2016-02-15 Council Minutes

MINUTES
HAZLETON CITY COUNCIL
REGULAR MEETING
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 2016
 
Call to Order:  Council met in regular session on Monday, February 15, 2016 in Council Chambers. The meeting was called to order at 7:15 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
At this point, Mundie indicated an executive session was held prior to the meeting to discuss the Hazleton Regional Airport.
Minutes of Previous Meetings:  The minutes of the December 29, 2015 Regular Meeting and January 4, 2016 Inauguration/Regular Meeting were approved unanimously.
Proclamations/Communications:  None.
At this point, Sosar made a motion to suspend the rules to go off the agenda, and Cuozzo seconded the motion.
Motion to Suspend the Rules:
Presented by Sosar. Seconded by Cuozzo.
Roll Call (Motion to Suspend the Rules):  Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-yes; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes
MOTION TO SUSPEND THE RULES TO GO OFF OF THE AGENDA PASSES UNANIMOUSLY
Off the Agenda:
Sosar questions the $500,000 taken out of the Pension Fund and deposited into the General Fund. He asked Mayor Cusat who he spoke to at the Pension Board regarding this matter, and Mayor Cusat responded James McAnney(?). Sosar asked if this money was used to pay for employee salaries and operating expenses. Mayor Cusat said the money was used as a Tax and Revenue Anticipation Note (TRAN) would have been used. This money was moved to the General Fund until the end of January 2016. Sosar asked what the interest rate is and Mayor Cusat said 0.02% or 0.03%, but we are paying it to ourselves. A TRAN would have cost us 3% in interest plus closing costs. Mayor Cusat said all of this transpired before he took office. Sosar asked if this is the first time the Mayor was aware of this money been taken out of the pension fund. Cusat said he did not know; it may have been taken out in previous years. He added that there was $261,000 in unpaid bills when he took office. He was hoping to have most of the property taxes paid as soon as possible to avoid taking out a TRAN or borrowing money from the pension fund. Sosar asked if the Mayor could ask Pribula if this was ever done before. Cuozzo said she spoke with former City Administrator Steve Hahn and it was not done by him while he was here. Mayor Cusat said the Auditor General stated we could access Act 205 funds during the first 30 days of the year. He added that there is $1 million in excess in the pension fund. Sosar said Hazleton is number 11 on the distressed pension list. He added that the people of Hazleton are being overcharged if there is extra money sitting in the pension fund. He asked why we are “sitting on employee pension money.” Council was under the impression that we cannot pay into the pension, but we are now finding out there is extra money in the account. Mayor Cusat said Council was made aware of this six weeks ago. This will be used next year. He said the money was transferred to the General Fund to pay bills and salaries, and it was expended the first week he was in office. Sosar said there is no such thing as an executive order and asked about the one sent to them by the Mayor. Mayor Cusat stated this should have been a memo not an executive order. We no longer have a health officer and a body needed to be transported to the Dominican Republic. Someone needed to sign off on this to indicate the body was free of infectious diseases. Sosar asked why the City Administrator is being paid out of the General Fund if he has not been officially hired yet. He must be approved by Council first. Attorney Sean Logsdon said this matter would need to be discussed in executive session, and these questions would need to be answered by the City’s labor counsel. Logsdon said the Third Class City Code does not address the term “acting” or any terms of employment. Logsdon responded that Council may have to write legislation regarding this matter. Sosar questioned whether or not the Mayor’s administration is legal because they have not yet been brought to Council for approval. Cuozzo said Ordinances 88-1 and 88-2 state that appointments are supposed to be put before Council for approval. Sosar said he wants to know the salaries, benefits, etc., of the appointees in Mayor Cusat’s administration. Logsdon said the Optional Plan and City ordinances are lacking definitions and procedures on appointments made by the Mayor. Mayor Cusat asked if the person appointed is not approved by Council, does it revert back to the individual who last filled the position. Logsdon responded yes. Sosar said Council and the Mayor need to work together on making these appointments, so that the right people are chosen. If Council does not approve the person the Mayor put before them, he needs to put another candidate up for a vote. Cuozzo questioned how this would affect the errors and omissions insurance. The Mayor responded everyone sitting behind him is an employee of the City, and, therefore, would be covered. Sosar stated that he was under the impression that the $1 million raised from an increase in the real estate and earned income taxes was for hiring 10 police officers. Instead, $500,000 had to fill a hole in the pension fund, therefore, we would only be able to hire five police officers. Mayor Cusat said that is incorrect. Five hundred thousand filled the hole in the pension fund, but the rest would be for hiring 10 more police officers, not five. There are currently five potential police officers, who are four months into the hiring process so far. Sosar spoke about a person living in a home in Hazleton for less than one year, who received a notice regarding the foreclosure of his house. He did not have a chance to pay the taxes on it yet, and should not be receiving this type of notice. He asked why this was sent to him. Mayor Cusat responded that this is not a City issue and he knows of no such thing regarding City taxes. It is probably from the county. This usually happens when taxes have been gone unpaid for two years. He said he would contact Berkheimer and Northeast Revenue and see what is going on. Mundie said the budget is Council’s job and the $1 million loan from the pension fund should have come before Council first. Mayor Cusat said this was brought to Council’s attention last year by Joe Yannuzzi and Tom Pribula. Cuozzo said the unions should have also been contacted about the loan. She suggested acquiring a credit line specifically to be used for new hires. The Authorities have them so it should not be an issue. The Mayor said the general fund was short $261,000 when he took office, and money was needed immediately to pay the bills, salaries, etc. Cuozzo said according to the audit, there was extra money in the fund. At this point, Mundie suggested going back on the agenda. Sosar made a motion to go back on the agenda, and Cuozzo seconded the motion.
Motion to Go Back on the Agenda:
Presented by Sosar. Seconded by Cuozzo.
Roll Call (Motion to Go Back on the Agenda):  Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-yes; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes
MOTION TO GO BACK ON THE AGENDA PASSES UNANIMOUSLY
Courtesy of the Floor:  Sylvia Thomas, 823 North Church Street, Hazleton said the police are now facing hardened criminals every day. The government needs to keep its people safe. She is afraid for the children of the community. She gave several examples of recent criminal activity. Thomas felt the police should not have to give up some of their salary or work 12-hour shifts in order to hire more police officers. She also felt all police officers should be living in Hazleton, so they know what is going on in their community. She suggested Council consider giving up their salary.
Renee Meyers, no address given, said she has a W2 for her husband who is a 10-year veteran of the police force, and his gross earnings with overtime were $66,000 for the year. She felt Council was grossly misinforming the public. She said there is a salary difference between patrolmen and detectives, and Council owes the City’s patrolmen an apology. Meyers said patrolmen are first on the scene and usually do not have any backup when they arrive.
John Leonard, 107 North Franklin Street, Hazleton said he is against the residency requirement for all employees. He said living within 10 miles of the City is a reasonable. He suggested offering people an incentive for moving to the City. He said when he was employed as a City police officer, his home was shot at, he was threatened, and he received death threats. Someone should not have to live in fear because of their chosen career.
Edwin (last name was inaudible during meeting and on recording), Hazleton said he has been a resident of Hazleton for 17 years. He has seen the City grow and the crime increase. He said he had to stop some drug deals near his home. Drugs come through here from larger cities. Drug dealers know where the cops are and where they are not. He asked Council to consider hiring more police officers. He said we need to do something while we still have the chance.
Nathan Lee, Hazleton said he was born and raised here, and also has a business here. Safety is the number one issue in Hazleton. Businesses will not come in if it is not safe. He said we need to find a way to hire more police officers and put them on the streets. Lee asked why Council cannot meet with the Mayor at some other time and go over these things prior to the meeting. Sosar responded that all five of them cannot meet at the same time because of the Sunshine Law. He added that the state legislature has tied the hands of the Mayor, Council and the City’s finances. Lee said it is nice to see the Mayor and his administration here at the meetings.
Maxwell (last name was inaudible during meeting and on recording), Hazleton spoke about various crimes in the City. He said the cops are overworked. When something happens, only one or two of them show up. He said people have no respect for the cops. He added that the community is growing and crime will continue to grow. The City needs to come up with a plan as soon as possible.
Mark Rabo, 8 West 1st Street, Hazleton said the state knew that third class cities would have these financial problems since 2003, and they did nothing about it. He said we need to come up with new sources of revenue. If not, the City will end up in Act 47.
Peter DeMarco, Hazleton talked about statements made by Sosar. He asked why these things have not been resolved. He said we need to start working together. DeMarco said Sosar spent most of the meeting so far defending himself. This should be about the people and not Council. He suggested Council talk to the Mayor two at a time so as not to violate the Sunshine Law.
Old 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 (2nd Reading)
**At this time, Attorney Sean Logsdon indicated that the Earned Income Tax rate is at the maximum, therefore, these amendments cannot be made to the budget.**
NO PRESENTATION MADE – ORDINANCE FAILS
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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 (2nd Reading)
NO PRESENTATION MADE – ORDINANCE FAILS
RESOLUTIONS
None.
New Business:
ORDINANCES
Ordinance 2016-6 Modifying Consolidated Plan for CDBG Program Year 2013 (1st Reading)
Presented by Cuozzo. Seconded by Mope.
On the Question:
Joe Zeller said there is $15,000 left over from the 2013 program year. This will be put towards Catholic Social Service’s homeless shelter, which will move around among the different churches in the community. Sosar asked how long they will be doing this, and Zeller said until the warmer weather comes. Nathan Less stated they are currently looking for a permanent place for the homeless shelter.
Roll Call:  Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-yes; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes
RESOLUTIONS
Resolution 2016-32 Authorizing the Director of Administration to Adjust Records – Refund of 2015 City Real Estate Taxes
Presented by Sosar. Seconded by Gavio.
Roll Call:  Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-yes; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes
RESOLUTION PASSES UNANIMOUSLY
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Resolution 2016-33 Residency Requirement for Employees of the City of Hazleton
Presented by Cuozzo. Seconded by Mope.
On the Question:
Sosar said we should look into this matter further before voting on this. Mundie asked if this legal. Logsdon responded that this needs to be rewritten as an ordinance. It needs to have the definition of residency in it. He said there is also an issue with the union contracts that needs to be addressed. He stated that there is an issue of this being imposed on some employees and not others. Cuozzo said this is for all employees and will only cover new hires. She said new hires should be residents or have six months to become one. Mope said we should have a written legal opinion on this matter. Mundie stated this is something that would need to be negotiated with the unions first. Mope made a motion to table the resolution, and Mundie seconded the motion.
Motion to Table:
Presented by Mope. Seconded by Mundie.
Roll Call (on Motion to Table):  Cuozzo-no; Gavio-yes; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes
MOTION TO TABLE PASSES 4-1
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Resolution 2016-34 A Resolution Authorizing the Transfer of Liquor License No. R-1047 and LID No. 68107 to Sazon Latino Restaurant Corporation for Premises Located at 58 North Wyoming Street, Hazleton, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania
Presented by Sosar. Seconded by Gavio.
Roll Call:  Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-yes; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes
RESOLUTION PASSES UNANIMOUSLY
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Resolution 2016-35 Approving a Business Building and Aircraft Space Lease Agreement and a Limited Commercial Operation Agreement between the City of Hazleton and BlackRock Aircraft Maintenance & Avionics, LLC, at the Hazleton Regional Airport
Presented by Mope. Seconded by Sosar.
On the Question:
Cuozzo asked if the wording was corrected in the Lease and Commercial Operation Agreements. Dominic Yannuzzi said he reviewed it with the owners and they are acceptable to the changes. Logsdon stated once this is accepted, it will not be coming back to Council.
Roll Call:  Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-yes; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes
RESOLUTION PASSES UNANIMOUSLY
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Resolution 2016-36 Approving an Option and Lease and Easement Agreement between the City of Hazleton and EC&R Solar Development Company, LLC at the Hazleton Regional Airport
Presented by Mope. Seconded by Gavio.
On the Question:
Mundie asked if Logsdon reviewed the Lease and Easement Agreement, and Logsdon said yes.
Roll Call:  Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-yes; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes
RESOLUTION PASSES UNANIMOUSLY
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Resolution 2016-37 Directing the City Solicitor to Research the Viability of Charging an Impact Fee on Materials and those Companies involved in the Reclamation of Mine Lands
Presented by Cuozzo. Seconded by Mope.
On the Question:
Cuozzo said this is a possible source of income for the City. She stated it is unfair to say Council is not doing anything. She did not know if this could be done or not. Mope said Council approached the prior Solicitor on about this last year, but never received a response. This will bring in money to be used for roadways and public safety. Mope said the former administration did not want to work with Council. She indicated that Council Members discusses things one-on-one by either phone or email on a regular basis.
Roll Call:  Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-yes; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes
RESOLUTION PASSES UNANIMOUSLY
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Resolution 2016-38 A Resolution Permitting the City of Hazleton to Revise the Local Share Account Grant Application on Behalf of the Pennsylvania Theatre of Performing Arts
Presented by Mope. Seconded by Cuozzo.
On the Question:
Cuozzo said she was under the impression this had to be completed by December 31, 2015. Mundie said the application is still pending. The original amount was incorrect. It is going to cost more than anticipated to make these upgrades.
Roll Call:  Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-yes; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes
RESOLUTION PASSES UNANIMOUSLY
Comments from the Audience:  Dominic Tolerico, Garfield Street, Hazleton questioned how a budget could be passed if there was a $500,000 hole in it. Sosar said at the beginning of the year, no taxes were coming in and nothing was collected yet. Usually a tax and revenue anticipation note is taken out because bills and salaries need to be paid. He said the tax money usually does not come in until March, at the earliest. He said the former Mayor left the City with a $261,000 hole to start off the year. Sosar said a big part of the problem was the fact that Mayor Yannuzzi did not come to the meetings. He also did not provide Council with any of the information needed to make informed decisions. Mundie stated we were going to increase the earned income tax in order to hire two or three more police officers, but we found out it was illegal to do that. Tolerico said City government is not telling people the truth. Sosar said we were unable to do anything because there was no cooperation from the former Mayor. Mope said Council just started working with the new Administration and she hoped things would change. She stated the former Mayor just continued to spend money without Council’s involvement. Tolerico said revenue is only coming from taxes and fees, and we have to find new recurring revenue sources. Mope was concerned that people are being taxed out of their homes. Gavio said the criminal element is taking over our town. If we have to raise taxes in order to make our residents safe, then that is what we have to do. He believes people would be willing to pay more taxes if they know what is being done with the money.
Mark Rabo, 8 West 1st Street, Hazleton said the City’s tax base is declining. If blight continues to increase, there will be no tax base and growth will be at zero. Gavio said more businesses would come in and more housing would become available if the City was safe. A police presence is needed to move the City forward. Rabo said there is a huge drug addiction problem in this area that needs to be addressed. This brings in gangs and gang activity. Cuozzo stated that we need to bring back officers working for the Drug Enforcement Agency. She asked how much money we are receiving. The Mayor said approximately $320,000 for both officers. They both already work in Hazleton. Gavio stated safety is the most important thing for the City’s residents. People are moving out of crime ridden areas and he does not want to see that happen to Hazleton. Rabo said the Chamber of Commerce and Can-Do should be promoting Hazleton. Mundie said Council put $100,000 in the budget last year to hire part-time police officers, but no one was ever hired. He said part-time police officers could do less important tasks, so full-time officers could focus on the more serious crime issues. He commented that no one came to Council meetings to ask for more police last year. He clarified that the police salaries read aloud at the last meeting included benefits, and it is not their take-home pay. In order to pay for more police officer, we either need to find a new source of recurring revenue or increase taxes. Mundie said he wanted to move forward on developing the Arthur Gardner Parkway, but it cannot be done because of mine fires. The Water Authority is dealing with this problem. He added that only low-paying jobs are coming into the area. Better paying jobs will bring in more people who will be willing to pay more taxes.
Todd Houseknecht, no address given, said he received a letter that his home is going up for Sheriff’s Sale, but he has only been living there for less than a year. Mayor Cusat told him to get in touch with him tomorrow, and he will call Northeast Revenue and see what is going on.
Comments from Mayor:  Mayor Cusat said the police tipline is up and running and has already enabled the police to solve a crime.
Joe Zeller, Interim Director of Community Development, said they are waiting for the final amount from HUD for this year. The ordinance was removed from the agenda in May 2015 because we were asked to wait for the final allocation before putting it up for approval.
Attorney Sean Logsdon, City Solicitor, said there is no need to pass resolutions in order to have the Solicitor do research for Council. Council just needs to ask.
Comments from Junior Council:  None.
Comments from Council:  Cuozzo said she would like a copy of the email regarding the loan from the pension fund. She also said she would like a copy of the minutes of the Pension Board approving this. Cuozzo asked about bringing Officer White back to the police force. Mayor Cusat responded Officer White is 100% funded. If he comes back, we would lose that funding and he would be one of the highest paid officers in Hazleton. She asked about the DEA officers, and the Mayor said we receive approximately $300,000 each year. Mayor Cusat stated the Pension Board has not had a meeting yet this year. Mundie said the last meeting was with Mayor Yannuzzi but no minutes were taken. Cuozzo asked for a copy of the Pension Fund Account. Mayor Cusat responded that she would need to talk to Pribula about that. Mundie said it is important that Council have access to Accufund.
Mope asked about the numerous tractor trailers traveling through the Heights. Mayor Cusat said they are coming from Multi-Plastics because the GPS directions are taking them through the Heights. We would need to dedicate a road and make an agreement with them, and then it will show up on the GPS. He talked to them last year about this. Mope said she has been talking to them for four years about this. This is in a school zone and the neighbors are complaining. She asked the Administration to look into this matter further.
Sosar thanked everyone for coming.
Adjournment:  Mundie motioned to adjourn the meeting with Mope seconding the motion. Meeting adjourned.
 
 

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