2016-02-02 Council Minutes

MINUTES
HAZLETON CITY COUNCIL
REGULAR MEETING
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 2, 20162016-
 
Call to Order:  Council met in regular session on Tuesday, February 2, 2016 in Council Chambers. The meeting was called to order at 7:30 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
 
Minutes of Previous Meetings:  The minutes of the November 24, 2015 and December 18, 2015 regular meetings were approved unanimously.
 
Proclamations/Communications:  None.
 
Courtesy of the Floor:  Sylvia Thomas, 823 North Church Street, Hazleton spoke about the high rate of crime and drug use in this area. She felt a small tax increase would not hurt anyone. She said the City needs more police officers.
 
Norman Tarantino, 154 North Lee Court, Hazleton felt raising the earned income tax would be fairer to everyone. He said the City needs to enforce its ordinances better and find other ways to make money.
 
John Keegan, 105 Ferrara Avenue, Hazleton said the City hit the maximum of 30 mills in 1977. He felt reducing costs would prevent the police from doing their job. He stated that Council was “complicit” in the tax increase because they did nothing to change it or come up with an alternative. By not increasing taxes, the City’s debt will continue to increase. Keegan said “crime is holding the City hostage,” and downtown businesses are suffering. He said, as a pharmacist, he knows there is a big problem with heroin use in this area. Council needs to keep its citizens safe by appropriations. He stated that the Pennsylvania Economy League predicted the City’s budget shortfall. He asked that Council pass the budget using the Mayor’s recommendations.
 
Amy Mendes, no address given, said crime is increasing and she wants a better environment for her children. She believes the City needs more police officers right now. She stated Hazleton is a small city with big city problems. She asked Council to approve a tax increase in order to hire more police officers.
 
John Leonard, 107 North Franklin Street, Hazleton said he is a retired Hazleton City first lieutenant. He said police officers put themselves in harm’s way in order to keep citizens safe. He asked Council to please consider Ordinances 2016-4 and 2016-5. Leonard said more money needs to be earmarked for the Police Department. He added that tax increases are a necessary evil.
 
Judy Yurcho, 984 North Locust Street, Hazleton said the City has drugs, low-paying jobs, and blighted properties. She is tired of having the tax increases on the back of homeowners. She felt the money that has been coming into the City has been mismanaged. She is not against hiring more police officers, but the money needs to be earmarked just for that purpose. Yurcho suggested creating a regional police force to eliminate some of the burden. She felt Interim Chief Speziale was doing a great job so far. She said the City needs to go after the absentee landlords. The residents need to come together as a community. She said if we lose the hospital, we will be losing a lot of revenue.
 
A gentleman who did not give his name said the City needs more police and needs them to patrol the streets more. He said the City needs to eliminate “waste” first.
 
Dave Minnick, West Hazleton, said he worked on and developed many crime watches. He said Hazleton needs more protection on the streets. The Hazleton Police Department is “beaten down.” They work hard and we need to give the police our 100% support.
Lorine Angelo Ogirkus, no address given, said she started Brandon’s Forever Home. She said many children are being abandoned by heroin addicted mothers in this area. Heroin is a very dangerous drug. She said “Hazleton is dying.” Ogirkus stated that the tax increase needs to be passed in order to hire more police officers.
 
Peter DeMarco, no address given, said he is working on restoring the former Jewish Community Center. He said the City needs more money and a better strategy to fight crime. He felt everyone should pay for more police protection and not just homeowners. DeMarco said we need to raise the quality of life in this community.
 
John Homa, Hazleton, said that Council tried to get information from former Mayor Joe Yannuzzi, but he did not cooperate and he would not work with Council.
 
Victor Perez, Dominican House, Hazleton, said he feels Council and Mayor Cusat have good intentions. He stated the Dominican House gives it support to Interim Chief Speziale. More money is needed to have more police coverage. He felt the police officers should be bilingual. Perez said everyone needs to get involved in the community. He asked Council and the Mayor to find a way to get more money, so the people of Hazleton may have a better quality of life.
 
Maximo Almanzar, no address given, said crime has risen because of the increase in drug use. Miscommunication is also a big issue. He has been in Hazleton for five years. He said the City needs to use the Hispanic television channel to get the word out to everyone. Almanzar said it is not the Hispanic community’s fault for the increase in crime in the City. He stated we all need to get to know one another better and learn from each other. Almanzar said you can have all of the cops you want, but nothing will change because of miscommunication. He felt Mayor Cusat has the drive to turn the City around.
 
John Zola, no address given, said he moved out of Hazleton two years ago because of the crime and blight. He sold his home at a loss. If the police department is not strong enough to combat the crime in Hazleton, property values are going to continue to drop. He said he owns a lot of properties and businesses in Hazleton and he is willing to pay extra taxes to make the City safer. He felt the City needs more than six new officers. He asked Council to support the tax increase.
 
Barry Postupak, Hazleton, said we are losing the City to the criminals. He said if the cops “hide in City Hall,” extra cops will not matter. He said he has not seen one police officer anywhere near his business in the last three days. Police officers need to be seen. He added that there should be more foot patrols throughout the City.
 
A gentleman that did not give his name said Hazleton is fortunate to have Speziale. Years ago, Paterson, New Jersey was really bad and he made it much better. He is willing to pull extra money out of his pocket to have a safer community for his family. He said the police need to be seen on the streets. He urged the Latino community to get involved. He believes the drug dealers are coming from New York and New Jersey. He felt the community should have access to City Hall and the Police Department 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
 
Joe Zola, Magistrate in the City of Hazleton, said Hazleton has one of the hardest working police departments in the state. The Administration needs to help the police and give them the tools they need to fight crime. He stated the police are in danger every day. It is not even safe in court anymore. Zola asked Council to give the City more police officers and equipment to fight crime.
 
Jerry Speziale, Interim Police Chief for the City of Hazleton, thanked everyone for their support and kind words. He said he has 35 years of experience. He said he used to patrol 42nd Street in New York City, and now it is showing some of the biggest Broadway shows. He said he watched the talented men and women of the Hazleton Police Department pull together during the latest shooting. Speziale said there will be no quality of life in Hazleton if it is unsafe and unprotected. He asked Council to give them the tools to make the City safe again.
 
Mark Rabo, 8 West 1st Street, Hazleton thanked Speziale and the Police Department with regard to the recent shooting incident in his neighborhood. He said part of the problem is the number of blighted and vacant buildings in Hazleton, as well as lower incomes and high foreclosure rates. He said these blighted buildings are sold to “slum lords and drug dealers” at Sheriff’s sales. Rabo said the City needs to look at the whole picture. We need to work with Luzerne County government and our state representatives. He asked Council and the Administration to explore other sources of revenue.
 
             
 
Old Business:
 
ORDINANCES
 
Ordinance 2016-1 An Ordinance Dissolving the City of Hazleton’s Beautification Committee (2nd Reading)
 
Presented by Cuozzo. Seconded by Mope.
 
Roll Call:  Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-yes; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes
 
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Ordinance 2016-1 An Ordinance Dissolving the City of Hazleton’s Beautification Committee (3rd Reading)
 
Presented by Cuozzo. Seconded by Mope.
 
Roll Call:  Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-yes; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes
 
ORDINANCE PASSES UNANIMOUSLY
 
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Ordinance 2016-2 An Ordinance Dissolving the City of Hazleton’s Blighted Building Committee (2nd Reading)
 
Presented by Gavio. Seconded by Sosar.
 
Roll Call:  Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-yes; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes
 
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Ordinance 2016-2 An Ordinance Dissolving the City of Hazleton’s Blighted Building Committee (3rd Reading)
 
Presented by Mope. Seconded by Sosar.
 
Roll Call:  Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-yes; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes
 
ORDINANCE PASSES UNANIMOUSLY
 
             
 


RESOLUTIONS
 
Resolution 2016-24 Appointment to Planning Commission – Charles McElwee, III (TABLED 1/19/16)
 
Mope made a motion to remove this Resolution from the table, and Mundie seconded the motion.
 
Motion to Remove from Table:
 
Presented by Mope. Seconded by Mundie.
 
Roll Call (on Motion to Remove from Table):  Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-yes; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes
 
MOTION TO REMOVE FROM TABLE PASSES UNANIMOUSLY
 
Presented by Mundie. Seconded by Mope.
 
On the Question:
 
Sosar asked if the Solicitor looked into if McElwee can serve on the Planning Commission even though he does not live in the City. Atty. Logsdon said there is a residency requirement for the Planning Commission, therefore, he cannot serve on it. Mope suggested keeping him on as a consultant. Logsdon said there is nothing in the law that says this cannot be done. Sosar said McElwee has a lot of skills and expertise in this field and he would be very valuable to the City. Mayor Cusat stated he will be using McElwee’s expertise in other ways.
 
Roll Call:  Cuozzo-no; Gavio-yes; Mope-no; Sosar-no; Mundie-no
 
RESOLUTION FAILS 4-1
 
           
 
New Business:
 
ORDINANCES
 
Ordinance 2016-3 Amending 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 (1st Reading)
 
Presented by Gavio. Seconded by Mundie.
 
On the Question:
 
Gavio said he put this Ordinance on the agenda to give the Mayor and the Police the tools to fight the City’s crime problem. He asked the Solicitor if these changes are legal. Atty. Logsdon said with regard to the earning income tax (EIT), there are two laws “at play,” the Tax Enabling Act and Act 205. They both max out the amount for EIT at 1%. According to Act 205, Section 608F regarding taxing authority, a municipality may increase the earned income tax, but the proceeds have to go toward the pension. Currently the EIT is 0.5% and Act 205 is 0.85%. Sosar said he spoke to DCED about this and was told 0.5% goes to the City and 0.5% goes to the school district. He also spoke to the Pennsylvania Economy League. He said the pension is currently funded at 75%. Each police officer costs $30,000 a year in pension benefits, and this will not change. Sosar stated he was told by DCED that if this is to be used to hire more police officers, it would be illegal. This rests with the legislatures in the state. Logsdon said 1% is the maximum charged in accordance with the Local Tax Enabling Act. He said if the numbers are correct, Act 205 is at 0.85% and the EIT is at 0.5%. These are two separate taxes; therefore, the EIT can be increased. Anything over 1% goes to Act 205. Cuozzo stated the EIT is already at the maximum rate and it cannot be increased. Mayor Cusat said the school district is already getting 1% and we are getting 0.5%. We are also getting 0.85% for Act 205. Logsdon said the maximum EIT is 1%. Pribula stated “statutorily” the EIT can go up from 0.85% up to any amount we want. The amount charged is unlimited if it is used for the distressed pension plan. This is specifically for Act 205 only. Pribula said the way the Ordinance is worded is “convoluted and misleading.” Logsdon said Ordinance 2015-32 states the EIT is at the maximum rate. The wording would need to be amended. Mayor Cusat said this Ordinance has been voted on with this language for the last 10 years or more. Cuozzo made a motion to table this Ordinance, but there was no second.
 
Motion to Table:
 
Presented by Cuozzo. No Second.
 
MOTION TO TABLE FAILS DUE TO LACK OF SECOND
 
Back on the Question:
 
Mope stated that a lot of things are being said by the public and media that are untrue. Mayor Yannuzzi vetoed the taxing ordinances, but the legal opinion is that his vetoes are illegal because they did not include his signature, there were no dates, and there were no explanations for the vetoes. Mundie said we cannot vote on the budget amendments until we receive an official legal opinion from the Solicitor. Mayor Cusat said this Ordinance needs to pass first reading tonight in order to be able to be passed by February 15, 2016. If it is wrong, Council could fail it on second and third readings. Sosar said he wants a legal opinion and he wants to talk to the Local Government Commission, DCED and PEL. These are the three entities he trusts. Mope said there is a possibility of a one mill tax increase next year because salaries and health care is going up. She said Council asked for some “give and take” from the Police Department, such as 12-hour shifts and no cost-of-living raise this year. If they agree to this, one or two more police officers could be hired. Cuozzo asked how much is currently in the EIT account. Pribula responded approximately $1 million, which will accrue nominal interest. He said if the hospital leaves Hazleton, we will lose a lot of money. If we hire more police, more businesses will come into the City. Mundie asked if the real estate tax bills went out yet. Mayor Cusat said yes. Mundie suggested adding two or three more police officers instead of six. Mundie asked what will happen if this Ordinance does not pass, and Mayor Cusat responded “we will live with the budget passed on December 29, 2015.” He added that he will be trying to raise money for more police officers all year long. Mundie said with two or three more police officers, the EIT would be increased by 0.21%. Pribula said if we rebill the real estate taxes, the net increase would be about $80,000. He felt this would confuse people, especially the senior citizens. He suggested doing it next year instead. Mope said we will need a tax increase no matter what if we hire more police. Sosar said when the police union and the Mayor negotiate the contract, there should always be a give and take. Mundie felt hiring part-time police officers would solve this problem. Cuozzo said she would like to get input from the auditors to see if the numbers are correct before proceeding. Mundie made a motion to amend the Ordinance by increasing the EIT rate to 0.71% and returning the real estate taxes back to the original amount. Cuozzo seconded the motion.
 
Motion to Amend:
 
Presented by Mundie. Seconded by Cuozzo.
 
Roll Call (on Motion to Amend):  Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-no; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes
 
MOTION TO AMEND PASSES 4-1
 
Roll Call (as amended):  Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-no; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes
 
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Ordinance 2016-4 An Ordinance Amending Ordinance 2015-32 Imposing the Real Estate Tax, Earned Income Tax, Per Capita Tax, and Resident Tax for the Period January 1, 2016 through December 31, 2016 (1st Reading)
 
Presented by Mundie. Seconded by Sosar.
 
On the Question:
 
Mundie made a motion to amend the Ordinance as follows: (1) change 1.60% to 1.56%; (2) remove the word “maximum” in the fourth line down in the second paragraph; and (3) change 0.60% to 0.56%. Mope seconded the motion.
 
Motion to Amend:
 
Presented by Mundie. Seconded by Sosar.
 
Roll Call (on Motion to Amend):  Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-no; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes
 
MOTION TO AMEND PASSES 4-1
 
Roll Call (as amended):  Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-no; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes
 
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Ordinance 2016-5 Amending Ordinance 2015-34 Fixing the Tax Rate of Real Estate Located in the City of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, for All City Purposes for the Fiscal Year 2016, Beginning January 1, 2016 and Ending December 31, 2016 (1st Reading)
 
NO PRESENTATION MADE – ORDINANCE FAILS
 
             
 
RESOLUTIONS
 
Resolution 2016-27 A Resolution Reconsidering and Overriding the Mayor’s Veto of Ordinance 2015-31 Amending Ordinances 1878, 1932, 88-52, and 2004-38, 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
 
NO PRESENTATION MADE – RESOLUTION FAILS
 
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Resolution 2016-28 A Resolution Reconsidering and Overriding the Mayor’s Veto of Ordinance 2015-32 Re-Enacting Ordinances 1931, 1932, and 1933, which Continue in Force and Effect for the Period January 1, 2016 through December 31, 2016, Imposing the Real Estate Tax, Earned Income Tax, Per Capita Tax, and Resident Tax, Respectively
 
NO PRESENTATION MADE – RESOLUTION FAILS
 
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Resolution 2016-29 Council Meeting Schedule for the Year 2016
 
Presented by Mope. Seconded by Gavio.
 
On the Question:
 
Cuozzo made a motion to amend as follows:
 
(1) Change February 16, 2016 meeting to February 15, 2016;
(2) Add a meeting on November 8, 2016 for budget purposes; and
(3) Add a meeting on December 20, 2016.
 
Mundie seconded the motion.
 
Motion to Amend:
 
Presented by Cuozzo. Seconded by Mundie.
 
Roll Call (on Motion to Amend):  Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-yes; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes
 
MOTION TO AMEND PASSES UNANIMOUSLY
 
Roll Call (as amended):  Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-yes; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes
 
RESOLUTION PASSES UNANIMOUSLY AS AMENDED
 
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Resolution 2016-30 Authorizing Mayor Jeff Cusat and Tom Pribula, Acting Director of Administration, as Signers on the City of Hazleton’s Accounts with First National Community Bank (FNCB)
 
Presented by Gavio. Seconded by Mundie.
 
Roll Call:  Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-yes; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes
 
RESOLUTION PASSES UNANIMOUSLY
 
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Resolution 2016-31 Approving Hangar Lease Agreement Amendment between the City of Hazleton and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania at the Hazleton Regional Airport
 
Presented by Mope. Seconded by Mundie.
 
On the Question:
 
Mundie announced that an executive session was held prior to the meeting to discuss this matter.
 
Roll Call:  Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-yes; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes
 
RESOLUTION PASSES UNANIMOUSLY
 
           
 
Comments from the Audience:  Mark Rabo, 8 West 1st Street, Hazleton thanked everyone for coming to the meeting. He said if more police officers are hired, there needs to be a way to find the money to keep them. He said City officials need to come up with ideas for more revenue that will not increase taxes.
John Homa, Hazleton said he expects honesty, integrity and respect from all City officials.
 
Comments from Mayor:  Mayor Cusat thanked everyone for their input. He commended the Police Department on the recent shooting incident and the capture of the shooter. He said he is working with a great bunch of people.
 
Comments from Junior Council:  Josh Narrow said the youths in Hazleton are enthusiastic and want to stay in the City.
 
Jacob Oressie said he was recently in a competition in Gettysburg and the people he was with had a bad perception of Hazleton with regard to crime. He said that everyone needs to get along in order to move the City forward.
 
Comments from Council:  Cuozzo asked who authorized the increase in the meter parking fees and the change in the times. Mayor Cusat said it was voted on by Council last year. The meters have recently been recalibrated. He will get a resolution to Council regarding the time change for meters to 7:00 am to 7:00 pm. Mope said the public needs to be informed of these changes as soon as possible. Cuozzo asked when Mayor Cusat will be bringing his Directors before Council for approval. The Mayor said he will work on it for the next meeting. Cuozzo said she wants to make sure the EIT increase will go towards hiring more police officers only. She asked if there are any on the Civil Service list, and Mayor Cusat said there are six potential candidates on the list and they are in the process of conducting background checks on these individuals.
 
Gavio said it is a shame that our town’s perception is that it is crime ridden. This needs to change. He stated revenue needs to come from everyone and not just taxpayers and businesses.
 
Sosar said he is concerned about what is and is not being done legally. He stated he would like to see Mayor Cusat’s administrative structure as soon as possible. He would like the Directors’ salaries, responsibilities, etc. He thanked everyone for coming. Sosar commented that we all need to work together to see results. Council is not anti-police. He said we cannot continue to place the entire burden on the City taxpayers. The average person in Hazleton is earning between $20,000 and $30,000 per year, and cannot afford more taxes. He said we all need to live within our means.
 
Mope said she wants more police for Hazleton. She said people from out of the area have a bad perception about Hazleton. She stated Hazleton is primarily a senior citizen community and some seniors are unable to pay their bills the way it is. Putting more taxes on them would be a bigger burden. She does not want to keep hitting the taxpayers for more money. She said she wished there was always a big turnout like there was tonight, and not just when it concerns taxes. All City business is important. Mope said our tax base is deteriorating. Every person who leaves the City increases the burden on the remaining citizens. She felt all employees of the City should live in Hazleton, especially police officers. She felt it would be safer if there was always a police presence in the community. She said people who take from the City should also have to give back to City. Mope commented that the police need to give more if they want more officers.
 
Mundie said he wanted to hire part-time police officers. He said we need to negotiate with the police to help us. He suggested putting Water Authority land up for sale. He also suggested implementing the Doors and Windows Ordinance like the ones in Allentown and York. He said he will do what is right for the citizens of Hazleton. He thanked everyone for coming.
 
Adjournment:  Mundie motioned to adjourn the meeting with Mope seconding the motion. Meeting adjourned.
 

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