2016-01-13 Council Minutes

Call to Order:  Council met in special session on Wednesday, January 13, 2016 in Council Chambers. The meeting was called to order at 7:00 pm.
Silent Meditation and Pledge of Allegiance:  A silent moment was taken followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.
Roll Call:  Cuozzo-present; Gavio-present; Mope-present; Sosar-present; Mundie-present
Courtesy of the Floor:  Sylvia Thomas, 823 North Church Street, Hazleton commented on the crime, dilapidated houses, and low paying jobs in the City. She gave examples of the recent criminal activity in her neighborhood. She feels these things are not being taken seriously. Thomas said in order for people to feel safer, a small tax increase will be needed to hire more police officers. She asked Council to use former Mayor Joe Yannuzzi’s budget, which included a tax increase to hire more police officers.
Mark Rabo, 8 West 1st Street, Hazleton stated taxes have increased 120% since 2012. The City cannot continue to increase taxes. He spoke about the large amount of blighted properties in Hazleton. He stated that blight causes crime. Rabo suggested the City institute a vacancy and foreclosure fee on these vacant properties. Most of them are foreclosed properties and owned by banks. He said the City needs to look into alternate sources of revenue. He stated the City needs a business advocate to work for it and bring business into town. He added that the Chamber of Commerce should be promoting Hazleton.
Jerry Speziale, Interim Police Chief, said there were a lot of vacant properties in Paterson, N.J. Taxes were increased and re-evaluations were done, and, after 10 years, there is now a large decrease in crime and they were able to hire more police officers. He said as long as he gets the tools to the job, he will guarantee a safer city.
Business at Hand:
Resolution 2016-9 A Resolution Reconsidering and Overriding the Mayor’s Veto of Budget Ordinance 2015-30 Providing for the Appropriation of Specific Amounts Estimated as Required for the Various Departments of the Government of the City of Hazleton, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania for and during the Fiscal Year, Dating from January 1, 2016 and Ending December 31, 2016
Presented by Sosar. Seconded by Mundie.
On the Question:
Atty. Sean Logsdon, City Solicitor, said Council has the legal authority to override the Mayor’s vote, and by doing so, the amended budget will then be in force. Mundie said the budget can be amended up to February 15, 2016. Logsdon said either Council or the Mayor can amend the budget. If the budget is not amended, it reverts back to Council’s budget. Mope asked if the override can be vetoed by the Mayor, and Logsdon responded no. If the resolution passes, Council’s budget will become the 2016 budget. He referred to Sections 3017 and 3018 of the Home Rule Charter and Option Plan regarding this matter. Once the override is passed, the budget can be submitted to the Mayor and he can amend it. The Home Rule Charter is used first and then the Third Class City Code. If amended, it would need to be advertised again with a 10-day period between publication and second and third readings. Mope questioned the amount of votes needed to pass an amendment to the budget. Logsdon said a decrease to a line item requires a majority votes, and if increased, it requires a super majority (majority plus one). Mope asked what happens if they vote not to override this veto. Logsdon replied it goes back to the budget presented by Mayor Yannuzzi in November of 2015. Sosar said he believes this is a workable budget. He is concerned with the welfare of the people of Hazleton and the high taxes. Pribula said we need predictable recurring revenue. He will never stop looking for other ways to generate revenue. Pribula felt Council’s budget was based on things that may not happen. He said taxes can be cut, but you have to have other revenue in place to pay the bills and make up the difference. He added that he is adamant about getting the delinquent monies owed to us. He commented that Pittston has a $5 million budget and they have their millage set at 6.85. He stated that things like this should be done incrementally and not all at once. Eighty percent of costs are for City workers (payroll, taxes and benefits). Council’s budget requires manpower reductions and no additional police officers. Pribula stated 68% of the budget is for police and fire. Mope said many departments within the City are suffering, and things need to be balanced across the board. Gavio felt Mayor’s Yannuzzi’s budget was not excessive. It would have cost a homeowner $9.00 extra for a $100,000 home. He said Mayor Cusat’s proposal is very fair and reasonable. This increase will create more police and more coverage in the departments of the City. Gavio said the City has minimal staffing and no more manpower can be cut. If cut any further, we will no longer be able to provide services to the residents. Gavio stated we need to cut crime in the City in order to attract more businesses and more people. There is a perception that downtown Hazleton is unsafe. The proposed small increase will give us four more police officers. Cuozzo asked about the use of 12-hour shifts in the police department. Interim Police Chief Jerry Speziale said they met with the union and they approved the 12-hour shifts. Jason Zola, Union President, said they will try out 12-hour shifts for six months. Mundie said Council put money aside last year to hire 10 to 15 part-time police officers, but the FOP did not want that. Zola said the PEL report stated that we need more police officers, and there were 40 at that time. Mope said the use of part-time police officers in Paterson, New Jersey is working out well for the police department. Zola said the police are doing more work than ever with only 37 police officers. Cuozzo asked Zola to go to the union and ask them about the cost-of-living increase and then come back to Council. Zola said he would not do that unless they are guaranteed the hiring of more police officers. He added that Speziale said we need more police officers. We need to make the City safe so that businesses and people will move in. An increase in the EIT will not affect senior citizens. It only affects working people. The City is different than it was 10 years ago. If policed properly, things will eventually fall in line. Speziale said one officer for every 1,000 people is unreasonable. Sosar said the FOP needs to work with us. If the police take a pay cut, we can afford to hire more officers. Sosar said we need more businesses and good paying jobs in Hazleton. Zola said he is willing to sit down with Council and go over the last 10 years of contracts to show them what they gave up. Sosar said asking the police to only pay $5.00 per pay towards their healthcare is unreasonable. He commented no one expects to get wealthy in these jobs as public servants. Speziale said he currently pays $28,000 in property taxes in Paterson, but the town is completely safe. He asked that Council give them the necessary tools to do its job. Everyone wants their homes and neighborhoods to be safer. Speziale stated he is willing to pay for a poll in order to talk to every resident of the City of Hazleton and get their input on this matter. Gavio was concerned that people will move to the outskirts of the City where it is safer. We need to pay for services, therefore, we need a small tax increase. Mope said all of the police should be living in town, so they are contributing to the taxes. Pribula said we need the property tax rates by January 22, 2016 in order to send out tax bills on February 1, 2015. Sosar asked the Mayor if he is “advocating” a property and earned income tax increase. The Mayor responded he will do what he needs to do to make the people feel safe. He will take responsibility for the tax increase. He will put the six police officers currently taking the civil service test on the streets, and every name will be presented to Council for approval, if he gets these two increases. Pribula said with more police officers, the pension will be going up. We took a 75% distressed pension payment several years ago. There is currently extra money in a dedicated account and it will be available next year to make up for the pension shortfall. Pribula said he does not anticipate Act 205 going up exponentially next year. Speziale said the increase of six more police officers plus the use of 12-hour shifts will increase the number of police cars on the streets to seven or eight. This will make the City safer and increase revenue. He stated he will resign if it all fails. Mundie commented on the number of vacant properties in Hazleton. Sosar stated 80% of the blighted properties can be rectified by just sending a letter. Sosar stated that we need to be more business friendly and get the word out. Mayor Cusat said he met with a lot of the smaller businesses about their safety concerns. Sosar said we need more code enforcement officers. There is land through the Water Authority that we need to look into selling. We are also hoping for the LSA grants. Mayor Cusat said we cannot count on grants or land sales. Mope said the C.O.P.S. grant can be used to hire more full-time police officers. Gavio stated he believes the Mayor’s proposal is reasonable to taxpayers. Sosar stated that Council is trying to work with the Mayor and Administration, but there needs to be compromise on both sides. Mundie said in 2007, reassessment prices were higher for homes. People are now selling their homes for half of their assessed value. Some people are paying more in taxes than their house is worth. Cuozzo asked the Mayor to go over his suggestions for the budget because she felt there were some errors made.
Roll Call:  Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-yes; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes
Adjournment:  Mundie motioned to adjourn the special meeting with Mope seconding the motion. Meeting adjourned.

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