2013-4-24 Council Minutes

MINUTES
HAZLETON CITY COUNCIL
REGULAR MEETING
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 24, 2013

Call to Order: Council met in regular session on Wednesday, April 24, 2013 in Council Chambers. The meeting was called to order at 5:30 p.m.

 

Silent Meditation and Pledge of Allegiance: A silent moment was taken followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.

 

Roll Call: Bast-present; Mope-present; Mundie-present; Schadder-present; Perry-present

 

Minutes of Previous Meetings: The minutes of the April 10, 2013 were approved unanimously.

At this point, Perry stated that an executive session was held regarding pending litigation matters.

Proclamations/Communications: None.

 

Courtesy of the Floor: Grace Cuozzo, 948 James Street, Hazleton commented on Resolutions 2013-46 and 2013-47. She asked if Luzerne County still matches this amount, and Perry replied yes. Cuozzo said the Resolution says that the City of Hazleton matches it, and that should be corrected. Bast said the reason it says City of Hazleton is because the County sends it to us, and then we pay it.

Justine Crego, President of H.A.L.O., commented that there are already laws on the books that the City is not enforcing, and they should enforce these laws before creating any new laws. She asked what is being done to find the landlords that are currently “not on the books.” She also commented that the City is willing to spend money on a lawsuit, instead of working with H.A.L.O. regarding the Rental Registration Ordinance.

**At this point, Perry asked Council if Resolution 2013-48 regarding the approval of the 2011 audit could be brought up first, so that the auditor, Robert Moore, could give his presentation. Council agreed and the resolution was brought forward.

Resolution 2013-48      Approving 2011 Annual Audit

Presented by Bast. Seconded by Mope.

On the Question:

Robert Moore from Dennis Moore & Associates gave a presentation of what was found in the 2011 audit. He said that it is a “qualified opinion” for one reason, and that is because the statements include the books and records of Hazleton Public Transit. The Transit Office prepares their statements in a format required by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and that format is not in accordance with general accepted accounting principles. This format is required in order for them to receive their funding. Therefore, they cannot give an “unqualified opinion.” He gave an overview of the revenues and expenses. Revenue items were $8,159,339, which was an increase from 2010 of $613,463. Grants and other charges were $489,897, which is a decrease of $587,240. The unrestricted investment earnings were $28,381, which is a decrease of $18,090. The total general revenues of the City are $8,677,617, which was an increase of $8,133 over 2010. Expenses were $1,329,354, which is an increase of $255,231. Public safety was $9,791,363, which was a decrease of $723,216. Public Works was a net credit of $444,388, which is a decrease of $1,563,870. Community Development was a net credit of $95,557, which was an increase of $27,301. Interest payments on the debt service was $492,817, which was an increase of $132,127. Total general expenses were $11,073,589. Netted against the general revenues, the City lost $2,395,972 for the year ended December 31, 2011. It was an overall decrease from the year before of $1,880,560. It was better than the year before because in 2010 the City lost $4.2 million. Moore said there were questions about the borrowings on the tax anticipation notes and the $5.6 million lease revenue notes of 2011. In 2009, the tax anticipation note was $1.5 million. That note was paid off with a $2.5 million tax anticipation note, therefore, the City borrowed an additional $1 million. That tax anticipation note was paid off with a $3 million tax anticipation note. That meant there was an addition $500,000 borrowed. This brings the total borrowings through 2011 to $3 million. Of the $5.6 million in borrowings, $3 million went to pay for the outstanding tax anticipation notes. Tax Anticipation notes were to be used for anticipated revenue, but that revenue never came in. It was used to keep going from year to year. This left $2.6 million. Of that, interest was paid on the past year’s tax anticipation note, legal fees were paid, interest expenses were paid on the new note, and regular operating expenses were paid including insurance payments, payroll, amounts owed back to other funds, and debt service payments were paid back on the new $5.6 million borrowings. Because it crosses fiscal years, you do not see these transactions going in and out in the financial statements. It flowed through the general ledger correctly. Moore then went over the management letter. He first discussed the control over the federal awards flowing through the City itself. In Community Development and Transit, there is someone that takes control over the federal awards flowing through those offices. Prior to the new Acting City Administrator being appointed, no one was responsible inside City Hall for federal awards. Each department was handling this role themselves. It is the Administrator’s responsibility to oversee those awards. Moore said some grants are missing documentation, and Hahn is in the process of locating those items. The budget process is now being done correctly, and the netting of items is done. The revenue and expenses are all there and properly recorded. The City needs to keep track of what is coming in from the tax collector, and that all license and permit fees are being collected. The former tax collector, Don Wilkinson Agency, did not send out the sewer transmission fee bills properly. Moore worked with the people in the office to get the receivables and deferred revenue recorded properly, but that was not recorded in the general ledger up front, so there could have been a misstatement in the general ledger. That is now taken care of. As for the proper recording of the borrowings, the initial $5.6 million borrowing was not recorded properly. There was a lack of oversight in the Administration Office to make sure someone was approving and watching what was happening. There is currently no accounting manual, and no direction as to what everyone is supposed to do in that office. It is important because if someone new comes in, they do not know what goes on in there. If someone leaves, no one knows what that person did on a day-to-day basis. With the retirement of the Acting City Administrator, that left “a gaping hole in the daily operations of that office.” This caused a “stagnation of what was going on, and brought the audit to a halt.” There was no one to turn to in order to ask for particular documents, and it took a lot longer to find them. It took much more time to finalize things. There was no transition plan in place upon the retirement of the Acting City Administrator. He credited Hahn with helping them get what they needed. Moore would like to see a closing procedure established for year end, and have a timeline in place where the books and records are closed by a certain date. Specific dates need to be put in place. He asked that Council, the Administration, and himself work on a schedule for the 2012 audit. The 2012 audit will begin immediately. The City has a multitude of cash accounts. Moore suggested consolidating some of them to just a couple of accounts that are necessary. Five or less cash accounts is best to insure that there is no misappropriation of funds. This should be done as soon as possible. Currently there is no one set of procedures in City Hall on when deposits are made. Each department has its own system of when deposits are made. Moore said cash should be deposited the same day it comes in, because the City can use that money immediately. That should be a uniform policy. Someone should be supervising when monies are being transferred to different funds within the City, and there should be an approval process in place. Money should not be moving between funds of the City without an approval process, and a reason why they need to be moved between those funds. Before funds are moved, Moore recommends they receive approval from Hahn first. Hahn would also need to determine if the transfers would need to be approved by Council first. It is hard to segregate duties among the individuals that are in the Accounts and Finance Office because of its small size. Everyone there tries to do as much as they can. He said that the people receiving the cash should not be the same people going to bank every day, and the individuals writing checks should not be approving items for payments. Perry asked about the cost of preparing an accounting manual. Moore said he has a template that the Administration could use, which can be further developed to suit its needs. Perry stated that he knows Hahn has been trying to straighten everything out in the office since he came on board. Moore said that Hahn has done a lot to improve the functions of that office. Schadder asked which point is the most significant. Moore replied that the federal awards are the most important because of the amount money received. Mundie asked about the time frame for the 2012 audit. Moore replied that he expects it to be completed by August or September. He felt he will be able to get the information he needs because Hahn is now more up-to-date on what is going on in that office. Mundie said the Mayor signed the engagement letter with Dennis Moore & Associates, and that is not valid. It is Council’s audit, therefore Council signs the engagement letter. Moore said the Mayor made a mistake and signed it in error. He thought that because he was Council President at the time, he should sign it. Bast if the 2012 books are closed yet. Hahn said no because there are a few more adjustments that need to be made first. Mope said she the 2012 audit will be much less complicated than the 2011 audit now that new procedures are in place.

Roll Call: Bast-yes; Mope-yes; Mundie-yes; Schadder-yes; Perry-yes

RESOLUTION PASSES

                                                                                                                                                           

Old Business:

ORDINANCES

Ordinance 2013-3         Amending Ordinance 2012-36 Providing for Assessment Levy, and Collection of a Tax for General Municipal Purposes and Imposing Additional Tax for the Sole Purpose of Funding Required Benefits to be Paid to or on Behalf of Pension Recipients Pursuant to Act 205, known as the Municipal Pension Plan Funding Standard and Recovery Act, which is Directly Related to the Pension Plan of the City of Hazleton (2nd Reading) (TABLED 4/10/13)

Motion to Remove from Table:

Presented by Bast. Seconded by Perry.

Roll Call (on Motion to Remove from Table): Bast-yes; Mope-yes; Mundie-yes; Schadder-yes; Perry-yes

MOTION TO REMOVE FROM TABLE PASSES

On the Question:

Perry made a motion to table the Ordinance, and Bast seconded the motion.

Motion to Table:

Presented by Perry. Seconded by Bast.

Roll Call (on Motion to Table): Bast-yes; Mope-yes; Mundie-yes; Schadder-yes; Perry-yes

ORDINANCE TABLED

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Ordinance 2013-4         Amending Ordinance 2012-35 Imposing the Real Estate Tax, Earned Income Tax, Per Capita Tax, and Resident Tax, Respectively for the Period January 1, 2013 to December 31, 2013 (2nd Reading) (TABLED 4/10/13)

Motion to Remove from Table:

Presented by Bast. Seconded by Perry.

Roll Call (on Motion to Remove from Table): Bast-yes; Mope-yes; Mundie-yes; Schadder-yes; Perry-yes

MOTION TO REMOVE FROM TABLE PASSES

On the Question:

Perry made a motion to table the Ordinance, and Bast seconded the motion.

Motion to Table:

Presented by Perry. Seconded by Bast.

Roll Call (on Motion to Table): Bast-yes; Mope-yes; Mundie-yes; Schadder-yes; Perry-yes

ORDINANCE TABLED

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Ordinance 2013-5         Amending Ordinance 2012-25 Establishing a Registration and Licensure Program for All Residential Rental Properties, All Institutional Occupancies, and Day Care Facilities, Section 7, Subsection b (Fees) (2nd Reading)

Presented by Bast. Seconded by Perry.

On the Question:

Bast made a motion to amend the additional charge for late payment as follows:

  • 45-60 days, increase of 10%;
  • 61-75 days, increase of 25%;
  • 76-90 days, increase of 50%; and
  • 91 days or more, increase of 100%.

Perry seconded the motion.

 

Roll Call (on Motion to Amend): Bast-yes; Mope-no; Mundie-no; Schadder-yes; Perry-yes

 

MOTION TO AMEND PASSES 3-2

Roll Call (as amended): Bast-yes; Mope-no; Mundie-no; Schadder-yes; Perry-yes

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Ordinance 2013-5         Amending Ordinance 2012-25 Establishing a Registration and Licensure Program for All Residential Rental Properties, All Institutional Occupancies, and Day Care Facilities, Section 7, Subsection b (Fees) (3rd Reading)

Presented by Perry. Seconded by Bast.

Roll Call (as amended): Bast-yes; Mope-no; Mundie-no; Schadder-yes; Perry-yes

ORDINANCE PASSES AS AMENDED 3-2

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Ordinance 2013-6         Revising Consolidated Plans for CDBG Program Years 2010-2011-2012-2013 (2nd Reading)

Presented by Perry. Seconded by Schadder.

Roll Call: Bast-yes; Mope-yes; Mundie-yes; Schadder-yes; Perry-yes

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Ordinance 2013-6         Revising Consolidated Plans for CDBG Program Years 2010-2011-2012-2013 (3rd Reading)

Presented by Perry. Seconded by Bast.

Roll Call: Bast-yes; Mope-yes; Mundie-yes; Schadder-yes; Perry-yes

ORDINANCE PASSES

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Ordinance 2013-7         An Ordinance Making Transfers of the General Appropriations Ordinance for the Year 2013 Beginning January 1, 2013 and Ending December 31, 2013 (2nd Reading)

Presented by Schadder. Seconded by Perry.

Roll Call: Bast-yes; Mope-yes; Mundie-yes; Schadder-yes; Perry-yes

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Ordinance 2013-7         An Ordinance Making Transfers of the General Appropriations Ordinance for the Year 2013 Beginning January 1, 2013 and Ending December 31, 2013 (3rd Reading)

Presented by Schadder. Seconded by Bast.

Roll Call: Bast-yes; Mope-yes; Mundie-yes; Schadder-yes; Perry-yes

ORDINANCE PASSES

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Ordinance 2013-8         An Ordinance of the City of Hazleton, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania Defining and Prohibiting Sound/Noise Disturbance and Providing Penalties for Violations (2nd Reading)

Presented by Schadder. Seconded by Bast.

On the Question:

Schadder made a motion to amend Section 5C regarding unnecessary horn blowing to add the following at the end of that paragraph:

  • Exception: A brief, momentary use of the automobile horn shall be permitted in appropriate situations, such as greeting a pedestrian or arriving at a residence, so long as such use does not become a nuisance or result in a danger to the public.

Perry seconded the motion.

Motion to Amend:

Presented by Schadder. Seconded by Perry.

Roll Call (on Motion to Amend): Bast-yes; Mope-yes; Mundie-yes; Schadder-yes; Perry-yes

MOTION TO AMEND PASSES

 

Roll Call (as amended): Bast-yes; Mope-yes; Mundie-yes; Schadder-yes; Perry-yes

 

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Ordinance 2013-8         An Ordinance of the City of Hazleton, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania Defining and Prohibiting Sound/Noise Disturbance and Providing Penalties for Violations (3rd Reading)

Presented by Schadder. Seconded by Perry.

 

Roll Call (as amended): Bast-yes; Mope-yes; Mundie-yes; Schadder-yes; Perry-yes

ORDINANCE PASSES AS AMENDED

 

                                                                                                                                                           

 

RESOLUTIONS

Resolution 2013-37      Extending the Rebate Period for the Collection of City Real Estate Taxes for the Year 2013 (TABLED 4/10/13)

Motion to Remove from Table:

Presented by Mundie. Seconded by Mope.

Roll Call (on Motion to Remove from Table): Bast-yes; Mope-yes Mundie-yes; Schadder-yes; Perry-yes

 

RESOLUTION REMOVED FROM TABLE

Presented by Mope. Seconded by Mundie.

On the Question:

Bast stated that he does not believe this Resolution is legal, because an Ordinance has to be amended by another Ordinance. Slusser stated that an amendment would need to be done by Ordinance unless the Ordinance provides for it by Resolution. He would need to read the original Ordinance to make that determination. Perry stated that Hahn said the City would lose between $10,000 and $20,000 in this goes into effect. Hahn said that would depend on how it is structured. He added that we may need to refund some money already collected, and we may be required to send notices to all taxpayers. Hahn commented that just advertising this in the newspaper would not give notice to out-of-state property owners, banks, etc. Perry commented that he believes this will just give some people more time not to pay. Mope said that is a moot point. She stated that the taxpayers were not give notice that both taxes would be on one bill this year, and that should have been done first. Hahn said 24 days have passed since the refund period ended, and we would need to refund some of that money if the face value was already paid. Mope said that if this would have gone into effect as soon as Mundie brought it up, this would not even be an issue right now. The dates would have been before the April 1, 2013 deadline. Mope commented that this was stalled too many times. Schadder said that we need to open up lines of communication with everyone. He added that all Council members agreed that we need the services of the City Solicitor. Schadder said that we need to bring in the Solicitor and any City departments involved into the process first when considering these types of issues. This would avoid delays, and it would benefit everyone involved. Mope commented that no one was notified that the tax bills were coming simultaneously. She commented that Council should begin having work sessions to avoid these types of problems. Perry asked Hahn how much of the taxes have been collected so far, and Hahn said about 75% of the property taxes for the general fund have been collected so far. Mundie said it was his intention to help the people out because everyone is having a hard time. He said it is a moot point now, but maybe Slusser could work on something for next year. Perry said that will cost us a lot of money. Mope said it would only be a one-time thing. Schadder asked Slusser if Council should move forward on this. Slusser said that is up to Council. Bast asked about the legality of this Resolution. Slusser said if it is challenged, there may be an issue. Slusser said that the Tax Enabling Act states all taxpayers have to be notified of any change, and the notice must be mailed individually to each taxpayer. He added that we cannot know if we are reaching all taxpayers simply by advertising it in the newspaper. Mundie asked if Slusser would research this further and give Council his legal opinion, and Slusser said he would look into it further.

 

Roll Call: Bast-no; Mope-yes; Mundie-yes; Schadder-yes; Perry-no

RESOLUTION PASSES 3-2

 

**(ON APRIL 25, 2013, IT WAS DETERMINED BY THE CITY SOLICITOR THAT THIS RESOLUTION HAS NO LEGAL STANDING, AND IS THEREFORE MOOT)**

 

                                                                                                                                                           

New Business:

ORDINANCES

 

None.

                                                                                                                                                           

 


 

RESOLUTIONS

Resolution 2013-46      Resolution Certifying the Local Match for State Operating Financial Assistance for Fiscal Year 2012/2013

Presented by Perry. Seconded by Bast.

 

On the Question:

Mundie asked for an explanation. Hahn said this was submitted by Ralph Sharp, Director of Public Transit. This is a requirement in order to receive state funding, and it requires a local match by Luzerne County. He said this was already voted on by the County and passed. This was not passed because of the merger. Perry asked if the wording in this Resolution was correct, and Slusser replied yes.

Roll Call: Bast-yes; Mope-yes; Mundie-yes; Schadder-yes; Perry-yes

RESOLUTION PASSES

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Resolution 2013-47      Resolution Certifying the Local Match for State Operating Financial Assistance for Fiscal Year 2013/2014

Presented by Perry. Seconded by Bast.

 

On the Question:

Hahn said the funds are already included in the budget for this year. Perry said the County’s resolution regarding this matter will be on their next meeting agenda.

Roll Call: Bast-yes; Mope-yes; Mundie-yes; Schadder-yes; Perry-yes

RESOLUTION PASSES

 

                                                                                                                                                           

Comments from the Audience: David Sosar, 338 West 2nd Street, Hazleton said that notification of the tax rebate period extension may be put on the bills the Hazleton City Authority (HCA) sends out. This will notify all homeowners and renters without any additional costs to the City or the HCA. He said Slusser could provide the wording for the notice. Sosar added that the HCA meets on Thursday nights should anyone have any questions.

Dee Deakos, 43 West Mine Street, Hazleton said that if people paid their taxes during the rebate period, then those people would not have to be notified of the extension. Berkheimer should be able to perform a mail merge in order to send out notices. She commented that it will not be as difficult to do as everyone is making it out to be.

Sylvia Thomas, 409 West 6th Street, Hazleton commented that the City is in bad shape, the economy is terrible, the roads are falling apart, and crime has increased. She said everyone needs to stop finger pointing, and start working together to get the City back to the way it was. Thomas commented that she hopes Hahn will be able to turn things around, and save Hazleton.


Fred Calle, Hazleton asked what happens if someone already paid the face value on their taxes. He said he had to pay for his general expenses with his credit card, so that he would have enough money to pay his taxes by the due date. Calle said that this should be put aside for this year, and worked on for next year instead. He asked if the Noise Ordinance applies to trains too, and if it does not, it should. Calle said the City is losing a lot of money on permits. He said the City posts stop orders, but then nothing is done. There is no follow up. Calle said occupancy permits should be required, and inspections should be done before a home is sold. He commented that all houses should be up to code before being rented or sold, and this will make the houses safer.

Justine Crego, H.A.L.O. President, asked for the reason the dates were changed in the Rental Registration and Licensure Ordinance. Mope said this was a suggestion made by the clerk in that office. Hahn said the clerk felt there were not enough days in between to send and receive notices. Crego asked what is being done with the 60% of rentals that are not on the books. Bast said that when they are found, they will go to the magistrate, and fines and costs will be added on to what they already owe. Crego said, by law, the money collected from one landlord cannot be used to pay for another landlord. She asked where the filing fees come from to send these to the magistrate. DeAndrea said they come out of the general fund. Bast said the Ordinance was thoroughly reviewed by Slusser and everything in it is correct.

Carlos Mejia, 724 West 20th Street, Hazleton said proper signage is needed on the City streets. There are a lot of streets that do not have any signs. He commented that we need to make more money, and use that to make the City better. Mejia commented that we need to start forcing more people to keep their properties clean and up to code. He commented that everyone needs to work in a team.

Mark Grabo, First Street, Hazleton asked who is responsible for overseeing the Community Block Grant. Perry replied that the Community Development Director would be responsible for that. Grabo commented on the $2.8 million shortfall. He said the City needs to start going after the “real money” and not just the “nickels and dimes.” Grabo commented that the City should look into the Don Wilkinson’s bond. He also commented that the “outsourcing” being done by Can-Do is creating problems for the City, and someone should look into that.

Comments from Mayor or City Administrator: None.

Comments from Council: Mope thanked everyone for attending the meeting. She said she appreciates the input from the community. She thanked the auditor for attending and supplying everyone with his findings.

Schadder said his thoughts and prayers are with the victims of the weekend fire in the City. He said that if it is ruled arson, he hopes that person will come forward and confess. Schadder commented that he cannot accept it when he hears that there is nothing else that can be done. We cannot quit on people. He said that we need to work together toward the same goals. He asked people to get involved with the crime watch groups. Schadder said the Blighted Building Committee members’ terms have expired, but nothing has been done with that yet. We need to either reappoint these members or appoint new ones as soon as possible, because blight is a big problem in the City. He commented that we need to aggressively find these owners of the blighted properties, and cite them.

Mundie said he spoke to Senator Yudichak about a grant for surveillance cameras. Mundie commented that they have been proven to deter crime, as well as solve crimes. He said the grants for the gaming monies have been expanded and we should look into applying for that. He said there have been many complaints about the building that recently had the fire. Mundie stated that we need to aggressively identify the vacant buildings in the City and make sure there are no squatters in them. These buildings need to be secured by the owners, and the owners need to be informed of this. DeAndrea said a list is currently being compiled, and letters to the owners will soon be going out. Mundie asked how many vacant building there are, but the Chief said he would rather discuss that in executive session for public safety reasons. DeAndrea said there are some warrants out there that have not been responded to yet. He added that a large number of property owners are not from this area, and it is harder to locate them. Mope stated a property manager is supposed to be appointed when the owners are not from the area. Mundie commented about requiring the vacant building to be boarded up. DeAndrea said the City cannot afford to board up these buildings, and he feels that is the owner’s responsibility. He added that some of these buildings are not even insured. Mope said these vacant buildings are being made unusable because people are breaking into them and stealing all the copper piping. DeAndrea said the first step is to identify and notify the owners. Mundie commented that the newspaper printed a story about the long Council meetings and all the “bickering” that goes on. He said he has been on Council for three terms, and he does not believe the meetings are too long, as long as things are getting done. Mundie commented that “the citizens are worth it.”

Bast said that when Alfred Benesch was retained, they were going to clean up Code Enforcement and get out within nine to 12 months. But, that was not the case because DeAndrea had to be appointed to oversee that department. Bast recommended that an Request for Proposals (RFP) be put out for third party inspections. He said Alfred Benesch has been charging us mileage for his inspector just to go to work. He would like Alfred Benesch to be stopped immediately. Bast commented that we need to get the best deal we can for the City. He said the Mayor was asked to do this months ago, but no response was received from him. Bast said that his thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of the McKinley Street fire. He said he knows people do not like the Rental Registration Ordinance, but it is necessary. He asked the Mayor and the Code Enforcement Department to put this in effect immediately, because he does not want to see anyone else get hurt or die because of unsafe conditions. Bast asked the newspaper and television reporters to ask residents to report to Code Enforcement anyone they feel is not registered, or his running any kind of “boarding house” without the proper inspections or permits.

Perry talked about the potential sale of the old St. Joseph’s Hospital building. He said that Community Development is in the process of selling some recently refurbished homes. He also said that the streets are now being cleaned up and patched. Perry thanked Schadder and everyone that helped with the recent cleanup of the City. Perry read from a thank you note Council received from the Whitaker family regarding the donation made to the Hazleton Public Library in memory of Ellie Whitaker.

Adjournment: Perry motioned to adjourn the meeting with Bast seconding the motion. Meeting adjourned.

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