2014-11-05 Council Minutes

MINUTES
HAZLETON CITY COUNCIL
REGULAR MEETING
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 5, 2014

Call to Order:  Council met in regular session on Wednesday, November 5, 2014 in Council Chambers. The meeting was called to order at 6:15 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 21, 2014 regular meeting were approved unanimously.

Proclamations/Communications:  None.

Courtesy of the Floor:  Dee Deakos, 43 West Mine Street, Hazleton commented on Resolution 2014-113 regarding the parking garage lease. She asked if the City is going to have to start paying real estate taxes on the parking garage since the Parking Authority disbanded. She added that she believes this will reduce the amount of rent the City will be receiving. Deakos added that she believes taxes will have to be paid on the property because it is being leased to a private industry. Mundie said he would look into the matter.

Mark Rabo, 8 West 1st Street, Hazleton commented on Resolution 2014-112. He said he is a member of the Luzerne County Redevelopment Authority, and asked if Council was aware that the agreement made with them regarding outstanding tax claims was amended at a special meeting on April 7, 2014. Mundie responded no. Cusat said he filed a right-to-know request with the County and received the information regarding this matter. Rabo asked if this change will be reflected in the budget, and Mundie replied yes. Mope said it is a requirement to include that in the budget. Rabo was concerned with where that money will go. He said he would like to see it go towards more police officers. Cusat said he believes Rabo’s dollar figures are incorrect. He stated that there are delinquent taxes from 2013 in the amount of $596,000. The Redevelopment Authority takes 10%, there is $45,000 in administration fees, and $11,000 in the reserve fund. This brings the figure down to $407,000. He said that 69% of that amount goes to the general fund, and 22% goes to debt service. Rabo stated that the City will be receiving a second installment. Cusat commented that this only applies to the 2014 taxes.

 Old Business:

ORDINANCES

None.

RESOLUTIONS

Resolution 2014-110 Granting Approval to Award a Contract for a Cell Phone Payment System for Parking – Pango Mobile Parking (TABLED 10/21/14)

Motion to Remove from Table:

Presented by Bast. Seconded by Cusat.
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 FAILS

New Business:

ORDINANCES

None.

             

RESOLUTIONS

Resolution 2014-112 Sale of 2014 Tax Claims

Presented by Cusat. Seconded by Mundie.

On the Question:   Cusat said he does not believe selling the tax claims is a good idea. He said he was against it last year, but the City needed the money as soon as possible. Mundie agreed with Cusat and suggested tabling the Resolution until the next meeting. He added that if we sell the tax claims now, we receive a large amount of money immediately. If we do not sell the tax claims, we get a small amount now and little bit throughout the year. Sosar made a motion to table the Resolution, and Mundie seconded the motion.

Motion to Table:

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

MOTION TO TABLE PASSES 3-2 RESOLUTION TABLED

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Resolution 2014-113 Authorization to Execute Lease Agreement between the City of Hazleton and DHD Realty Holding, LLC

Presented by Cusat. Seconded by Bast.

On the Question:

Sosar was concerned with the number of rental spaces and the value of them. Mope was concerned with whether or not the City will have to pay taxes on the Parking Garage if it is leased out to a private entity. Mundie said this is something that needs to be checked into by the Solicitor. He added that the same Resolution was passed earlier this year, but it included the Parking Authority, which is no longer in existence. He said it was also changed to include more parking spaces for the public. He suggested that Council look into the matter further before passing the Resolution. Cusat was concerned with the wording in the Resolution that says DHD will be “leasing the entire top floor of the Parking Garage.” He said it also needs to include the Mine Street strip parking. Mope said the bridge from the building to the garage is “hanging,” and asked if it is supposed to be like this. Mundie said the contractor made an error and hung the bridge 18 inches too high, and it needs to be reconstructed. He added that this is going to cost them a lot of money of repair. Cusat said the agreement states that DHD will pay us the monthly rent even if they are not moved into the building yet. Sosar made a motion to table the Resolution pending answers to Council’s questions, and Mundie seconded the motion.

Motion to Table:

Presented by Sosar. Seconded by Mundie.

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

MOTION TO TABLE PASSES 3-2 RESOLUTION TABLED

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Resolution 2014-114 A Resolution Exempting a Veteran from Real Estate Taxes for the Year 2014

Presented by Sosar. Seconded by Mope.

On the Question:

Mundie said that in order for a veteran to get this exemption, they need to have a permanent disability. He said there are a lot of disabled veterans who do not know about this program. He asked the media to let the public know about these property tax exemptions.

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

RESOLUTION PASSES UNANIMOUSLY

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Resolution 2014-115 Authorizing the Director of Administration to Adjust Records – Refund of 2009-2013 City Real Estate Taxes

Presented by Mope. Seconded by Mundie.

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

RESOLUTION PASSES UNANIMOUSLY

Comments from the Audience:  Norman Tarantino, 154 North Lee Court, Hazleton said there are two hookah bars in Hazleton, and there have been shootings at both. He sees people coming in and out of them at 4:00 a.m., when they are supposed to be closed. He suggested Council create an ordinance regarding after-hours bars and bringing in your own liquor. Mundie said the Liquor Control Board controls most of these establishments, but he will have Chief DeAndrea look into it. Cusat said the Liquor Control Board has no control over BYOB bars. He talked to Rep. Tarah Toohil about this and nothing exists regarding this matter. Sosar suggested talking to the Solicitor about this matter. Mope asked if the Police Department is keeping an eye on these types of establishments. Tarantino questioned if these two establishments have business licenses and permits. Mundie stated that it may be unconstitutional to close certain businesses down. Tarantino said that these hookah bars needs to have proper ventilation and need to follow the non-smoking laws just like every other business. Cusat said he believes they are governed by the Department of Health and would be following their regulations. Tarantino said there is a food truck on Wyoming and Tamarack Streets. They currently have an extension cord running from the truck to the nearby building. He said this truck never moves from that location, therefore, it should not be considered a mobile food truck. Tarantino said the people of Hazleton cannot afford a 26% tax increase. Mundie agreed and said he does not agree with the Mayor’s budget. He is interested in hiring part-time people, and has talked to the Water Authority about selling some land to bring in some revenue. Tarantino suggested using constables to help the police. Mundie said he suggested that a few years ago, but it was “shot down.” Tarantino commented that the City should consider selling the airport and stop putting money into it.

Mark Rabo, 8 West 1st Street, Hazleton clarified the figures that he stated earlier in the meeting. He mentioned the vacancies that exist on the boards, authorities and commissions within the City. He read a section of the Third Class City Code regarding these appointments. He said with regard to the Civil Service Commission, Council may appoint three alternates for four-year terms, and they can add these alternates to the Commission in order to have a quorum. Rabo commented on some of Community Development’s line items. He suggested the City ask HUD if these amounts could be amended. With regard to the properties listed, he suggested getting assessments on them. Rabo stated that according to the Third Class City Code, Section 4305, payments to police pensions should be between 1.5% and 3% of the taxes collected. Mundie said certain things have already been negotiated in the Police contract, but he will check into it. Rabo commented on Act 90, which was signed and went into law last week. The Act states that negligent agents and landlords are subject to criminal prosecution. Rabo said he attend the last Luzerne County Council public meeting, and county taxes are being raised by 4%. He said the next scheduled meeting for the County Council is on December 2, 2014 in Hazleton.

Judy Yurcho, 984 North Locust Street, Hazleton said the Mayor’s budget will bankrupt the City in five years. She commented that the residents of Hazleton cannot afford more taxes or more police officers. She felt 10 more police officers are not going to guarantee a safer community. She said the current problems need to be remedied first. Yurcho said people are not paying their taxes, and houses are run down and abandoned. The Code Enforcement Office needs to locate the people that own these properties and get them to clean them up. She said she cannot afford to pay any more taxes. She said the Mayor is “out of touch” with the people of Hazleton. Yurcho is concerned that paying out these pensions is going to bankrupt the City. Senior citizens cannot afford to pay more taxes. She said that houses are not worth as much as they were several years ago. Yurcho asked Council to consider alternatives to raising money for the City and to consider the people of Hazleton in any decisions they make. She stated that on 20th Street, by James and Peace Streets, the road is all torn up. She asked that this be fixed as soon as possible. Mundie said he will talk to Vito about this. He added that now that they have the new machine, they can fix the roads in the winter.

Sylvia Thomas, 409 West 6th Street, Hazleton was upset with the state of the City. She stated that the Mayor said he did not tell the City Solicitor not to come to the Council meetings, but this is not true. Mundie said the Mayor told the Solicitor and Administrator not to come. Sosar said he knows something needs to be done about this, and he is working on a petition. Thomas said she is now selling her house because she cannot afford to live there anymore. The taxes and fees are too high. She commented that she feels like she is “living in the slums.”

John Medashefski, Alter Street, Hazleton said he obtained permits to work on his house earlier this year. Now, he is getting tickets from Code Enforcement because they say he does not have the proper permits. He needs to have this straightened out. He said he is being harassed by the Code Enforcement Officers and Mike Wilfing. Medashefski stated he went to see a lawyer regarding this matter. He said the City wants to fix up the town, but when people try to fix up their homes, they are given a hard time. Mundie said he will look into the matter. Medashefski suggested using per diem police officers. They would need to be part of the union and pay union dues, and tie in with the FOP. He commented that the officers are being paid too much in overtime. He commented that if the City hired part-time/per diem officers there would be more cops out on the streets. He said that something needs to be done right away because there is way too much crime in this City. Sosar said Council has begun to investigate this matter. He understands the problems the police officers face, but the City cannot afford 10 more full-time police officers. He commented that we need to work with what we got. Sosar said there are squatters in an abandoned house near his home, and the police have been there four times this week. He commented that we need more code enforcement officers, and the tickets need to be written correctly. He said we need to target the right people. Sosar stated that he has a problem with the way things are being done within the City. Council needs to meet with the administration and come to a compromise. Sosar said Council understands the needs of the people of Hazleton, and pressure needs to be placed on the administration to enact changes. He stated the administration needs to compromise too, and the laws need to be fair to all people in the community. Medashefski asked how to go about removing the Mayor from office. Bast said he cannot be removed unless he commits a criminal offense. Sosar recommended using embarrassment and asking him to resign. Sosar said Council needs to reword some codes, so these abandoned and nuisance properties can be cleaned up.

Dominic Tolerico, Garfield Street, Hazleton asked if the cameras at the Arthur Street playground are functional. Mundie said he did not know. Tolerico said his business was recently “tagged” by the MS-13 gang, and he feels he is being threatened. He said people are selling drugs on the Arthur Street playground, which is in the vicinity of his business. Sosar suggested Tolerico report this matter to the State Police because they have a gang unit. Tolerico said the playgrounds should be locked at night after a certain time. Mope commented about putting fencing up, and she said she hopes the cameras are being utilized. Tolerico said the playground was also tagged by gangs, and, if the cameras are working, it will be on the recording. He said he works late at night and these gangs are selling drugs 100 feet away from his home. Sosar suggested he keep reporting the illegal activity going on and to put pressure on the police to do something about it. Tolerico said these people listen to the police scanners, and leave as soon as they hear that the police are coming. He said he knows the police only have three people on duty at night. Tolerico said he recently had some issues with the Code Department. He spent tens of thousands of dollars to bring his building up to code. His competitor located on 15th Street opened up quickly, and he does not even have handicapped accessibility. He said the building was vacant for 10 years, so there should be some code issues that should have been addressed prior to the business opening. Tolerico added that he does not believe they have an occupancy permit. Rick Wech of Code Enforcement said they have their permit, and the matter is now in the hands of Kyle Kehoe, the Building Code Official.

Ted Sherrock, Hazleton said he just came from a Chamber of Commerce networking mixer, and the Mayor was there, but he is not here at the Council meeting. He said he saw Sosar being chastised by a local television host last night. He said Council is being blamed for everything that is going on in the City. The public does not know what goes on at the Council meetings because they do not attend them. Sherrock commented that some of the Council members are doing their “due diligence” and are not the bad guys.

Norman Tarantino, 154 North Lee Court, Hazleton commented on the 50th anniversary of Hazleton being named an All American City. He said that he would like to have Luzerne County split into Southern Luzerne County and Northern Luzerne County.

John Homa, Hazleton said he is “disgusted” with the Mayor, the Administrator and the Solicitor. He said he will be circulating a petition to have the Mayor removed.

Comments from Mayor or Director of Administration:  None.

Comments from Junior Council:  Ana Ortiz thanked everyone for coming. She said she feels all bars should be closed after a certain time. She added that the after-hours clubs need to be watched more closely. She was unaware of how bad things really were in the City, until she started coming to the meetings. Ortiz said her parents are elderly and the Mayor’s 26% tax increase would hurt them very much. She said she more roads need to be repaired in the City, and she said it was “interesting” to find out that the City recently purchased a machine to fix the roads. Mundie said the machine recycles asphalt and turns it into tar. He said it can be used in the winter. Ortiz said her family had reported animal abuse to the City, but they were told they need to deal with it themselves. She said she believes the media lets us see what they want us to see. She added that more people need to start coming to the Council meetings. Ortiz said she was under the impression that all the playgrounds were closed at a specific time each night. She was concerned with the gang signs on buildings, and said she hoped the surveillance cameras are operational. Mope said all the departments need to work together. Josh Narrow said it sounds like there is a miscommunication between Council and the Administration. He said Council is trying to work with the Mayor, but he is not working with them. He felt passing a petition around would be a good idea. He stated that the City needs a “backup plan,” and should attempt a compromise with the Mayor in order to get things sorted out. Narrow felt the 26% tax increase would hurt the lower and middle class families. He said hiring more full-time police officers is nice, but the City cannot afford it at this time. He felt the hiring of part-time police officers was a good idea. He said a better distribution of the police officers in the area may help alleviate some of the problems. Narrow said closing down the BYOB establishments would have a negative impact on the local economy. Mundie said Council does not want to close them down. They just need to be better regulated.

Alanna Supon agreed with Mope on several matters. She said the people next to her home have a car hood lying in the garden, and some of their fencing is torn down. She said her parents called the City but nothing was ever done about it. Supon felt the 26% tax increase was a bad idea.

Comments from Council:  Bast said most of the cameras on the playground do not work. It was part of the old system and there was an issue with the person who was responsible for them. He stated that the new system will be up and running on December 1, 2014. Bast said he does not see how the pay-by-cell parking would be a bad thing for the City. There would still be meters, and this would be just another option. The prices would be the same. Bast said the City would be zoned, and if you need to move your car to another area in the same zone, it does not cost any extra money. He added that you do not have to go out and keep “plugging” the meters because it can all be done from your smartphone. He felt this would bring in more revenue to the City. Bast said he was against it in the beginning, but, after having researched it, he changed his mind. He stated he is concerned that Council is tabling a lot of things and then letting them die. He asked Council to instead remove them from the table on vote on them instead of just letting them die. He felt that the use of part-time police officers was a good idea. Bast said he cannot see a 26% tax increase, and felt it would probably be more. He stated the hiring of 10 full-time police officers at this time is not an option. He felt hiring part-time officers was a good idea, but it will still create an increase in taxes. He thanked everyone for coming.

Cusat said he originally did not like the Pango pay-by-cell parking option, but after going through the contract and doing some research, he changed his mind. He asked Wech about the property at 520-522 Poplar Street. Wech responded everything is currently on hold, but the issues are being addressed. Cusat was concerned with the budget timeline. He asked if Council could hold a work session to discuss the budget on November 10, 2014, and then have first reading on November 18, 2014. Mope felt it would be better to have the final audit first before proceeding with the budget. Cusat was concerned with the 20-day time frame. Mundie agreed to have a work session on Monday, November 10, 2014 at 6:00 p.m. Cusat said he would like to add a special meeting immediately after the November 10, 2014 work session to vote on the parking garage lease with DHD Realty. Mundie was agreeable to that as well. Bast asked Council to consider changing the December 16, 2014 meeting, because he will be getting surgery that day. Cusat asked the City Clerk to send a memo to the Mayor about the work session and special meeting.

Mope said that in 2006 she brought up the issue of using constables to help out the police department. If that would have gone through, we could have had their help this whole time. Mope commented on the out-of-state landlords in Hazleton, and said some of them are not keeping their rental properties up to code. She said there are unkempt properties, stabbings and shootings by her home too, so she understands everyone’s concerns. Mope said she received a phone call prior to the meeting about the Mayor’s proposed tax increase. The elderly and disabled, as well as young couples just starting out, will be hurt by increased taxes. Mope said we need more police, but we need to find other ways of paying for them. She said she looked over the Pango agreement, and some areas where Pango would be used did not have designated parking spaces. This is unfair because public parking should be open to everyone, and not just someone with a smartphone. She thanked Junior Council for their comments. She state the youth of this area see things from a different perspective, and it is good to have their input. Mope asked Junior Council to take this experience with them in life. She told them they are free to contact any Council member at any time. Mope thanked the public for their comments and for attending the meeting. She hoped Council and the Administration could come to a compromise regarding the budget. She thanked everyone for their words of encouragement and said Council is doing its best. She stated that things are being tabled because we are not given enough information to make a decision one way or the other. She stated that she will not vote on something unless she is fully informed.

Sosar said the proposed 26% tax increase is going to be more like 30%. He stated that there are issues with the storm water fee that need to be addressed. The senior citizens are only getting a 1.2% increase next year, and the Mayor is giving people with higher salaries a 3% increase. He said he received a lot of phone calls about this. Sosar stated that we need to start living within our means. He stated that Council is ready to sit down with the Mayor and Tom Pribula to discuss the budget. He thanked everyone for coming.

Mundie said Council met in executive session prior to tonight’s meeting to discuss litigation matters. He said one of the problems he had with Pango was that the Mayor can put it wherever he wants to. He said that some of the places have no meters, and you would have to use the app to park there. Mundie felt this was not fair, and people need to have a choice. Mundie said he got a call from the Legal Advisor today, he said Council won its lawsuit against the Mayor. If the Mayor does not abide by the decision, Council can file a mandamus. He hoped the Mayor would do the right thing. Mundie said the Mayor presents the budget to Council, Council handles the line items, and the Mayor follows the budget. That is how the law works. He stated there is no 26% tax increase in Council’s budget. Mundie said that according to the City’s agreement with the HCA, we can take 80% of the profits of the business with them. He commented that the host of the television program who chastised Sosar was wrong. Mundie felt the petition to ask the Mayor to resign was a good idea because the Mayor and the Solicitor never come to the meetings. He said Council is fighting the Mayor because we are for the taxpayers. The people want Council to continue fighting for them. Mundie said Council is trying to do what is right for Hazleton, and this ruling is good for the City. He said he would like the Mayor to sit down with Council and discuss this matter further.

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