Press "Enter" to skip to content

Reading City Council and Mayor Eddie Moran meet to discuss city priorities

Reading Mayor Eddie Moran met with City Council to discuss his priorities.

The “priority summit” was held Wednesday evening and Moran, who is almost two years into his first term, laid out six priorities he is currently focusing on:

  • Crime.
  • Quality of life issues.
  • Homeownership.
  • Workforce development.
  • The downtown.
  • Blight removal.

“Tonight ‘s meeting is to share with you and the public what our top priorities are and to continue to collaborate,” Moran said. “We all want the same end results, a better Reading.”

Crime

Safe streets and neighborhoods have been a focus of Moran’s administration, but it has recently become a pressing matter after an uptick in shootings in the city that left at least one person dead and several wounded.

“We all know, unfortunately as of recently there have been some challenges with our youth engaging in violence,” Moran said. “As a father of 21-year-old boys it hurts me.”

Moran’s plan is to hire a neighborhood initiative coordinator that would be a liaison between City Hall and the city’s neighborhoods.

“That is going to help us gather all these organizations to work collaboratively with the city,” Moran said.

The position would be funded for three years with American Rescue Plan dollars, Moran said. After that, if the position is successful, the city would fund it through state or federal grants or local dollars, he said.

The neighborhood coordinator would also create a neighborhood action plan that would compile information on problem areas, engage with community groups and help start programs like a neighborhood crime watch, Moran said.

“Crime cannot by combatted by policing alone,” he said.

Council was supportive of Moran’s plan but wondered if it could be finessed a bit.

Council Vice President Lucine Sihelnik said the task might be too big for one person to handle and asked if it was possible to have several outreach coordinators assigned to each of the six council districts.

Quality of life issues

Managing Director Abraham Amoros admitted the city is behind on dealing with several quality of life issues.

“We have been challenged with personnel issues with individuals being sick with COVID and a tremendous amount of incidents,” he said. “The Citizens Service Center has been overwhelmed but we have noted every single complaint.”

Amoros did tell council to be patient.

“It’s not going to happen over night,” he said. “We won’t get caught up in a week or month. But we are taking every incident very seriously.”

Councilwoman Donna Reed requested a monthly report on quality of life violations for each council district.

Reed said some of her constituents have complained that no one from City Hall gets back to them.

“Communication has to be stronger because when you have residents and property owners losing faith in the city government you have to work twice as hard to get it back,” she said.

Moran also said the city would hire a consultant for the city’s zoning office to catch up on permits.

“Having a business wait 45 days for a permit is unacceptable,” he said.

Homeownership

Moran wants to make homeownership a priority because the city will lose about $4.9 million in revenue next year when it leaves Act 47.

When the city exits financial distress it will lose the ability to levy a commuter tax. That tax generates about $4.9 million a year.

The good news is the city does not need that revenue for its daily operations and has not needed it for quite some time.

The bad news is the city is diverting the commuter tax revenue into its capital project funds, so it will have to figure out a way to replace that revenue.

Moran already said the city will have to get creative, but he made one promise.

“We will not be taxing our way out of it,” he said. “No way. Not in my book. Not while I am able to.”

His administration will look to create homeownership opportunities through the community development department, Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Berks and Habitat for Humanity of Berks County.

Moran estimated the city needs to get about 1,000 homes back on the tax rolls to collect at least $2.5 million in revenues.

Council was supportive of the idea.

Councilwoman Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz asked Moran to look into creating a program that incentivized city employees to live in the city.

Reed also suggested the city incentivize property owners to convert multi-unit homes back into single-family homes.

Council President Jeffrey S. Waltman Sr. noted the city set aside $1 million to try and get 20 to 30 blighted properties back on the tax rolls.

Workforce development

Moran has been meeting with the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance on a monthly basis to make programs available to residents

“The city is not in a position to be creating jobs but to collaborate with entities who are going to help us to keep our community employed,” he said.

Moran is also working with the local colleges and universities to keep post-secondary students in the city he said.

Sihelnik said companies in her district have expressed concerns about finding employees.

“They have jobs, they pay a good rate and they cannot access and retrain qualified and dedicated employees and that’s very concerning to me,” she said.

The downtown

The city will look to spend American Rescue Plan funds, money from the state Department of Community and Economic Development and a strategic plan to revitalize the downtown, Moran said.

Waltman agreed that council needs to commit to the plan early on as well as commit the funds.

However, council became concerned with how the downtown has been treated so far.

“My concern is because it’s been such a long time things haven’t been addressed,” said Councilwoman Marica Goodman-Hinnershitz. “There are huge buildings downtown that are distressed.”

Reed said she was approached by a person at the ribbon cutting for Alvernia University’s College Towne project and asked what the city is doing to fix up the downtown. The person pointed out buildings with broken windows and peeling paint, she said.

“She asked ‘What are you going to do about it?’ and I couldn’t answer it,” Reed said. “They shook their head and walked away. The cynicism is there even though good things are happening.”

Moran would have liked to have spoken to that person, he said.

“I would have told them we have to follow the rules and regulations in place for proper enforcement,” Moran said. “I’m hopeful there might soon be new life in that building.”

Sihelnik understood the mayor’s point, but she said it wasn’t good enough, especially when it came to the city-owned properties at Fifth and Penn Streets.

“We have zero excuses for our gross neglect of the buildings at Fifth and Penn,” she said. “We are not compliant with our own regulations, that’s unacceptable. What we need to do as owners of those buildings, it needs to be a priority to be responsible owners and stewards of those properties.”

Blight removal

“I’m happy to see land banking,” Sihelnik said. “It’s a proven strategy that can work.”

But Sihelnik’s concern lay in the community development department being able to handle so many tasks.

She pointed out that in many of the priorities discussed Wednesday night, the community development department would play a role in.

“I was concerned from the beginning of the reintegration of the redevelopment authority into the community development department,” she said. “It really comes down to the operation and capacity of what these organization can do and if we are allowing them to be effective.”

Moran said he believes the community development department was up to the task.

Despite a couple bumps at the priorities summit, council was supportive of the administration.

“Everything we’ve talked about tonight goes hand in hand,” Waltman said. “These are the top six issues that will impact the city and as much as we can help your team get through these. We are here to help.”


Source: Berkshire mont

Be First to Comment

    Leave a Reply

    %d bloggers like this: