Spencer, City Council To Discuss Reading Water System Options

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsyl...

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsylvania area. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer and City Council will explore a more-lucrative lease or the possible sale of the water system to help Reading avoid its looming fiscal cliff.

Those two options are among several that could help close a $15 million budget gap that will open each year beginning in 2015.

In a three-page memo given to council at an executive session Monday, Spencer requested both sides jointly begin what he called a comprehensive and objective assessment of all the city’s options.

“These are things we can’t do without the support of council; they have to be part of it,” Spencer said later.

Read more: http://readingeagle.com/article/20140117/NEWS/301179948/1052#.UtltFfQo6c8

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Reading City Council Adopts $84 Million Budget; Most Taxes Remain Unchanged

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsyl...

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsylvania area. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

City Council on Monday approved a 2014 budget of $84.4 million that leaves most tax rates the same, but puts about $1.5 million into a contingency fund that may be needed to pay for its recycling program.

Council also voted 6-1 to turn down Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer’s request to switch to a land-value tax that he said would spur economic development.

Councilman Jeffrey S. Waltman Sr. voted for the move, which Spencer had called his signature initiative.

The land-value tax would have lowered the tax rate on each property’s buildings by 20 percent a year until it’s entirely eliminated, but make up for that by raising the tax rate on land.

Read more: http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=520206

Reading City Council, Administration Haggle Over Several Issues At Budget Meetings

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsyl...

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsylvania area. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How essential are the nine full-timers and three part-timers that Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer wants added to the proposed 2014 budget, including a media manager, a post that was so controversial last year?

Does the city want to keep $500,000 on reserve yet another year for the Central Pennsylvania African-American Museum’s proposed expansion, or use that money to spruce up parks?

Is the city’s outside consultants’ report – on Spencer’s plan to shift the property tax to a land-value tax – an endorsement of that plan?

Should the city drop earned income and commuter taxes by 0.1 percent as planned, or keep them flat because of coming budget woes?

Read more: http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=515907

Officials Announce Plans To Apply For Redevelopment Runding For Reading

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsyl...

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsylvania area. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The city’s plans to apply for a major revitalization zone went public this morning, as the effort won approval from local business and community groups, county officials and even colleges and state legislators that will collaborate on the effort.

“We’re a team,” said state Sen. Judy Schwank, a Ruscombmanor Township Democrat.

“We’re totally committed to work on a united effort to get a proposal in place,” Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer said.

Council and the local businesses clearly are in on the effort, Council President Francis G. Acosta said.

Read more: http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=515531

Spencer Announces Plan For Reading Development Corporation

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsyl...

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsylvania area. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer announced his plan Wednesday to form a community development corporation dedicated solely to the city.

He said that in the past Reading has not taken a unified approach to attracting development.

Spencer added that efforts to develop Reading historically have been carried out by state or county development authorities, where the city isn’t always the top priority.

He said recent efforts generated by the city, like the Main Street designation and the purchase of properties in the 400 block of Penn Street, will soon become the purview of the Reading Community Development Corp.

Read more: http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=512694

Reading City Council Disagrees On Land-Value Tax Option

Map of Berks County, Pennsylvania, United Stat...

Map of Berks County, Pennsylvania, United States with township and municipal boundaries (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer’s push to switch the current property tax to a land-value tax over the next five years ran into a traffic jam with City Council on Monday.

Some members flat out rejected it, and Council President Francis G. Acosta said he’d prevent any vote until he hears public support for the move.

The argument began when Gordon Mann, senior consultant with Public Financial Management Inc., the city’s Act 47 adviser, said it expects to have a recommendation on the proposal in 30 days.

“On the other hand, we have had a lot of conversations about it, and I need to have some feedback from council,” said Eron Lloyd, Spencer’s special assistant and point man for the land-value tax, which he says will encourage economic development.

Read more: http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=503411

Reading Gets State Designation As Keystone Community

Picture 533Editor’s note:  We are very pleased to see that the leadership is trying to move Reading forward and improve the city.

Led by two dozen chanting cheerleaders from Reading High School, a procession of city and state officials this morning marched down Penn Street to a Penn Square news conference to excitedly announce the city has gotten what it began seeking a year ago:

That’s state designation as a Keystone Community, which approves its inclusion in the Main Street program and its right to seek state economic development help and millions in potential grants.

“You’re taking the challenges you face head on . . . you’re thinking strategically,” C. Alan Walker, secretary of the state Department of Community and Economic Development, told the crowd as he announced the designation.

“One of the best things we can do to preserve our downtowns.  They’re worth preserving,” he said.

Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer said it’s always good to see something come to fruition.

Read more: http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=502542

Relocation Of Downtown Reading Post Office A Lengthy Process

USPS service delivery truck in a residential a...

USPS service delivery truck in a residential area of San Francisco, California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There seem to be few certainties surrounding the United States Postal Service’s plan to move its downtown Reading office from its landmark home at Fifth and Court streets.

But there’s at least one:  The change isn’t going to happen overnight.

Talking to City Council for the first time about the project Monday, Postal Service real estate specialist Richard Hancock laid out the lengthy process for finding a new home for the office and figuring out what to do with the old one.

“At a lot of these meetings people ask me:  Who’s going to buy the building?  Where’s the new post office going to go?” he said. “I have no idea.  This is just the beginning.”

Read more: http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=502204

Reading Water Authority Bills Include $95 Whammy

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsyl...

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsylvania area. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With little advance notice to customers, the Reading Area Water Authority’s regular water and sewer bills mailed last week contained an extra $95 charge for city trash and recycling, and a demand that the charge be paid by month’s end lest penalties be imposed.

The move left Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer’s administration and the authority doing damage control, answering complaints by people who say they can’t pay the unexpected bill on time.

And it fueled City Council’s anger that Spencer shut it out of the process, then mishandled the planning.

“It’s outrageous,” customer Sandy Burkhart told council Monday.  “The city should think of us poor people who have nothing.”

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=477020

Reading City Council Divided Over Commission Nominee

Sam Rucklewitz, who plans to go to college to learn about politics, got a political lesson on Monday as City Council on a 3-3 vote shot down his appointment to the Charter Review Commission, only to discover he might still be appointed.

Rucklewicz had served on Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer’s campaign and transition committees, and council members Donna Reed, Randy Corcoran and Marcia Goodman-Hinnershitz believed he would give the mayor control of the commission.

The commission is required to be formed once a decade to take a look at how the city’s 1996 home-rule charter is functioning, and to recommend changes.  Any changes would require residents’ approval through a referendum.

The charter requires four of the commission’s 11 members to be appointed by the mayor, and seven by council.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=463405

Reading Wants Altered Deal On Hiring Firefighters

The city, afraid that a $4 million grant to hire 30 more firefighters may force it to lay off many of them in two years, is asking federal officials to modify the deal to let it hire only 20.

But the costs and repercussions of either plan still aren’t fully known, and City Council on Monday again tabled an ordinance that would allow the city to hire either number.

“Council must understand what are the numbers,” Council President Francis G. Acosta said. “I want to see them in black and white. I’m not supporting this without the numbers.”

But council and the city must act soon; the deadline to accept the grant is March 8.  Council has no voting session before then, but said it would call a special meeting if necessary.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=455099

‘We Have To Do Better’

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsyl...

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsylvania area. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

City statistics showing that the once-declining number of violent crimes in Reading began to edge up in 2012 drew a variety of reactions Thursday from city, county and community leaders.

Most agreed the trend means it is even more pressing to work on the follow-up ideas coming from last week’s crime summit.

Released Wednesday, the statistics also show crime is less than it was a decade ago.

But that brought a warning: Don’t accept the situation as the city’s new normal.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=445862

Foundation To Run Reading-Owned Pagoda

When Francis G. Acosta came to Reading from Puerto Rico, he went to the Pagoda, looked out over the city and proclaimed, “The sky’s the limit.”

Fifteen years later, as president of City Council, Acosta returned to the Pagoda on Thursday night and declared it a beacon of hope for a city in need of an uplift.

“Reading can use the Pagoda as inspiration for the great things we can achieve,” Acosta said.

His vision captured the spirit of “Sunset At The Pagoda,” an event that drew about 100 civic leaders to the distinctive landmark atop Mount Penn.

Read more: http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=412953

Some Reading Neighbors, Officials Leery Of Liquor License At Perkiomen Avenue Site

The owner of the planned Shop Smart Buy Smarter grocery has spent more than $1 million on the building at 1626 Perkiomen Ave. and wants to open a 38-seat restaurant that’s in the same building but separate from the store.

To do that, state law says he needs City Council’s OK to transfer an out-of-town liquor license to the restaurant.

But city officials and neighbors told council at a hearing Wednesday that they don’t need yet another liquor outlet in the area that’s already got plenty of taverns.

Council plans a vote on the measure May 29.

Read more: http://readingeagle.com/Article.aspx?id=385287