2014-10-21 Council Minutes

MINUTES
HAZLETON CITY COUNCIL
REGULAR MEETING
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 21, 2014

Call to Order:  Council met in regular session on Tuesday, October21, 2014 in Council Chambers. The meeting was called to order at 6:00 p.m.

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

Roll Call:  Bast-present; Cusat-present; Mope-present; Sosar-present; Mundie-present

Minutes of Previous Meetings:  The minutes of the October 7, 2014 work session and regular meeting were approved unanimously.

Proclamations/Communications:  At this point, Mundie swore in the new Junior Council members, Josh Narrow, Alex Ortiz, Ana Ortiz, Joel Soto, and Alanna Supon. They then took their seats next to City Council and began serving their terms.

Courtesy of the Floor:  Norman Tarantino, 154 North Lee Court, Hazleton commented on Resolution 2014-110 regarding the Pango Pay-By-Phone Parking. He said some people do not have smartphones and he felt that entering into a contract with Pango is premature. He asked Council to vote on this.

             

Old Business:

ORDINANCES

Ordinance 2014-17 Amending the Annual Plan for the Community Planning and Development Programs with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for Fiscal Year 2014 (2nd Reading)

Presented by Mope. Seconded by Cusat.

On the Question:

Sosar asked if the Planning Commission reviewed this transfer, and Fermin responded no because it is not a requirement.

Roll Call:  Bast-yes; Cusat-yes; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes

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Ordinance 2014-17 Amending the Annual Plan for the Community Planning and Development Programs with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for Fiscal Year 2014 (3rd Reading)

Presented by Cusat. Seconded by Bast.

Roll Call:  Bast-yes; Cusat-yes; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes

ORDINANCE PASSES UNANIMOUSLY

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Ordinance 2014-18 An Ordinance of the City of Hazleton Rescinding Ordinance 2013-20 and Re-Enacting Ordinance 2006-14 Entitled an Ordinance to Authorize the Erection of Various Signs and the Changing of Garibaldi and Manhattan Courts to One-Way Streets to Facilitate the Re-Opening of the “Castle” School Building at Wyoming and 9th Streets, and Adding the Plowing of Snow to the West Side of Manhattan Court between 9th Street and 11th Street (2nd Reading)

Presented by Mope. Seconded by Sosar.

Roll Call:  Bast-yes; Cusat-yes; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes

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Ordinance 2014-18 An Ordinance of the City of Hazleton Rescinding Ordinance 2013-20 and Re-Enacting Ordinance 2006-14 Entitled an Ordinance to Authorize the Erection of Various Signs and the Changing of Garibaldi and Manhattan Courts to One-Way Streets to Facilitate the Re-Opening of the “Castle” School Building at Wyoming and 9th Streets, and Adding the Plowing of Snow to the West Side of Manhattan Court between 9th Street and 11th Street (3rd Reading)

Presented by Sosar. Seconded by Cusat.

Roll Call:  Bast-yes; Cusat-yes; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes

ORDINANCE PASSES UNANIMOUSLY

             

RESOLUTIONS

Resolution 2014-103 Approving Contract between the City of Hazleton and the International Association of Firefighters Union, Local No. 507 (TABLED 10/7/14)

At this point, Sosar asked to let this Resolution on the table because Council has not yet received any answers from the Solicitor about the legalities of the contract. He asked that it be brought back up at a later date when they have more information in order to make an informed decision. Cusat suggested the Resolution be removed from the table so that Council could discuss it. Cusat made a motion to remove the Resolution from the table, and Bast seconded the motion.

Motion to Remove from Table:

Presented by Cusat. Seconded by Bast.

Roll Call (on Motion to Remove from Table):  Bast-yes; Cusat-yes; Mope-no; Sosar-no; Mundie-no

MOTION TO REMOVE FROM TABLE FAILS 3-2 RESOLUTION DIES

             

  New Business:

ORDINANCES

None.

             

RESOLUTIONS

Resolution 2014-109 Awarding Contract for City Hall Elevator Project to Gottstein Corporation

Presented by Bast. Seconded Cusat.

On the Question:

Bast asked if the new bids were substantially less than the prior ones. Fermin responded yes. She added that the first time a Request for Proposals (RFP) was put out, only one bid was received and it came in at $286,000. The lowest bid this time was $190,000 by Gottstein Corporation. Bast asked when this project will begin, and Fermin said if this passes tonight, she will contact Gottstein Corporation tomorrow and they will order the parts for the elevator. Bast asked when the project is expected to be completed, and Fermin replied in mid-February. Sosar asked who is doing the engineering for this project. Fermin said she is assuming it is Alfred Benesch, but she has not yet received an answer from the Administration. Sosar commented that the Administration does whatever it wants. He stated that Council passed a Resolution assigning Community Development projects to another firm. Mope stated that Council felt that Barry Isett should be the engineer on this project because they are the ones who started on the project. She said Council extended Barry Isett’s contract to complete this project. She commented that Council needs to check with the Solicitor and see if the Administration can legally put Alfred Benesch on this project. Bast asked if anyone contacted Slusser about this, and Mope responded that she sent him an email but she did not receive an answer. Mundie asked Fermin to send a letter to Alfred Benesch stating that they will not paid for any engineering work performed on this elevator project. Bast commented that the work on this project needs to begin immediately. Sosar suggested temporarily holding the Council meetings elsewhere because he believes we are in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. He commented that because the elevator has been out of service since April, the Administration is denying people the right to attend public meetings. Mope stated that she will vote yes on this if Barry Isett is doing the engineering. Mundie commented that Alfred Benesch can do all the work they want on this project, but they will not be paid and they will be doing pro bono. Cusat asked about the RFP that was put out. Fermin said the RFP had two options in which to submit a bid; either use the specified design or use their own design. Gottstein Corporation has opted to use its own design. Cusat asked if Gottstein Corporation has a preference on which engineering firm to use. Fermin responded no. Mope asked who instructed Dominic Yannuzzi of Alfred Benesch to put out an RFP for this project. Fermin replied that the Mayor asked him to do that. Bast felt putting out another RFP was a good idea, because it is saving the taxpayers $100,000. Mope felt Yannuzzi did not have the authority or ability to do this. Bast said he does not agree with a lot of things that are being done by this Administration, but this project needs to be completed one way or another. Mundie again suggested Fermin write a letter to Alfred Benesch regarding this matter.

Roll Call:  Bast-yes; Cusat-yes; Mope-yes; Sosar-no; Mundie-yes

RESOLUTION PASSES 4-1

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  Resolution 2014-110 Granting Approval to Award a Contract for a Cell Phone Payment System for Parking – Pango Mobile Parking

Presented by Mundie. Seconded by Cusat.

On the Question:

Sosar said this started out as just an investigation into offering this type of service for City parking, but now it has snowballed into awarding a contract. He said Pango gave a presentation regarding this service at a meeting held at the Chamber of Commerce. This presentation should have been made at a Council meeting or work session instead. He felt this was a waste of taxpayer money at this time. Bast said Council was never given a copy of the contract prior to the meeting. Mundie commented that someone needs to tell the Mayor he cannot have everything he wants. Cusat said he attended the presentation with Pango, and he did not like some of the answers he received to his questions. Mundie said he did not like Pango’s option of charging $1.99 monthly fee for texting. Mope felt this was premature. Bast said he would prefer to table this Resolution so that Council can receive and review the contract first before voting on it. Bast made a motion to table the Resolution, and Mundie seconded the motion.

Motion to Table:

Presented by Bast. Seconded by Mundie.

Roll Call (on Motion to Table):  Bast-yes; Cusat-yes; Mope-no; Sosar-no; Mundie-yes

MOTION TO TABLE PASSES 3-2 RESOLUTION TABLED

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Resolution 2014-111 Plan Revision for New Land Development – Gennaro Gardens, L.P.

Presented by Bast. Seconded by Cusat.

Roll Call:  Bast-yes; Cusat-yes; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes

RESOLUTION PASSES UNANIMOUSLY

           

Comments from the Audience:  Judy Yurcho, 984 North Locust Street, Hazleton commented on the Mayor’s statement that his is putting the cost of 10 new police officers into next year’s budget. She said the taxpayers cannot afford it. Homes are selling for much less than a few years ago, and it is lowering the tax base. She said that the City needs to find another way to fund the hiring of these police officers, instead of the Mayor’s proposed 25% tax hike. She suggested raising the sales tax to 7%. Yurcho said that the property owners are being punished, and everyone should be paying. She commented that a 25% tax hike would “kill her financially.” She asked Council to vote against this tax hike. Yurcho said she would like to have more police officers, but the residents of the City cannot afford it. She was happy to see that two female police officers were hired. She suggested asking George Hayden to “pay it forward” and renovate City Hall to accommodate these two female officers. He has received a lot of grant money with the City’s help. She added that she is tired of not seeing the Mayor or Solicitor at the meetings. Yurcho commented that everyone needs to get together, sit down in one room, and discuss the issues at hand. There are a lot of important things that need to be addressed, and it is affecting the whole City. Sosar stated that the Mayor said he discussed the 2015 budget with him and Cusat, and that he and Cusat agreed with the compromises. Sosar said that was not true. He told the Mayor he would take the compromised budget and send it to Council for everyone’s approval. Unfortunately, it was not accepted. Sosar stated that no agreement was ever made with the Mayor, because it is not up to one person to decide. He added that Council offered to discuss the 2014 budget openly with the Mayor, but he does not want to do it. He said that he is not going to do any “back room deals,” and these things should be discussed in an open session. Yurcho said she is in agreement that this should be discussed in an open forum. She said she noticed the petition for 10 more full-time police officers is on the City’s website, and DeAndrea is overstepping his authority by doing this. Sosar said both DeAndrea and the Mayor sent out these petitions. Mope said adding 10 new police officers does not necessarily mean that they will be “boots on the ground.” She said there are several promotions involved, and this may not add to the foot patrol. Yurcho said that DeAndrea asked Council a few months ago for supervisory training for some of his officers, so that the department will run more efficiently. But, they need to make it worthwhile. Yurcho said that adding more police officers is not going to help, because we need to get the criminals out of the City. Mope said some of the promotions that will be done in the Police Department will make more of them administrative. She commented that DeAndrea is doing too much with the other departments, and he needs to focus more on the Police Department.

Norman Tarantino, 154 North Lee Court, Hazleton commended Council for the good job they are doing. He said they are trying very hard to “straighten out the City.” He asked if there were any other bids for the pay-by-phone parking. Mundie said an RFP was put out. He added that he attended the presentation by Pango and he was impressed. He said that it will be good for the younger people in town. Tarantino asked what the cost to the City will be. Mundie said he did not know, but the company needs to put a lot into it first. Tarantino asked about the pothole patching machine. Mundie said it was received and it is up at the Highway Garage. He said it was used on 20th Street by Al’s Fashions. They Highway Department employees like it, and they feel it is good for them. Mike Vislocky of the Highway Department said they had it out last week. They really liked it and the patches are holding up nicely. Tarantino asked where the money to pay for this came from, and Mundie said it came from liquid fuels. Tarantino commented that the City needs a controller, and every government should have one, so we can see where the money is going. Mundie agreed.

John Keegan, 105 Ferrara Avenue, Hazleton commented on placing the hiring of new police officers on the ballot. He said according to newpa.gov, it cannot be placed on the ballot. He added that when the form of government changed, the people of Hazleton did not want to have a controller. Keegan said that according to his research, Council did not have a right to change the engineer for Community Development. He read from a portion of the law regarding this matter. Keegan said an RFP was put out for these engineering services, and all four of the firms that responded to the RFP were scored. Barry Isett was fourth in scoring process, and Alfred Benesch was first. Sosar said according to the Third Class City Code, the City Engineer cannot work for Community Development. Keegan said that the scores regarding the RFP need to be followed. Mope asked who did the scoring, and Keegan said there were four people involved in the scoring. The Mayor was one of the four people. Mope felt the Mayor should have abstained from the scoring process because of a conflict of interest. Keegan said Section 1901 of the Third Class City Code is very specific about this process. He read of portion of the section aloud. He added that Council is required to enact an ordinance regarding the method of awarding contracts, and this has never been done. Keegan said that the award of the contract needs to be based on the scoring only. Grace Cuozzo from the audience said that Council chose to extend Barry Isett’s contract for the elevator project, and it is not a new contract. Keegan suggested Council revisit this issue because federal funds are involved. Mope said that Barry Isett has had this contract with us for many years. She mentioned Green Street and the Pine Street projects as other reasons why Barry Isett’s contract was extended. Cusat said he made a motion to amend was made to change Alfred Benesch to Barry Isett for Community Development. He consulted Slusser first and Slusser it was okay to do this. He said that the Mayor’s scoring sheet was added incorrectly, and someone else skipped a whole section of the scoring sheet. The original contract had a one-year extension clause in it. Cusat said when he originally spoke to Slusser about this matter, Slusser did not have the RFP in front of him. He stated that Council may have to revisit this matter. Cusat said that Council should have amended the Resolution to state it was a one-year extension of the old contract. Mundie said that Council will do whatever Slusser tells them to do.

Grace Cuozzo, 948 James Street, Hazleton said back in 1992 there was an agreement with some of the non-profit organizations to give a donation to the City in lieu of taxes. This was done because they still use City services, such as fire, police, etc., and it occurred under Mayor Quigley’s administration. She suggested Council review these agreements and look into doing this again. Cuozzo said it is getting a lot harder for everyone financially. Bast said that the former City Administrator, Mary Ellen Lieb, sent something to that effect to the non-profit organizations, and “everyone went crazy” over it. He added that this is not something that Council can make into a law. Sosar said in 1992 some non-profits did give a donation based upon their ability to give and the economics at that time. He stated that at this time their need is much greater than before, and it is becoming more difficult for them to raise money. He agreed that this option should be revisited. Sosar said the Mayor also sent letters to the non-profits but he did not receive any response. He said that when doing this you need to be “very diplomatic.” Cuozzo also suggested asking the KOZ properties for a donation in lieu of taxes.

Al Gower, West Hazleton, commented on his dealings with the Hazleton City Water Authority. He said that new lines were put from Vine Street to Clay Avenue a few years ago. Unfortunately, it was connected to a 100-year-old water line, and the line has collapsed. He tried to resolve this with the Water Authority, but they will not do anything. He was told they cannot go onto private property to repair the problem. Gower complained about the lack of a grievance process at the Water Authority. His water is not consistent and sometimes he does not have water at all. When he does have water, the pressure is very low. Mundie asked who he spoke to at the Water Authority and Gower said Bob Schnee. He said that Schnee told him that there are no records regarding this matter. Gower stated that this was done eight years ago, so they should still have the records. He said the Water Authority is trying to blame him for the problem. He added that when the originally installed the lines, they went onto private property, but now it is an issue. Gower said that new water lines should not be connected to 100-year-old lines. Sosar suggested that Gower contact the Water Authority again and find out what the closest connection is to his home, or dig a hole, find the connection, and connect it to the main line. Gower said there is a break in the line where the connection was made. Sosar said the Gower needs to find proof that this is the Water Authority’s fault. Gower stated that he has all of the original receipts, but the Authority has no records, and they do not return his phone calls. Mope asked if a camera was put into the line to see where the problem is located. Gower responded yes. Bast said that Council does not have authority over the Water Authority, and they have their own policies and procedures. Mundie said that he will discuss it with them and make some suggestions regarding this matter.

Arlington Andrews, NEPA Text Deals, 100 Laurel Mall, Hazle Township said there is a limited amount of money to go around, and homeowners should not be the only source of income for the City. He said everyone needs to pay their fair share. Andrews owns a business in the Laurel Mall that sells computers and related equipment. He offered to create a text messaging system for the City to send out important messages to its subscribers. This service will be free of charge to the City and its residents. He stated that all people will need to do to subscribe is to text “Hazleton” to 55090, and they will be put on the list. His website is www.newpatextdeals.com. Important messages could be sent to subscribers regarding road closings, amber alerts, street sweeping, road work, tornado alerts, cancelled meetings, etc., which would be entered into the system by a City employee. He feels this will be very beneficial for the City and its residents. The message can be up to 160 characters long. Cusat said he had this for his restaurant and it worked out well. Andrews stated there are an infinite number of keywords that can be used for free. He showed Council his web page. Mundie asked if an app is required and Andrews responded no. Mundie commented that he likes this idea, and Council will discuss it and get back to him.

Chris Puza, 143 St. Charles Drive, Hazleton thanked everyone for their ideas. He commented that it is unfortunate that some of the Council members are “disrespectful” to some of the people that come to the podium. He thanked Mundie, Bast and Cusat for conducting themselves professionally. Puza said the Mayor and the Solicitor should be here at the meeting. He stated “actions speak louder than words” and he wants to help the City in any way he can. He asked Council and the Mayor to put their differences aside and try to work together for the sake of the City. Puza asked if any Council members contacted the Mayor and asked him to come to the meeting. Mope said she asked him to come to a work session regarding the budget, but he declined. She said she was told she cannot contact him by email. Her questions need to be in writing and mailed to him. Puza commented that Council no longer has control over its meetings. People are yelling and talking out of turn, and the meetings need to be calm and professional. He said that he and Mundie sat next to each other on Council for a year and neither of them ever raised their voices. Puza commented on the engineering services for Community Development. He said it should not matter who gets the contract, because the elevator needs to be fixed immediately. Mundie said the City paid Dominic Yannuzzi of Alfred Benesch $407,000 for his services. He felt an RFP should have been put out for the City’s engineering services. Puza said that we need to find other ways to fund the cost of hiring more police officers. He asked where are the Solicitor and Council’s Legal Advisor. Mundie said the Mayor told Slusser not to come to the meetings, and DeCosmo has not been paid for any of his work. Puza asked Council to be more professional. Mope commented that when Puza was on Council, he never argued and said yes to everything. She added that Puza’s wife is an employee of the City. Puza said his wife’s employment has nothing to do with this matter. He said when Mope was elected, they both sat down with the administration. He had pages of suggestions to reduce taxes, and Mope brought nothing. Mope responded that she was just elected and had not been sworn in yet.

Mark Rabo, 8 West 1st Street, Hazleton felt that the text messaging service offered by Arlington Andrews was a good idea. Rabo stated that the population increased in Pennsylvania by 8.8%, but property records have declined. He said that is because people are moving here and renting instead of buying. He commented that “over taxing eventually erodes the tax base.” Rabo said that 150 homes go vacant in Hazleton every year. He stated that Community Development’s five-year plan is a “sham and a joke.” It lists administrative costs as $144,000, but only $380 to street improvement. This figure is way too low. Mundie said that figure is probably what the consultant told Fermin to use in the plan. Rabo said there is only $3,000 put aside for demolition, and $250,000 to rehabilitate properties. He asked if any assessments were done on these properties. Rabo commented that education and redevelopment should be top priorities in order to increase property ownership and bring in new business. He added that high taxes and theft drive out businesses.

Comments from Mayor or Director of Administration:  None.

Comments from Junior Council:  Alanna Supon said she believes the pay-by-cell option for parking is a good idea because almost everyone now has a cell phone.

Joel Soto said it is an honor to be on Junior Council again. He thanked everyone for their comments. He added that he believes the Mayor should be here to discuss the important issues at hand.

Ana Ortiz commented that she believes the pay-by-cell option for parking is a good idea, but there are some people that are not as technologically advanced as others, so there would still be a need for parking meters. She also believes that with all the negative comments about the Mayor, he will not be re-elected.

Alex Ortiz stated it is an honor to be on Junior Council. He said there were some interesting comments tonight. He added that we all need to be respectful of each other, so the City can continue to function in a positive manner.

Josh Narrow stated it is an honor to be on Junior Council. He commented that he believes a heated discussion every now and then is okay, but Council needs to be professional and respectful of other people’s comments.

Comments from Council:  Bast said he received the minutes and resolution where Council’s Legal Advisor was hired and his contract approved. But, there is no resolution or engagement letter from Atty. DeCosmo’s office regarding his representation of Council in the lawsuit filed by the Mayor. Mundie stated Judge Burke said Council has a right to legal representation. Mope said it is spelled out in his contract that DeCosmo will represent Council in all business whenever he is needed. Bast asked if DeCosmo lowered his hourly rate to match that of the City Solicitor, and Mundie said yes. Bast thanked everyone for coming, and he welcomed the new Junior Council members.

Cusat said he would like Council to place an ad in the newspaper requesting resumes for anyone who wants to be considered for an appointment on an Authority Board. Mundie felt this was a good idea. Cusat stated that 520-522 Poplar Street was torn down two or three years ago, and the debris is still there. Mope said there is only so much Community Development money to go around, but acknowledged that it needed to be addressed. Cusat suggested handling the matter like it was handled for the property on McKinley Street. Mope said it will need to be grated and planted. She added that there needs to be more money put into Community Development for demolition. Cusat then commented on Act 90. Sosar said that he was appointed to the Vacant Property Committee but no one else has yet been appointed to fill the other vacancies. He hoped the Mayor would have some appointed for this Committee very soon. Fire Chief Donald Leshko said he was dispatched this afternoon to a property where the roof caved in and the sides have buckled. He said this is probably going to need to be demolished. Mundie said he will tell Mike Wilfing about it to see who owns the property. Cusat thanked Junior Council. He asked the other Council members about setting up a few more meetings or work sessions regarding the budget.

Mope thanked everyone for coming, and she also thanked Junior Council. She feels the text alerts offered to the City free of charge by Arlington Andrews is a good idea. She commented that a lot of things that go on in the City are “politically motivated.” They have tried every way possible to work with the Administration, but it went nowhere. We are still in litigation over the 2014 budget and we are now ready for the 2015 budget. Mope suggested adding a work session to discuss the 2014 budget and inviting the Mayor to that work session. She stated at one time Community Development gave people money to fix up their homes if they met certain criteria, and we need to focus on this again. She said that one problem is that sometimes it is much cheaper to knock down a property instead of fixing it up. Mope commented that some of the changes going on are not benefitting the City, such as certain contracts not being signed by the Mayor. She clarified that Council extended Barry Isett’s contract in order to complete certain projects, and it was not a new contract. Mope said that we need to get the “dirty laundry” out in the open, and Council is trying to rectify some of these things. She thanked everyone for coming.

Sosar thanked everyone for coming and also thanked Junior Council. He said everyone’s comments are taken seriously. He said sometimes he gets emotional about certain things because he has a passion for this City. He agreed that everyone needs to start working together. Sosar said he saw the petitions being passed around in favor of more police officers, but there should be different ways to do this. He commented that the Mayor feels he has the right to ignore the peoples’ vote. Sosar said he is starting a petition for the Mayor’s resignation before the end of the year. He stated that we need to negotiate contracts, budgets, etc., and these things need to be done quickly. The people of Hazleton are not happy with him as the Mayor. Sosar commented that we need to have someone in that position who is going to work on the betterment of the City. He said he believes the Mayor cannot take criticism and he is hiding from the people.

Mundie agreed with Sosar on the petition to have the Mayor resign. He thanked Junior Council and said some of the meetings get “crazy,” but it is not always like that. He said the Mayor was invited to the meeting be he declined. Mundie stated he is confident the Judge will rule in Council’s favor with regard to the 2014 budget. He said the Mayor proposes the budget and presents it to Council, but Council decides the line items.

Adjournment:  Mundie motioned to adjourn the meeting with Mope seconding the motion. Meeting adjourned.