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.

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Reading Revitalization And Improvement Zone Authority Holds First Meeting

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Berks County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Berks County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The newly formed City of Reading Revitalization and Improvement Zone Authority held its inaugural meeting Wednesday night to outline its agenda over the next week.

The authority will be working to identify a potential city revitalization and improvement zone.

The CRIZ program was created by recent state legislation. The state departments of Revenue, Community and Economic Development and the Governor’s Office of Budget administer the program.

A CRIZ zone is an area of up to 130 acres comprising parcels that will provide economic development and job creation within a city. All new state and local taxes collected within the CRIZ will be used to repay debt service to stimulate economic development projects within the zone.

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Reading Officials Form Plan To Find Foreclosed-Property Owners

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

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

A two-alarm fire in September 2011 gutted a vacant row home at 1422 Muhlenberg St., damaged two neighboring properties, and started the city on yet another frustrating journey to find an owner and order that a building be properly boarded up.

The Muhlenberg Street problem was just one skirmish in the city’s ongoing battle to find elusive property owners for such things as fire cleanup, unpaid taxes, quality-of-life tickets or blight.

But the battle may soon be over.

The city has a plan to get banks to register their foreclosures and may hire an outside firm to help monitor and enforce the rules.

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Motor City Lessons For Reading

City officials were shocked, saddened, thankful and relieved by their three-day bus trip to Detroit that began Nov. 13.

The fast-paced tour, paid for entirely by two local foundations, was to see what progress the Motor City has made in its own painful recovery, and what efforts there might work in Reading.

As Detroit’s Big Three automakers declined, tax revenues dropped and more than half its 1.8 million residents moved out. The city had to cut services such as fire suppression and police from large sections of the city.

But now, with help from foundations and businesses, it’s making numerous coordinated moves to rebuild.

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Arbitrators Slash Newer Reading Police Officers’ Pay, Benefits

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

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

City police, especially those hired this year and in the future, will take major pay and benefit cuts now and when they retire, according to a five-year contract handed down Friday by a panel of arbitrators.

The panel froze officers’ salaries and step increases for three years and cut starting salaries, vacation time and sick leave in the new contract, which is retroactive to January 2012.

In setting the terms, the panel followed the city’s Act 47 financial recovery plan to cut millions of dollars a year from police costs.

For employees hired before the old contract expired at the end of 2011, the panel kept that contract’s pension benefits – up to 70 percent of working salaries, the ability to buy years of service to raise that pension, and city-paid retiree health insurance.

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Reading City Council Closer To 2013 Budget, Size Of Tax Hikes

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

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

The city on Wednesday inched closer to a 2013 budget that would raise earned income and commuter taxes and reduce a property tax hike.

However, officials are facing critical deadlines this month to finish the deal.

“We’re close,” said Councilman Jeffrey S. Waltman Sr., who added that the budget could be wrapped up with a few more sessions. “We can’t miss those deadlines.”

Not so fast, said Council President Francis G. Acosta and Councilwoman Donna Reed, chairwoman of the Finance Committee.

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Reading To Seek State, Court Nod To Hike 2 Taxes

Editor’s note:  Why is Reading’s budget only about twice as large as Pottstown’s budget when the population is 4 times as large?????

Reading, PA    =  88,082 population  /  Budget $80 million proposed by Mayor Spencer  /  $73.4 million proposed by Act 47 consultants

Pottstown, PA = 22,377 population  /  Budget $38 million

Tell me again how there is nothing left to cut from Pottstown’s pork-a-palooza budget!

Reading and its outside state-paid consultants are planning a new push to get state approval for higher commuter and earned income taxes, to bail out the city’s 2013 budget that’s millions of dollars from being balanced.

Otherwise, the city will have to cut still more staff and critical operations, hike property taxes by 15 percent and levy a streetlight assessment.

“This budget will not work,” Councilman Jeffrey S. Waltman said of the $73.4 million proposal during Saturday’s eighth budget session.

Waltman said the staff and program eliminations the city’s had to make over recent years are like getting a slow drip of cyanide that’s killing city services.  The city is down 150 jobs over a few years ago.

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