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CITY COUNCIL

Regular Council Meeting Minutes 07/26/21

 

 

City of Reading City Council

Hybrid Regular Meeting

July 26, 2021

At the conclusion of the COW Meeting

Council President Waltman called the meeting to order at approximately 7:24 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 and 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

Council President Waltman gave the invocation.

All present pledged to the flag.

There were no executive sessions held during or after the COWs on July 19th or July 26th.

ATTENDANCE

Council President Waltman – in person

Councilor Sihelnik, District 1 – in person

Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz, District 2 – in person

Councilor Ventura, District 3 – in person

Councilor Marmarou, District 4 – in person

Councilor Reed, District 5 – in person

Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz, District 6 - electronically

Solicitor F. Lachat – electronically

City Clerk L. Kelleher – in person

Auditor M. Rodriguez – electronically

PROCLAMATIONS AND PRESENTATIONS

A commendation was issued celebrating Urban Ag Week, accepted by Dean Druckenmiller, Executive Director of Berks County Conservation District.

PUBLIC COMMENT

Council President Waltman announced that there is one (1) citizen who is connecting to the meeting via telephone about non-agenda matters.

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

Curt VanBuskirk, of Garnet Valley, described the long-standing property maintenance problems in the 100 block of North 4th Street and West Green Street.  Photos provided by Mr. VanBuskirk were displayed to Council. He stated that since 2013 he has been submitting complaints to the City about these problem properties and attempting to speak with the property owners asking them to mitigate these quality of life problems.  The problems range from 18 illegal vehicles on an off-street lot, overflowing dumpsters to a vehicle parked at the curb with no doors and stuffed with trash.  He noted that these problems are larger than a $25 Quality of Life fine and he stressed the need for a more aggressive Property Maintenance Division.

Council agreed with the need for more aggressive actions to counter these problems that deteriorate neighborhoods and discourage pride in neighborhoods.  The attractive nuisance dangers associated with the vehicle with no doors and filled with trash were noted. They also questioned why these problems have not been rectified over the past eight (8) years.

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 July 12th Regular Meeting,  the meeting summaries from the COWs held on July 12th and July 19th and the meeting summary from the July 19th Nominations meeting.  

The minutes from the July 12th 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 71-2021 – authorizing the Managing Director to sign and submit the attached “Traffic signal Maintenance Agreement”, to submit future modifications to the attached Traffic Signal Maintenance Agreement, and to submit future Applications for Traffic Signal Approval to PennDOT    

B. Award of Contract – for the Angelica Park ADA Improvements Project to Columbia Excavating, Berwick, PA in the amount of $162,986.21

C. Award of Contract – for the Pagoda Access Modifications Project to close the Pagoda parking lot to vehicular traffic during nighttime hours and maintain two-way traffic on Skyline Drive to Barwis Construction, Birdsboro, PA in the amount of $160,344.00

D. Resolution 72-2021 – appointing Donna Reed as the Council representative to the America250PA Berks County Commission

E. Resolution 73-2021 – authorizing the purchase of a 1 stakebody with chassis for the Public Works Parks Division from Manderbach Ford in the amount of $85,034.84

ADMINISTRATIVE REPORT

The managing director read the report provided in writing and attached to the agenda, in summary:

FROM THE MAYOR:

  • Mayor Eddie Moran participated in a press event alongside HUD and HHS Department officials on June 29th to announce a joint agency effort to increase access to COVID-19 prevention and treatment services in underserved and vulnerable communities, such as HUD-assisted households and those experiencing homelessness. The event highlighted the availability of COVID-19 vaccines at federally qualified health centers like the Berks Community Health Center and how residents can access them.
  • On July 6th, Mayor Moran participated in the groundbreaking ceremony for the Pedestrian Safety and Bike Trail project.  The City collaborated with 18th WONDER neighborhood group on this project, which utilizes a $725,000 multi-modal grant award.
  • Mayor Moran toured the Animal Rescue League facility and met with the organization’s leadership team on July 15th.  The ARL described their work in the city, specifically their medical and animal control teams’. The Administration will work with them on some outreach ideas to educate the community in canine parvovirus they have recently seen in the city and promote vaccination. 

COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT:  

  • The Community Development Department has completed the Lead Hazard Reduction grant application which was submitted as part of the 2022 Housing Urban Development grant (lead base paint LBP). The application was supported by 14 letters from various leaders in our community, such as Senator Toomey, Senator Schwank, Congresswoman Houlahan, State Representative Rozzi, and Guzman, in addition to County Commissioners and GRCA representatives.
  • The CD Department has also begun developing remediation plans with the assistance of the PA Department of Health (PaDOH).  An initial budget was given of $127,500 for lead removal and $25,000 for healthy homes. A list of contractors that can conduct risk assessments, inspect and remediate was developed as part of this pilot program.  We are also collaborating with Berks Community Health Center (BCHC) to inform families with children under the age of six, who have elevated blood levels to contact the City, and with Berks Community Action Program (BCAP) to assist in the weatherization of properties with known high lead concentration. 
  • The Property Maintenance Division of CD is continuing to carry out education and enforcement action plans.  As of July 15th, Property Maintenance Inspectors have issued 905 Notice of Violations, 157 Residential Rental Unit Inspections, and discovered 29 illegal rental units.  In addition, Health Officers inspected 28 Health Service Commercial Facilities, and made two court appearances. These activities average to 42 actionable tasks per Property Maintenance Inspector.    

FINANCE:

  • The Finance Department Information Technology Division migrated all users to the new email server on Thursday, July 15th through the 18th.  Shared mailboxes, public folders, and some resource mailboxes are still in the process of migration.  It is in preparations to change to external IP address change next. 
  • The Finance Department IT Division is also beginning the testing phase for Microsoft 365. 
  • The Finance Department Citizen’s Service Center mailed letters on July 14th to 1,810 properties indicating to the owners that the conversion to City trash service is underway.  Currently, 805 accounts are due to expire at a later date.  This number is expected to see a slight increase as we receive additional contracts that date back prior to the change.  New letters will be sent as the expiration of those contracts approach. 
  • The Finance Department’s CSC confirmed Keystone Collections mailed 2021 Per Capita Tax bills, which went into effect on July 1st
  • The Finance Department’s Accounting Division has begun working on the 2022 draft budget.  All City departments and divisions have received templates to begin discussions.
  • The Finance Department’s Grant Division has the following grant updates:
    • USDOJ 2021 Justice Assistance Grant application:
      • The grant is for $63,303 to be used towards Police Officer overtime hours concentrating on problem-oriented policing, special details, and officer training for National Incident-based Reporting System data collection and reporting, as required.  The application submission is still expected to occur on August 9th
  • The Finance Department held a kick-off meeting for the defined contribution plan scheduled to go live on October 1st.  The City is working with Conrad Seigel on this plan, a mandatory Act 47 implementation item that will affect all newly hired non-uniform full-time employees.  New employees will be automatically enrolled in a defined contribution plan, with a City match contribution that is vested after three years of service. Employees currently enrolled in the City’s defined benefit plan will not be impacted.

FIRE:

  • The Fire Department 9th & Marion Street Station project currently has the construction RFP out for bid.  There is an on-site pre-bid meeting scheduled on August 2nd with proposals due on August 24th.  RFD is hopeful to have a contract ready to go before City Council by September 13th and groundbreaking on October 4th

HUMAN RELATIONS COMMISSION:

  • As of  July 16th, HRC has:
    • 979 total rent and utility assistance applications were received (an addition of 3 applications since last reported). 
      • 962 applications for rental assistance
        • 629 applicants were facing eviction
        • 245 applicants were not actively facing eviction
        • 88 applicants resided outside of the City but within the County.
      • 17 applications for utility assistance

POLICE:

  • The Reading Police Department’s multi-agency Operation Cease Fire detail on July 8th resulted in 24 additional arrests and four firearm seizures.
  • RPD successfully completed a second homeless outreach operation in collaboration with the Homeless Coalition.  The outreach operation focused on reaching homeless persons in City parks and playgrounds.  These outreach operations will continue every other week at various locations throughout the City. 
  • The RPD is hosting National Night Out on August 3rd.  The event will take place on the 500 block of Penn Street from 5pm to 8pm, with various government and community agency groups participating.  This event is a fun and safe time for the community to enjoy food, music, various presentations, and get to know our first responders. 
  • The RPD Police Academy has moved from Alvernia’s main campus to Alvernia University’s Upland Center.  The new location provides more office and classroom space for the Academy to utilize.

PUBLIC WORKS:

  • The Public Works Department has outfitted and properly insured a new aerial bucket truck for the City electrician to use. 
  • PW Sewers team has cleaned the Spring Street Storm Sewer System (the subway).  The work was completed in one day, including cleaning the storm laterals and replacing a broken catch basin grate.
  • PW Streets staff filled an additional 227 potholes in the month of June.   
  • PW Streets crews continue to assist in the success of Wacky Water Wednesdays by street sweeping all sites before the start of the events. 

Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz inquired about how the City updates its Per Capita Tax records annually to capture those who have turned 18 years of age. The managing director stated that this question will be referred to the finance director.

Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz inquired about the municipal trash RFP due date, as the contract expires at the end of this year.  The Solicitor stated that the bids are due back on September 10th.  The Deputy Public Works Director stated that the former RFP was streamlined with improved terms and requirements, which should help to reduce the overall cost from the bid received last year.

Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz questioned when the Junior Police Academy would begin.  The Police Chief stated that the department is working to reinstate this program.

Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz reminded the group of the need to restart efforts to out-source the crossing guard program.  The managing director stated that the mayor’s office had a recent talk with the Reading School District about this need.

AUDITOR’S REPORT

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

Water Authority Audit

A copy of the 2020 audit report for the Reading Area Water Authority, one of the City’s        Component Units, was received by the office of the City Auditor on June 15, 2021 via email.  And after reviewing the financial Statements, this audit report illustrates the following (see table 1):

  • The Total Net Position which is the Total Assets/Deferred Outflow of Resources minus Total Liabilities that include Current Liabilities and Long-Term Debt, reflects an increase of $1,875,761.
  • The Authority Total Liabilities show a decrease of $3,737,269.
  • In 2020, The Authority has an Operating Income of $3,653,656 compared to $3,556,133 in 2019, and it ended with an increase of $97,523.
  • In March of 2020, RAWA refinanced the bonds, Series 2011, and as a result the Interest Expense line item was reduced to $ 2,194,472 in 2020 from $3,768,727 in 2019, and this was the main reason that caused the increase of $1,875,761 in Net Position compared to $598,104 in 2019.

      Table 1

2020

2019

2020 vs 2019

Total Assets/Deferred Outflow of Resources

95,232,756

97,094,264

(1,861,508)

Total Liabilities

78,796,115

82,533,384

(3,737,26)

Total Net Position

16,436,641

14,560,880

1,875,761

Operating Income

3,653,656

3,556,133

97,523

Increase In Net Position

1,875,761

598,104

1,277,657

Real Estate Transfer Tax Revenue - Update as of June 30, 2021

For the month of June of the current year, the City collected $719,042.39 in revenue for Real Estate Transfer Tax, and as of June 30, 2021, a total of $4,122,096.93 has already been received which is 88% of total amount budgeted. For the first six months of the current year, a total of 1,283 transactions for Real Estate Transfer Tax has been completed of which 1,077 transactions were taxable and 206 were not taxable transactions.

2020 Fire Escrow Audit

The Fire Escrow audit has been completed by the Office of the City Auditor and it was presented today at the 5pm meeting.  As previously stated, the Fire Escrow account has a liability of $766,883.41 as of December 31, 2020.

REPORT FROM DEPT. DIRECTORS, BOARDS, AUTHORITIES, & COMMISSIONSCouncil President Waltman introduced Electrical Inspector Jeff Bower. 

Mr. Bower stated that the Electrician’s Examination Board currently has no vacancies.  The Board completed the required 3rd quarter testing in July. 

Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz inquired about the Board’s outreach to assist electricians who need to identify further educational opportunities, as there are no training facilities located within Berks County.  Mr. Bower stated that he is unaware of the need for any continued training for master electricians.

Councilor Marmarou inquired if Board members are required to be Master level electricians.  The City Clerk stated that all Trades Board members (Electrical, HVAC and Plumbing) are required to have a Masters license.

ORDINANCES FOR FINAL PASSAGE

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 Sihelnik moved, seconded by Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz, to table Bill No. 54- 2021.

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

Yeas:  Cepeda-Freytiz, Goodman-Hinnershitz, Marmarou, Reed, Ventura, Sihelnik, Waltman, President – 7

Nays:  None – 0

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

Councilor Marmarou moved, seconded by Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz, to enact Bill No. 55- 2021.

Council President Waltman explained that this amendment establishes policy on remote participation at Committee of the Whole (COW) meetings, regular meetings and other Council sessions.

The motion to table Bill No 55-2021 was enacted by the following vote:

Yeas:  Cepeda-Freytiz, Goodman-Hinnershitz, Marmarou, Reed, Ventura, Sihelnik, Waltman, President – 7

Nays:  None – 0

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

Councilor Reed moved, seconded by Councilor Ventura, to enact Bill No. 56- 2021.

The motion to table Bill No 56-2021 was approved by the following vote:

Yeas:  Cepeda-Freytiz, Goodman-Hinnershitz, Marmarou, Reed, Ventura, Sihelnik, Waltman, President – 7

Nays:  None – 0

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

Councilor Marmarou moved, seconded by Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz, to enact Bill No. 57- 2021.

The motion to enact Bill No 57-2021 was approved by the following vote:

Yeas:  Cepeda-Freytiz, Goodman-Hinnershitz, Marmarou, Reed, Ventura, Sihelnik, Waltman, President – 7

Nays:  None – 0

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

Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz moved, seconded by Councilor Sihelnik, to enact Bill No. 58- 2021.

The motion to enact Bill No 58-2021 was approved by the following vote:

Yeas:  Cepeda-Freytiz, Goodman-Hinnershitz, Marmarou, Reed, Ventura, Sihelnik, Waltman, President – 7

Nays:  None – 0

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

Councilor Sihelnik moved, seconded by Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz, to enact Bill No. 59- 2021.

Council President Waltman explained that this amendment will provide the correct citation for those desiring to propose a Charter amendment.

The motion to enact Bill No 59-2021 was approved by the following vote:

Yeas:  Cepeda-Freytiz, Goodman-Hinnershitz, Marmarou, Reed, Ventura, Sihelnik, 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 23 Boards and Commissions, Part 1201 Downtown Revitalization Public Private Partnership, Section 23-201 authorization by replacing the DID Chair with the City of Reading Designated Downtown Coordinator

B. Ordinance – directing the Berks County Board of Elections to place a referendum question before city voters on the 2021 General Election Ballot which would amend the City of Reading Home Rule Charter by eliminating the requirement for the City’s Public Works Director to be an engineer

RESOLUTIONS

A. Resolution 74-2021 – making a $3M contribution to the Convention Center to assist with the capital needs for the Convention Center and the SPAC

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

Councilor Reed stated that the convention center is a regional economic driver and due to the pandemic the Convention Center Authority needs some assistance meeting the capital needs of the facility, similar to the request made by the Fightin Phils.  She noted that the County Commissioners authorized a $3M commitment to assist with the needs of the convention center.

Councilor Sihelnik agreed, noting the benefits the convention center brings to downtown Reading.

Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz agreed that the convention center is a regional economic driver that supports many businesses here and elsewhere.

Council President Waltman stated that the convention center is an economic pillar for this region, like the Fightin Phils and FirstEnergy Stadium.  He noted that despite all the naysayers who argued that the center would fail and attempted to block the center for numerous years, the center has been successful.  He noted the importance of the center, especially with the effort to revitalize the downtown.  He thanked the County Commissioners for also making a $3M commitment to the convention center.

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

Yeas:  Cepeda-Freytiz, Goodman-Hinnershitz, Marmarou, Reed, Ventura, Sihelnik, Waltman, President – 7

Nays:  None - 0

B. Resolution 75-2021 – appointing Michael McDevitt to HARB

C.  Resolution 76-2021 – appointing Pamela Gockley to the Shade Tree Commission

Councilor Marmarou moved, seconded by Councilor Sihelnik, to adopt Resolutions 75-76- 2021.

Councilor Marmarou noted the City’s work to fill various openings on the City’s Boards and the City’s good fortune to find two skilled volunteers to fill these positions.

The motion to adopt Resolutions 75-76-2021 was approved by the following vote:

Yeas:  Cepeda-Freytiz, Goodman-Hinnershitz, Marmarou, Reed, Ventura, Sihelnik, Waltman, President – 7

Nays:  None – 0

COUNCIL COMMENT

Councilor Reed noted the recent Fire Graduation, she read the list of newly hired firefighters and noted the strenuous training they are required to go through.  She announced that Whacky Water Wednesday will be at Kieffer Park this week.

Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz gave a shout-out to GK Elite Sportswear, located just past Reading’s boundary on N. 13th Street.   She stated that in addition to outfitting the US Olympics gymnastics team, they are also an Olympic sponsor.  She stated that this company offers many walk to work jobs.

Councilor Sihelnik thanked the administration for taking the time to assist with many district issues.

Councilor Marmarou noted a severe increase in speeding and double parking in his district and he demanded an increased police patrol to cure this problem.

Council President Waltman reviewed the upcoming meeting schedule.

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

Linda A. Kelleher CMC, City Clerk