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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After Brief Uncertainty, Reading Pagoda Fireworks Will Happen On New Year’s Eve

Picture 511A little more than a week after City Council finalized a deal with the Pagoda Foundation to run the Reading landmark, Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer on Thursday afternoon vetoed the agreement.

His move involves money transfers to the foundation, and the move temporarily put the Pagoda’s New Year’s Eve fireworks show into question over liability issues. But after a meeting of foundation members Thursday evening, Chairman Lee C. Olsen said the fireworks will go on.

The foundation has been running the programs at the Pagoda the last two years without an agreement. The group had been asking the city to approve the pact before the New Year’s Eve fireworks celebration, in which the foundation has a part.

Meanwhile, City Council President Francis C. Acosta said he has called for a special meeting of council early next week to override the mayor’s veto.

Read more: http://readingeagle.com/article/20131220/NEWS/312209955/1052#.UrR4KfRDsxI

Reading Fighting Hard For Redevelopment Designation

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Berks County

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

Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer said his staff knew they were in for a fight if they were going to beat out other Pennsylvania cities for two City Revitalization and Improvement Zone designations.

Today, Spencer said an application for the designation had been submitted and it was time to take the gloves off.

“It was a Herculean task from the start,” Spencer told a gathering in the former Citizens Bank building near the corner of Fifth and Penn streets.

Guidelines for the grants were issued Oct. 31, leaving only weeks to select an authority to oversee the CRIZ program; chose the 129 acres comprising 260 parcels; draw up a redevelopment strategy for the zone; and draft an application. The designation will allow the authority to take state and local taxes generated by properties in the zone and reinvest them in properties in the zone.

Read more: http://readingeagle.com/article/20131203/NEWS/312029867#.Up5KB7B3uM8

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 Weighs Options For Industrial Site

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Berks County

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

Should some city entity buy the empty northwest Reading parcel where the skeleton of the half-built Berkshire Bottling Works has stood rusting since 2007?

At 50 acres, it’s the last big industrial site left in the city, and it’s up for foreclosure, city sources said Monday.

And City Council, which discussed the site in executive session last week, discussed the possibilities again on Monday in another executive session, this time with officials of the Reading Area Water Authority.

Read more: http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=518224

Reading May Not Cut Commuter Tax Or Earned-Income Tax

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 members who weeks ago tentatively agreed to a slight drop in earned-income and commuter taxes have now changed their minds; they want both taxes to stay flat.

The difference would mean an extra $1.2 million in annual revenue – mostly from commuters – and council is focusing on the 2015 and 2016 budgets that have gaps of more than $10 million each.

Council President Francis G. Acosta, who is against the move, said he was surprised when a poll of council members Monday showed five in favor of keeping the tax flat.

But he and other council members said they don’t want the extra 2014 revenue to be used to hire more people at City Hall, but rather be put in the contingency fund, or be reserved for 2015 and 2016.

Read more: http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=517020

Reading City Council Moves On Plan To Fix Aging Sewer System

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

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

The administration and City Council on Monday revved up the plan to fix the city’s estimated 170 miles of sanitary sewer pipe, awarding an $847,747 contract to a firm just to oversee other contractors’ investigations of what’s wrong.

Hazen & Sawyer, Philadelphia, will use the voluminous data coming in from those other probes to build a computer model of the pipe system, assess where its problems are and what repairs are needed, and evaluate which areas will need more capacity in coming years.

“It’s important to have a firm that can handle the data,” Deborah A.S. Hoag, city utility systems manager, told council members.

She said the data coming from other contractors – who have built a special map of the system and televised and smoke-tested many of the pipes – is phenomenally huge.

Read more: http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=516474

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.

Read more: http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=515575

Reading City Council Approves Update Of Ordinances

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Berks County

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

Until Monday, the city had early 19th-century ordinances on its books regulating the handling of milk in glass bottles, banning horses and cows from being stabled in any building where ice cream is made, and cracking down on wholesale slaughter houses.

It also had ordinances governing programs the city phased out years ago, such as the citizen inspection program, and duplicates of ordinances that began in one code section but were repeated and changed in another.

For instance, City Clerk Linda A. Kelleher said the rules for setting out trash and removing snow and ice were listed in three different places in three different ways.

Read more: http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=504834

Mix-Up In Payment Costs Reading $715,000

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

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

City officials acknowledged Monday that a $625,000 payment from the wrong fund 10 years ago for the Sovereign Plaza project now is costing the city $715,000 in money it could otherwise have used for economic development.

Matthew Bembenick, administrative services director, also told City Council that the Reading Redevelopment Authority had a verbal deal, not a written agreement, on who pays back several loans from that project, so there’s little paperwork except for some 10-year-old emails.

“The documentation that exists from 10 or 11 years ago is spotty at best,” said Bembenick, hired last year.

He added that he’s spent countless hours trying to find what paperwork the city has.

Read more: http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=504622

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

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

Streetlights Proposal A Nonstarter For Reading City Council

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

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

City residents have been taxed to the hilt and need help from the state to help fix Reading’s financial woes, council members said at a finance, audit and budget committee meeting Monday.

A passionate discussion about the state of the city developed during the meeting, spurred by talk of a proposal to start charging residents for streetlights.

The administration has floated the idea of charging residents for streetlights that provide light to their properties.  Carole B. Snyder, managing director, earlier presented the proposal to council, saying it would free money to pave streets.

The city currently uses money from the state liquid-fuels fund to help pay for electricity for streetlights.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=485327

Reading Looks To Rewrite The Rules To Help Business

Contractors, developers and even city officials have complained for years that getting approvals and permits from City Hall is too complicated and takes too long.

Developer Alan Shuman, prodded recently by City Council, said it often takes him four weeks and longer to get permits in hand for many of his projects.

Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer had campaigned on building a more business-friendly City Hall and told a business group in April that it often takes four to six weeks to issue a permit.

“Businesses jump down my throat for that,” he said.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=484891

Reading Administration Revives Proposal For Streetlight Assessments

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

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

Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer’s administration is reviving a proposal to impose a streetlight assessment that might cost a row home owner $16 a year, but larger property owners several thousand dollars.

Managing Director Carole B. Snyder asked City Council on Monday to consider introducing the enabling ordinance this month, to get some benefit from it this year.

“We don’t want to put any more burden on anyone, but we’re limited on options,” Snyder said.

The fee is being considered because it’s one of the few ways to get the 32 percent of city properties exempt from property taxes to pay for city services, she said.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=482631

Deficit To Get Millions Worse In Future, Reading City Council Told

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

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

City Controller Christian Zale on Monday pressed his case, again, to City Council: Unless the city makes some drastic changes, it’s facing a $35 million cumulative deficit by 2017.

However, those changes can’t include bigger property tax hikes; Zale said his projection already assumes the city raises the property tax by 5 percent in each of the next four years.

But he said the tax increases cut the deficit by only $10 million.  Without them, the deficit rises to $45 million.

“Me being conservative, I tried to be as gloomy as I could,” Zale told council.  “And quite frankly, I don’t want to hear (that) we’ll approach that and try to solve it when that time comes.”

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=479276

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

Investors Could Get Tax Credits For Reading Projects

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

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

Lancaster-based Community First Fund announced Wednesday that it has received $15 million from the federal New Markets Tax Credit program enticing investors to bring jobs to low-income areas, including Reading.

“Those in the New Markets Tax Credit world know how big a deal this is,” Daniel Betancourt, fund president and chief executive, said at a news conference in the offices of Berks County Community Foundation, Third and Court streets.

Betancourt said the award will significantly increase investment in the region’s lowest-income communities, especially Reading.

The Community First Fund, which has an office at 505 Penn St., was among 85 organizations in the nation getting a share of $3.5 billion in this year’s round.  There were 282 applicants.

Read more: http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=474642

COPS Funds Pose Quandary For Reading Police Department

A big new batch of federal grant money is available to police departments that want to hire more officers, but the strings attached to it make it uncertain whether Reading will apply.
Reading Police Chief William M. Heim said the city is eligible to apply for Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) funds from the U.S. Department of Justice for the first time since 2009, when it received $1 million.

A review of grant program rules posted online indicates the city might be able to apply for partial funding of as many as eight police officer positions. Heim said he will be looking at the rules in the coming week.

Law enforcement funding was a big issue at the Berks-Reading crime summit in January, and the COPS application deadline is May 22.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=473304

Reading Parking Authority Names Executive Director

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

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

The Reading Parking Authority on Wednesday hired Philadelphia’s former parking czar to take over as executive director and oversee the city’s garages and parking meters.

Patrick R. Mulligan, 47, of Baltimore will start May 6, more than seven months after the board fired former chief Lawrence H. Lee.

Mulligan will be paid $85,000 a year.

Acting Chairman Gary S. Wegman said he’s pleased with the depth of knowledge and experience Mulligan has in the field.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=472649