Savings Slow In Reading Purge Of Insurance Rolls

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

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

The city had budgeted savings of nearly $900,000 this year by purging its health insurance rolls of ineligible employees, dependents and police retirees.

It also budgeted a contingency fund of $980,000, if the purges didn’t go as planned.

They haven’t.

Managing Director Carole B. Snyder said the city has seen little savings so far because the police retiree purge got bogged down in arbitration and in complex evaluations that may not be complete by year’s end.

Read more:

Reading / Berks Crime Summit Initiatives Still Moving Ahead, Leaders Say

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Berks County

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

More than six months after a meeting of 100-plus public and private leaders put a sharp focus on curtailing crime in Reading and Berks County, initiatives spawned at the Jan. 18 crime summit remain active.

One of them, the formation of a joint law-enforcement intelligence committee, is a topic that Berks District Attorney John T. Adams did not want to discuss in detail, other than to say that meetings have been held.

But Adams and others provided progress reports on other crime summit initiatives.  They were cobbled together during the unique gathering at Crowne Plaza Reading, Wyomissing, that involved federal and state lawmakers, Gov. Tom Corbett, county officials and leading business people.

Read more:

Ex-Reading Fire Chief Says Hostile Environment Sparked Resignation

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

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

Former city Fire Chief David W. Hollinger resigned because of what he called a hostile work environment and a pattern of “intimidation, stalking behavior, harassment and threats” from the firefighters union and his own first deputies, according to his resignation letter.

“I now regard this position untenable and must consider the health and safety of my family and resign my position,” Hollinger said in the letter delivered Monday to Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer.  A copy was obtained by the Reading Eagle.

Reached Thursday afternoon, Hollinger said he has hired an attorney.

“A fire chief, like a police chief, takes a hit, but it should never spill over to one’s family,” Hollinger said.

Read more:

Reading CIty Council Awards $5.35 Million Contract To Rebuild Fritz’s Island

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

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

Reading City Council voted unanimously Monday to award a $5.35 million contract to design the rebuilding of the city’s wastewater treatment plant on Fritz’s Island.

“It’s taken us awhile to get here,” Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer said. “We’re on the way to making some good progress.”

The contract was awarded to York-based RK&K Inc., the winner after the city weeded out six other firms during what Managing Director Carole B. Snyder called an extensive review process.

Public Works Director Charles M. Jones and plant manager Ralph Johnson said the rebuilding project is expected to cost about $101 million.

Read more:

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:

Reading To Take Proposals To Run Egelman Park; Current Operator Objects

Egelman Park is one of the city’s most valuable parks, so it’s time to end the current lease and take proposals from new groups to run it this summer, City Council and Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer’s administration agreed Monday.

That didn’t sit well with Randy Gaston, who has a 25-year lease that runs through 2018.

He and his East Reading Athletic Association have run the Egelman concessions and baseball fields for 20 years.

Contacted after the meeting, Gaston said he can’t run the youth baseball program if he doesn’t have a field.

Read more:

Reading Has Tossed 98 From Health Plan

In a move to save more than $1.3 million, the city so far this year has thrown 98 people off its self-funded health insurance policy, and plans to remove another 77 if arbitrators allow.

Carole B. Snyder, city managing director, said the total of 175 people includes 89 dependents of current city employees, nine nonpolice retirees, and 77 police retirees and/or their spouses, all of whom the city says are not eligible for city-paid insurance.

The Fraternal Order of Police has objected, and the city has agreed to wait on the police retiree purge until an arbitration panel rules. A hearing is slated for March.

Read more:

Plan For Takeover Of Reading Pagoda Advances

Picture 511The new nonprofit that plans to take over the city-owned Pagoda says it’s ready to rock, but agrees with the city there are too many outstanding issues, as well as confusion over board membership, to get the 99-year lease it wants.

In the meantime, both sides are considering a temporary agreement allowing the Reading Pagoda Foundation to take over operations while the other issues are resolved.

The first of them: The year-old Foundation for the Reading Public Museum has a board, but none of its members were nominated by Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer nor approved by City Council as required, member Lee C. Olsen told City Council last week.

Rather, they were members of the task force set up by former Mayor Tom McMahon and, when the foundation recommended by the task force was created, sort of morphed into the foundation board, he said.

Read more:

Reading Now Eyeing Bigger Increase In Property Taxes

Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer’s administration said Monday that the Reading’s 2013 budget might need not only increases in the earned-income and commuter taxes but also a higher property tax hike: 20 percent instead of 15.

City Managing Director Carole B. Snyder said she doubts the city will need all three increases.

But she also said it’s better to get enabling ordinances ready now and cut them later if circumstances allow because the taxes can’t be raised later without starting the process over.

“We’re setting the stage, so we can get a balanced budget,” Snyder said.

Read more:

Murders, Shootings Up; Reading Police Chief Calls For More Funds

Editor’s note:  You can’t revitalize with high crime.  Glad to see the Chief is being proactive before crime returns to dangerous levels!

The number of homicides and shooting victims in Reading, which had dropped from 2001 to 2009, began to pick up again in the past three years, Police Chief William M. Heim told City Council during budget talks Monday.

Heim said part of the reason for the increase is fewer patrol officers and criminal investigators due to city budget cuts the past three years.

However, he and acting Capt. Madison Winchester said they believe that, with two dozen new officers coming out of training late this year, the crime numbers will start to drop again in 2013.

Dividing the time from 2001 to 2012 into four periods, Heim said major crimes dropped from a high of 7,268 in 2001-03 to 5,984 in 2010-12, although this year isn’t yet over.

Read more:

Reading Officials Push For Increases In Taxes On Workers

Meeting today in talks to close a $5.7 million gap in the 2013 budget, the city administration and City Council urged the consultants who oversee Reading’s finances to reconsider their ban on raising local earned-income and commuter taxes.

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

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

“I don’t see how we can survive we don’t get that revenue,” Councilman Jeffrey S. Waltman Sr. said.

The city’s Act 47 financial recovery plan, written by the state-paid consultants and adopted by the city in 2010, calls for the earned-income tax on residents to remain at 1.9 percent in 2013.

It also calls for the earned-income tax on suburbanites working in the city, the commuter tax, to remain at 0.1 percent next year.

Read more:

Health Insurance For Police Retirees Next Problem For Reading

As the city struggles to meet its soaring pension costs, especially for police, it discovered a new problem that’s costing what some say is an illegal $900,000 a year.

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

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

Police officers retiring through the much-maligned DROP program continue to get their health insurance premiums paid by the city.

The contract requires that any retiree who gets a job with another department must use that agency’s health insurance plan and notify the city to drop them.  Many retired city police have gone to other municipalities or the county.

But many don’t, city officials say, because they’re more valuable to another department if it doesn’t have to pay that benefit.

Read more:

City Of Reading Budget Plan Calls For 15% Property Tax Hike


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

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

Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer, angry at the city’s outside consultants who he said forced an austerity plan on the city at the last minute, on Wednesday presented a $73.4 million proposed 2013 budget that includes a 15 percent property tax hike.

But Spencer said he didn’t support the spending plan.

“This forced austerity plan suggests that we continue on a narrow pathway where our citizens pay more and get less,” he told City Council.

Council members agreed.

Read more:

City Of Reading Budget Proposal Delayed

Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer’s administration has delayed until Wednesday presenting its proposed 2013 city budget, which was expected Monday, to deal with some recently projected higher bills for next year.

The move follows discussions with the city’s outside Act 47 consultants Sunday, which led to an order at a department directors meeting Monday morning for each area – from the departments to City Council to agencies such as the Charter Board – to propose a certain dollar amount of extra budget cuts.

The city charter requires Spencer to present the proposed budget at least 90 days before Jan. 1. That deadline is Wednesday.

“We are in a very challenging fiscal and economic environment,” Spencer said in a statement. “I have asked my team to take some additional time to adjust their spending plans and refine revenue calculations so we can present a preliminary budget to City Council that is achievable and balanced, and represents fair value for taxpayers.”

Read more:

Reading City Hall Manager Quits After 3 Weeks

Isamac Torres-Figueroa, hired three weeks ago to run Reading City Hall’s Citizen Service Center, abruptly resigned Monday, city officials said.

The officials would not comment on reports by sources over the weekend that Torres-Figueroa was given a resign-or-be-fired mandate Friday afternoon.  Reading City Hall sources on Monday confirmed the mandate.

Managing Director Carole B. Snyder said only that Torres-Figueroa submitted her resignation Monday, and that the city is weighing its options for how to fill the vacancy.  She would not comment further.

Contacted Monday night, Torres-Figueroa said she was afforded a great opportunity in the city position and learned a lot.

Read more: