State Agency OKs Millions More In Loans For Projects In Downtown Reading

English: Downtown Reading, Pennsylvania; with ...

English: Downtown Reading, Pennsylvania; with Berks County courthouse on left; July 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A state agency has approved an extra $5 million in low-cost loans for new projects in downtown Reading, as well as an extra $1 million for the planned Doubletree Hotel on Penn Street.

The loans, sought months ago and already part of the hotel’s financing package, were formally approved today by the Commonwealth Financing Authority.

Both packages will go through the Greater Berks Development Fund.

The $5 million will be available for as-yet-undetermined downtown projects, said Edward J. Swoyer, Greater Berks executive director.

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Reading Eligible For Revitalization Funds; May Miss Application Deadline

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

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

The state has given Reading the eligibility it wants to compete for a highly prized City Revitalization and Improvement Zone that, similar to Allentown, would use state and local tax revenue to attract jobs and millions of dollars in private investment.

But it’s still uncertain whether Reading will be one of the two pilot cities the state chooses in the first round this year, or even whether the city will apply in time.

Lancaster already has submitted its own proposal, and Bethlehem is expected to shortly.  The second round for two more cities doesn’t begin until 2016.

Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer could not be reached for comment.

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Support For ‘Secret Valley’ Rail Line From Boyertown To Pottstown Picks Up Steam

Plans for a tourist excursion railroad on the eight-mile Colebrookdale line between Pottstown and Boyertown are moving forward and picking up support, most recently from a team of 40-or-so volunteers to got together to do a clean-up along the route.

Last weekend, the volunteers, led by the Pottstown Roller Derby Rockstars and folks in Montgomery County’s ARD program performing court-ordered community service, picked up trash along the right of way.

Berks County Subway provided lunch for all volunteers, and the Pottstown Health and Wellness Foundation provided water.

J.P. Mascaro & Sons provided two dumpsters.

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Bill To Boost Neighborhood Climate Could Freeze Out Reading

Map of Pennsylvania

Map of Pennsylvania (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Two competing bills are being introduced in the state Senate that would expand Allentown’s Neighborhood Improvement Zone – unique and highly successful but also highly criticized – to other Pennsylvania cities.

One bill would include Reading; the other would not.

The prize for any city is the zones’ new ability to retain state personal income and sales tax revenue generated in the zone, using it to repay bond issues for demolition, infrastructure and even new buildings.

But both bills, in answer to charges that Allentown’s gains are the state’s losses, would limit how much state tax can be kept locally.

Sen. Lloyd Smucker, a Lancaster Republican, introduced the first bill in early May to authorize what he calls City Revitalization and Improvement Zones.  Its pilot program applies only to cities with 40,000 to 70,000 people.

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State Auditor General Rips Reading School District

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

Map of Berks County, Pennsylvania, United States Public School Districts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They very well may be the worst accounting practices in the state.

That was Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale‘s assessment of the financial situation in the Reading School District, which he shared during a press conference Friday in Reading.

“To be direct,” he said, “the Reading School District has failed its students, failed the children of Reading.  It has failed the taxpayers.”

DePasquale was in the city to release the findings of a major audit his department did on the school district.  The audit was the result of requests by local legislators to investigate the district following the discovery of a more than $15 million accounting error in December.

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Fee For Pennsylvania State Troopers On The Radar

English: Pennsylvania county map

English: Pennsylvania county map (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A crash occurs on Route 183 in Penn Township.  State troopers who usually respond in that area are tied up elsewhere.

What’s a police chief in the small neighboring borough of Bernville going to do?

“As soon as I hear about an incident I’m going to respond,” Chief Brian Thumm said.

He won’t ignore a call nearby just because it’s outside his borough in state police territory.

While that’s the right thing to do, Thumm said, Bernville taxpayers are picking up the cost.

He’d like to see neighboring municipalities join with Bernville in providing local police coverage.  If that’s not an option, he’d at least like to see municipalities that rely only on state police pay for the service.

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Reading School District Short Millions; Lawmakers Want Audit

Officials in the Reading School District announced the discovery of an accounting error that has left the district short more than $15 million.

Board President Robert F. Heebner Jr. said revenues for the 2010-11 school year were overstated by about $15.6 million. Heebner said it is still unclear which revenues were misstated.

That number could change, he said, as the district is still working on digging up all the facts about the incident.

The mistake was missed in audits of the district last year but popped onto the radar during an audit of the 2011-12 school year, which is taking place now.

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Reading Crime Summit Set For Jan. 18; Corbett Commits

Editor’s note:  This is great news!  We think Mark Flanders needs to be there too since Pottstown’s problems are a result of drugs and crime moving between Reading and Philadelphia.

Months of talk about scheduling a crime summit in Reading culminated Monday afternoon when staffers of Gov. Tom Corbett said he would be available to attend Jan. 18, and local officials immediately set about planning the summit.

Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer said the inability to pin down a date with Corbett had slowed planning.  The original call for the summit was issued in May in a front-page editorial in the Reading Eagle.

“We finally got a date,” Spencer said.

Invitees will include all federal and state lawmakers who represent Berks, county commissioners, city Police Chief William M. Heim, representatives of federal agencies like the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

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Governor Seen As Key To Reading Crime Summit

Editor’s note:  While you are at it, include Pottstown.  The crime rate is just as bad as Reading!

As Berks County residents digest the latest spate of violence in Reading, retailer Albert R. Boscov has taken center stage in the protracted effort to pull together a crime summit.

Boscov said Wednesday that it was crucial for both federal and state officials – preferably Gov. Tom Corbett – to take part in the proposed group discussion of Reading’s crime problems.  He said both U.S. Sens. Bob Casey Jr. and Pat Toomey have agreed to take part and that he was working to secure Corbett’s participation.

“I think he will come,” Boscov said.

A spokeswoman for Corbett said Wednesday night that he had not been invited to a summit but was open to the concept.

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