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:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=471552

Agency Letter To Sovereign Center Says Water Could Be Shut Off

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Berks County

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

Editor’s note:  We think Mr. Miller needs some customer service training if he thinks the wording of the letter sent by his agency isn’t threatening.  Just sayin…

The Reading Area Water Authority recently sent the operators of the Sovereign Center a surprise: a letter demanding that the arena replace its big water meter within 30 days or risk the authority shutting off its water.

If the arena shuts down the system to replace the meter, or if the authority does, the arena can’t make ice, center general manager Zane Collings told the Berks County Convention Center Authority at its Thursday meeting.

The Reading Royals were in the middle of the hockey season when the Feb. 28 letter arrived and now they’re in the playoffs.  The team starts the Eastern Conference semifinals tonight.

City Council adopted the ordinance requiring the new meters 10 years ago.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=470867

Reading On Course For $35 Million Cumulative Deficit By 2017

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

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

Reading is on course to amass a $35 million cumulative deficit by the end of 2017 even if it raises property taxes by 5 percent a year, controller Christian Zale told City Council on Monday.

The budget likely will be $1 million short this year and $1.4 million short in 2014, but Zale said the city’s own fiscal cliff comes in 2015, when it expects a $10.2 million deficit.

That will be repeated in 2016 with a $10.9 million deficit, and again in 2017 with an $11.4 million deficit, he said.

“Now is the time to address the 2015 cliff, (and) also ensure future decisions do not exacerbate these projected deficits,” he said.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=469810

Quality-Of-Life Amnesty Programs Pay Off For Reading

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

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

With finally final figures, the city announced Monday that it will gain $628,563 from Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer’s amnesty program for long-overdue quality-of-life tickets and rental-housing fees.

That’s after quietly keeping the program open for an extra month, which gained the city more than another $17,000.

Spencer had announced last fall that the amnesty would run two months, from Dec. 17 to Feb. 15.

The sweetener was that late fees would be waived; the threat was that those who ignored the offer would be turned over to a bill collector, who would add a 15 percent penalty.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=464966

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

Reading Crime Summit’s Initial Plans Move Forward

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Berks County

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

As promised, Berks County Commissioner Chairman Christian Y. Leinbach issued a report Friday detailing progress made since a Jan. 18 summit on crime in Reading and Berks.

After the summit, Leinbach had pledged that he, District Attorney John T. Adams and Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer would distribute a public update in five areas:

City-county cooperation: A meeting between city and county officials has been set for March 11 at 1 p.m. in City Council chambers.

The meeting will be open to the public to observe, but will not be a forum for public comment, Leinbach said.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/Article.aspx?id=453131

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:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=452211

Next Generation Of Reading Police Cameras Keeping Watch

Security camera at London (Heathrow) Airport. ...

Security camera at London (Heathrow) Airport. Taken by Adrian Pingstone in August 2004 and released to the public domain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Editor’s note:  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Pottstown needs to get cameras! There are grants out there!

Criminals, beware, for Big Brother is getting more eyes to see you.

And remember you.

Reading’s next round of 20 security cameras is being installed in new neighborhoods, augmenting the 27 cameras in the downtown network since 2008.

“We’ve been pretty successful with them,” Police Chief William M. Heim said, noting there have been dozens of cases in which the existing cameras have been helpful in solving crimes and arresting suspects.

In March, City Council awarded a $650,000 camera contract to New York-based Let’s Think Wireless, with money from the same 2007 federal grant of $1.7 million that bought the first round from the same company.

Read more:   http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=451985

City Of Reading Amnesty Nets $351,000 In Fees And Fines So Far

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

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

With less than two weeks left to go, the city’s amnesty program for overdue rental housing fees and quality-of-life fines has reached $351,000, or about 70 percent of its goal, codes manager Ron Natale said Monday.

The offer that began in mid-December ends Feb. 15, and property owners who don’t contact the city by then will be turned over to its new collection firm, Harrisburg-based National Recovery Agency, Natale told City Council.

The city has about $2.8 million in delinquent quality-of-life fines and rental housing fees from 22,000 unpaid bills.  Officials had hoped to collect about $500,000 of that with the amnesty program, which waives penalties and late fees if the property owners pay the original amounts.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=450373

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:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=450169

Reading Mayor Outlines Progress Made During 1st Year In Office

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

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

Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer not only used his annual “State of the City” speech Thursday to outline the progress he made his first year in office in 2012, but also to criticize City Council for what he called its obstructionism.

Spencer said he had a bold vision, and promised to hit the ground running on the first day to implement it.

“Then, something went wrong,” he said.

Spencer did not say what went wrong, but said the early disputes were resolved.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=448697

Keeping Lid On Lawsuits Carries Big Price Tag For Reading

Reading has been busy in court the last few years, but its track record has been pretty good.

It has resolved 139 suits brought against it since 2004, with no payout to plaintiffs in two-thirds of them. The cost for its attorneys was more than $1 million.

At the moment, the city has more than 70 cases under way in county, state and federal courts, or in agencies such as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

“It’s tough keeping track (of the cases), but the attorneys handling them do a good job of it, and keep me in the loop,” said Charles D. Younger, city solicitor since 2000.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=446351

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:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=446240

‘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

City Of Reading Shootings Fall, Other Violent Crimes Up In 2012

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

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

Violent crime – especially murders – edged up in Reading last year, Police Chief William M. Heim told City Council on Wednesday.

In 2012, he said, murders rose 25 percent from 2011.

Still, Heim said, the city has nowhere near the crime levels it did in 2004 when it reported 1,116 incidents of violent crime.  The 2012 statistics showed 828 incidents.

And the number of people shot also dropped, to 57 last year from 65 in 2011. The high was 109 people shot in 2002.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=445626

Reading Weighs Accepting Grant For More Firefighters

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

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

Editor’s note:  We can’t predict the future. Take the money, hire the people and hope for the best!

Spending a $4 million federal grant to the city is not as easy as it seems.

The problem is not what the grant would do – hire 30 new and badly needed firefighters for the next two years, adding more personnel to each truck – but what happens to those firefighters when the grant expires.

Fire Chief David Hollinger and City Council labored over the issues Monday night.

On the positive side, the grant does not require the city to keep the grant-paid firefighters after the grant runs out in March 2015.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=443754

Reading Codes Officer’s Residency Was At Issue

Reading codes manager Ron Natale is violating the city charter because he has not moved into the city within the required year of taking office, according to an investigator for the city Charter Board that enforces such rules.

However, despite the investigator’s official findings, which put the case into the board’s hands for a final ruling, a new investigator closed the probe.

And, the Charter Board’s confidentiality rules prevent anyone from explaining why.

Charter Board rulings have led to the firing of prior codes manager Jatinder Khokar and the transfer of Adam Mukerji, former community development director, to the Reading Redevelopment Authority.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=442291

Reading Gets $4 Million Grant To Add 30 Firefighters

The city won a $4 million federal grant on Thursday to hire 30 new firefighters over the next two years, replenishing a force that was shrunk by budget cuts the past several years.

Although Fire Chief David W. Hollinger and other city officials were elated at the news, they said they’re still working out the details of how the grant will be used, when the new recruits could be hired, and what happens when the grant runs out in two years.

The announcement came in separate statements by U.S. Sens. Pat Toomey and Bob Casey Jr., who had written the Department of Homeland Security supporting the city’s application for the Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response grant.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=438352

Reading City Council Narrowly Approves Mayor’s Four Assistants

On a 4-3 vote Monday, City Council agreed that Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer can keep his three full-time assistants and a part-timer in 2013.

The move came after months of bickering between the mayor and some council members over whether he really needs all the help – a full-timer and a part-timer more than former Mayor Tom McMahon had – when the city cut four full-time and four part-time jobs elsewhere.

The city already adopted a $77 million budget for 2013, but needed to approve the position ordinance so employees can be paid next year.

Two of the cuts are full-timers in the Citizens Service Center, which hopes to need fewer workers when it transfers trash and recycling bills to the Reading Area Water Authority sometime next year.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=437255