QoL report to Council, as had been done by prior administrations.  Mr. Denbowski stated that the reports are expected to begin again after the issue is reviewed by the management team.

Council President Waltman agreed with the need to include Council in the QoL tours and provide reports to Council.

 

AUDITOR’S REPORT

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

 

Property Tax Revenue – Update as of June 30, 2021

For this fiscal year, the City budgeted $24,649,055.00 for Property Taxes which includes Property Tax Current, Property Tax Prior, Penalty/Interest, and Discount & Allowance. As of June 30, 2021, the City has collected $20,384,838.23 or 83% of total amount budgeted. For the fiscal year of 2020, the City collected $18,935,940.19 which is $1,448,898.04 less than the revenue collected this year for the same period of time.  However $178,945.00 less was budgeted in revenue this year.
 

Business Privilege Tax and Business Privilege Tax Prior as of June 30, 2021    

For the current fiscal year, the City budgeted $1,466,400.00 for Business Privilege Tax and as of June 30, 2021, the City collected $1,095,263.70, or 75% of total amount budgeted. Although more revenue was collected in 2020 than this year for the same period of time, we have to consider that $624,500.00 less in revenue was budgeted this year.
 

Payment in Lieu of Taxes as of June 30, 2021

The payment in Lieu of Taxes is the revenue that the City receives from nonprofit organizations. For 2021, the City budgeted $126,824.00 for this line item and as of June 30, 2021, the City has collected $121,743.93. From this amount, $105,537.15 was received from the Reading Housing Authority, $10,000.00 from Charles Evans Cemetery and $6,206.78 from Albright College.
 

2020 Audit – Update as of June 30, 2021

On June 30, 2021, at the second Audit Committee Meeting Mr. Turtell from Herbein & Company provided an overview on the status of the 2020 audit. As a result of the ongoing audit, Mr. Turtell mentioned that the General Fund has a preliminary revenue surplus balance of $2.9 million dollars. Also less findings has been addressed compared to prior year’s audits. The first draft of this audit is expected to be completed by late-August and presented to City Council by early October.
 

REPORT FROM DEPT. DIRECTORS, BOARDS, AUTHORITIES, & COMMISSIONSCouncil President Waltman introduced Mr. Urena, Blighted Property Review Committee (BPRC) Chair.  Mr. Urena stated that the Blighted Property Review Committee (BPRC) Ordinance, enacted in 2007, assigns the City Clerk to the BPRC to ensure that the process is well managed and continues through successive administrations.

The City Clerk and Property Maintenance Supervisor work closely together to manage the hearing cycles.  The BPRC continues to hold two (2) determination/certification hearing cycles per year for up to 50 properties that meet the required blight criteria as per State Statute.  In March 2021, the BPRC decertified 23 properties that no longer meet the required criteria as per State Statute. Fourteen (14) properties were certified as blighted in May 2021. There are currently 382 properties remaining certified as blighted.
 

Since 2013 only six (6) certified properties were transferred to new owners.  In 2013 an internal team prepared a handbook on the seven (7) acquisition processes available through tax sale, foreclosure, Conservancy, eminent domain, etc. The handbook can be used to identify the most expedient and least expensive acquisition method based on the property’s individual situation.  In 2016 the BPRC asked the administration to review these acquisition methods and consider advertising the availability of properties certified as blighted for redevelopment.  In 2019 the administration presented Council and the public with a Housing Strategy that included a mechanism to focus on the remediation of the properties certified as blighted.  Council set aside $1M for blighted property remediation and that funding remains unspent.
 

The 2019 housing strategy did not contain a program that defines the use of these funds and the strategy was not approved.  The BPRC continues to wait for the administration and Reading Redevelopment Authority to create a plan which would provide a process to transfer the certified properties to responsible ownership.
 

Councilor Sihelnik inquired about the next steps for the 382 properties that have been certified as blighted.  Mr. Urena stated that the BPRC has been waiting to hear from the CD Department and Redevelopment Authority about their plan to remediate the blighted properties.
 

Council President Waltman stated that Council set aside the $1M for blight remediation during the last administration and Council is willing to continue to provide funding for those efforts.  He asked that this topic be added to an upcoming COW agenda.
 

Mr. Rivera stated that the Redevelopment Authority is currently working to develop a blight strategy.
 

Council President Waltman thanked Mr. Urena for the report and the BPRC members for their service.
 

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. Ordinance 54-2021– amending the City Code by adding a new Chapter 433 Public Art and to establish a process for the City to consider public art projects that will effectively enliven neighborhoods and create outcomes such as safety, livability, walkability, health, and economic development in  City neighborhoods
 

Councilor Reed moved, seconded by Councilor Ventura, to table Bill No. 54- 2021.

 

The motion to table Bill No 54-2021 was approved by the following vote:

 

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

Nays:  None – 0

 

INTRODUCTION OF NEW ORDINANCES

Councilor Sihelnik read the following ordinances into the record. 

 

A. Bill 55-2021 – amending Administrative Code Section 5-208 Rules of Procedure by defining a quorum and remote participation at meetings

 

B. Bill 56-2021 – amending Administrative Code Section 5-209 Public Participation by providing citizens with the ability to continue to submit written public comment

 

C. Bill 57-2021 – establishing a No Parking Zone in the 200 block of Chestnut St to eliminate traffic concerns at the Remcon building

 

E. Bill 58-2021 – directing the County Board of Elections to place a referendum on the 2021 General Election Ballot to eliminate Charter Section 1110 Recall of Elected Officials as the State Supreme Court has determined that local recall provisions are unconstitutional due to the removal process for elected officials provided in the State Constitution
 

F. Bill 59-2021 – directing the County Board of Elections to place a referendum on the 2021 General Election Ballot to amend Charter Section 1204 Amendments by making the correct citation to State Statute Title 53, Subchapter C Amendment of Existing Charter or Optional Plan through the County Board of Elections

 

RESOLUTIONS

 

A. Resolution 71-2021– making a $3M commitment to the FirstEnergy Stadium project, contingent on the approval of funding from the County, State and Fightin Phils

 

Councilor Marmarou moved, seconded by Councilor Reed, to adopt Resolution 71-2021.

 

Councilor Marmarou recalled his long history with the Stadium Commission and the need to retain this minor league team in Reading.

 

Councilor Reed urged Council to support this resolution as it will keep the team in Reading.  She stated that she understands the pros and cons of this issue, noting the need to consider the City’s long affiliation with baseball and the Philadelphia Phillies and the stadium’s economic impact on this region.
 

Councilor Sihelnik noted her appreciation for the creation of a partnership to dedicate funding to this important project.
 

Council President Waltman echoed the comments made by his colleagues and the importance of the team and the stadium to the City and to the region, noting the importance of investing in this project for the City, County and R-Phils partnership.
 

The motion to adopt Resolution 71-2021 was approved by the following vote:

 

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

Nays:  None - 0

 

COUNCIL COMMENT

Councilor Sihelnik stated that it is refreshing to step closer to in-person meetings and she thanked all who worked to make this first step possible. She noted the continued cleanups and activities in the South of Penn area and the importance of the 18th Wonder trail project and the continued work of the focus group. She commended the Youth Commission for their continued work.
 

Councilor Reed noted that this hybrid meeting is a first step toward post pandemic normalcy. She highlighted the Whacky Water Wednesday schedule. She urged the state legislature to repeal the 2017 fireworks law and described her experience in her Glenside neighborhood over the 4th of July holiday weekend.
 

Councilor Marmarou expressed the belief that the state legislature cares only about the sales tax revenue for fireworks and not for the impact the illegal use of fireworks has on communities.
 

Council President Waltman described his outreach to the State Senate and House leadership about the impact the legalization of fireworks sales has had across the Commonwealth. He agreed that while it is good to return to a more normal meeting setting, it is important to take small steps due to ongoing issues related to the pandemic.
 

Councilor Marmarou moved, seconded by Councilor Reed, to adjourn the regular meeting of Council.

 

Linda A. Kelleher CMC, City Clerk