2017-12-05 Council Minutes

MINUTES

HAZLETON CITY COUNCIL

REGULAR MEETING

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 5, 2017

Call to Order:  Council met in regular session on Tuesday, December 5, 2017 in Council Chambers. The meeting was called to order at 6:00 pm.

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

Roll Call:  Cuozzo-present; Gavio-absent; Mope-present; Sosar-present; Mundie-present

Minutes of Previous Meetings: The minutes of the November 14, 2017 Regular Meeting were approved unanimously.

Presentations/Proclamations/Communications: None           

AT THIS TIME, PRESIDENT JACK MUNDIE MADE A MOTION TO SUSPEND THE RULES AND DISCUSS THE CITY OF HAZLETON’S 2018 BUDGET.

Presented – Mundie.  Seconded – Mope.

Roll Call:  Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-absent; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes.

Mundie asked Atty. Sean Logsdon if council needs to review the total expenditures and revenue or line items in the 2018 City of Hazleton’s amended budget.  Atty. Logsdon said council needs to present it as council’s 2018 amended budget and pass it.  Mayor Cusat said council needs to amend the mayor’s budget to council’s budget.

Mundie made a motion to amend Mayor Cusat’s 2018 proposed budget. 

Presented – Mope.  Seconded – Sosar.

On the Question:

Mundie said he will read the total revenue and expenditures.  Mundie said council’s General Fund Revenue is $9,425,176. Mayor Cusat’s General Fund Revenue is $10,499,525.  Mundie said council’s Expenses are $9,425,176 and Mayor Cusat’s Expenses are $10,464.525.     

The Proposed 2018 City of Hazleton budget figures for Total Real Estate taxes- Mayor Cusat’s- $3,245,220.  Council’s- $3,587,244.  Total Recreation Fund -Mayor Cusat’s - $96,030.  Council’s- $91,230.  Total Debt Service Fund- Mayor Cusat’s- $1,226,909.  Council’s- $1,169,840.  

Mundie said with the new city council members for 2018, they will be able to change and come up with their own budget for the city.  He said Mayor Cusat included two new employees in the 2018 budget and raises for employees.  Mundie said representatives from PEL will make their own recommendations for the budget.  He said if the new council members do pass the budget then Mayor Cusat needs to present the line items to council for transfers.  Mope said the new council members can also override this budget and make a new budget.  Mundie said, in council’s 2018 budget, he included MRS’s $700,000 money (net) from Mr. Geronimo.  He said, in the previous year, the city would have received $536,000 from MRS.  Mundie said if the city would have had the $536,000 and the money from the advanced sale of the water department, the city would not be in ACT 47. He said the city would currently not be in a deficit.  Mope said money that came in increments also caused a problem with the city’s budget in payroll.  Mope said if Mayor Cusat agreed receiving MRS’s money, this would have been money up-front. 

Sosar said he spoke with Mr. Geronimo from MRS several times.  He said Mr. Geronimo’s numbers are accurate.  He said if the city does not take this money, the city is throwing away hundreds of thousands of dollars. Sosar said the new council members need to consider this.  Mope said the new council members need to make their own decisions.  Cuozzo said this budget is a hybrid of the 2017 budget.  She said the city does not go into ACT 47 with employee raises and new hirings without some thought.  She said the city’s money is spent unwisely. She said taxes cannot be raised anymore. She suggested city administration consider payroll freezes across-the-board.  She said, back in 2002, the police department took a payroll freeze.  Police Lieutenant Ken Zipovsky said there were two contract negotiations.  He said in 2012, the pension contributions were increased to 2%.  He said several times the police department received no pay increases.  Cuozzo said selling the Sewer and Water Authorities would not be advantageous.  Cuozzo suggested meeting with union officials to keep the “status quo” and ask for a pay freeze. She said the city’s residents cannot afford a tax increase or maintain their properties. She said every department needs to work together, i.e., mayor, council members, unions.  She wished the new council members the best of luck.  She said council does not have any increases in their 2018 budget. She said council is trying to “hold-the-line”.             

Mundie said the $85,000 to pay the city’s loan is included in the 2018 council budget without doing the debt service. He said the new council members may want to do the debt service.  He said council also included $5,000 for the Blighted Property Review Committees expenses.  Cuozzo said Mayor Cusat said he included money for the purchase of the fire truck in his budget.  She said the truck was paid off with no penalty. Mope said council does not want to see any employee layoffs.

Roll Call: (Budget Amendments):  Cuozzo- yes; Gavio- absent; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes.

Mundie said the Budget Amendments were passed on 1st reading.  The 2nd & 3rd budget readings will be held at the December 27th, 2017 city council meeting.


Sosar made a motion to go back on the agenda.  Mope seconded this. 

Roll Call:  Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-absent; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes


Bid Opening: 

  1. Accepted General Construction Bids, RAC-P funds, (Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program), Downtown Hazleton Revitalization Project, Incubator Project, Hazleton National Bank Building Renovations. The three bidders were:                     

Name                                                        Base Bid                     Bid Bond

  1. Bognet, Inc.                                       $569,000                     Included
  2. Champion Builders, Inc.                    $507,000                     Included
  3. D&M Construction Unlimited, Inc.     $479,769                     Included

  1. Accepted bids for the purchase of 241-247 East Chestnut Street, Hazleton, and North Wyoming Street, Hazleton- PIN# 71-T8SW21-019-005-000.  NO BIDS PRESENTED

Courtesy of the Floor (ON AGENDA ITEMS ONLY):  Dee Deakos, 43 West Mine Street, Hazleton, spoke of Resolution 2017-94 –Resolution Authorizing the Council of the City of Hazleton to Appeal the City’s Aggregated Pension Board’s 11/15/2017 Decision. She said she agrees with the city on questioning the legal decision of the Pension Board.  She said the Pension Board does not have authority to spend money; only council does.  She said the Pension Board does not have authority to set contracts; only council does.  She said for the Pension Board to make a decision that goes against what council votes on is wrong.  She said it will cause a problem with the city currently in ACT 47.  She said employees’ salaries are determined by workers compensation.  She said there is a definition for salary in the city.

Kenneth Zipovsky, 3 El Camino Road, Hazleton, Union Member Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 18, spoke of Resolution 2017-94- Resolution Authorizing the Council of the City of Hazleton to Appeal the City’s Aggregated Pension Board’s 11/15/2017 Decision.  He has a problem with this decision being presented to council.  He said there is a contract in place with property rights given to police officers as part of their job.  He said now there is confusion over the semantics over the pension plan.  He said, historically, past practices have shown what the definition was accepted for wording in the pension plan. He said employees do not get taxed on workers compensation but on their W2. He said there is legal precedent from the city.  He said if council decides to approve this, will the city sue the city.  He said this is something that has been voted on. He asked what authority the Pension Board has if their vote does not count. He said if you fall back to the third-class city code, then it goes back to the city code.  He said the city is wasting money on this resolution. 

Mope said council did not place this resolution on the agenda.  Cuozzo asked Zipovsky who set up the original composition of the Pension Board.  Zipovsky said the Fraternal Order of Police had their own Pension Board. He said their calculations would come from the Pension Board members. He said with the current administration, the way people are granted their pensions has changed.  He said he does not recall police officers being denied their pensions.  Cuozzo agreed.

Mark Rabo, 1st St., Hazleton, thanked the council for inserting money, in the 2018 budget, for the Blighted Property Review Committee.  He said the city would be better served with the Blighted Property Review Committee.  He said he disagrees with Mayor Cusat stating it is a duplication of service.  He said Code Enforcement needs to testify at any hearings.  He spoke of Ordinance 2017-30- An Ordinance Approving the Sale of 2017 Tax Claims. He said Mayor Cusat stated, in the Standard Speaker, that any mayor cannot be forced, by ordinance, to sell any tax claims.  Atty. Logsdon said in the beginning of 2017, council passed an ordinance to sell tax claims.  He said he gave his opinion that council cannot sign any paperwork because it is an administrative function.  He said the city is taking a legislative function and directing the mayor to perform this because it is an administrative act.  Rabo said Atty. Logsdon’s opinion is based on a legislative procedure.  Atty. Logsdon said the difference is between a legislative function and an administrative function.  He said a resolution is the way council can authorize this act. 

Mope said the tax delinquents sale are an asset of the city.  She said council can sell the assets or retain them.  Mayor Cusat said he has the right to veto any ordinance or resolution.  Atty. Logsdon asked council who will execute the agreement.  Cuozzo asked if Mayor Cusat does not follow the ordinance and it is vetoed, what would happen.  Mayor Cusat said he needs council’s approval to sell anything but council cannot tell the mayor to sell anything.  Mope said council is in charge of the finances of the city.  She said the delinquent taxes are an asset of the city.  Mope said if council approves the mayor’s budget, they would give the mayor permission to sell the Hazleton Sewer & Water Authorities.  Mayor Cusat said council would approve the mayor to solicit offers but would come back for council to authorize.

Sosar said he needs to clarify the difference of opinions.  He asked Atty. Logsdon if the mayor has an obligation to follow the budget set forth by council. Atty. Logsdon said yes.  Sosar said the mayor did not agree with the $480,000 placed in the budget by council members.  Sosar said Atty. Logsdon stated the mayor is obliged to follow the law.  Sosar asked how the $850,000 was spent. 

Rabo asked Atty. Logsdon if the tax claims are an asset and municipal authorities are an asset, what the difference is asking the city council for approval for the tax claims or selling the city’s municipal authorities. Rabo said any asset owned by the city is a direct function to be sold by council.  Mayor Cusat said he needs to ask council for the approval to sell the city authorities.  Mayor Cusat said he does not agree with selling the delinquent tax claims.  Mayor Cusat said it is a waste of the taxpayer’s money. Rabo said $25,000 is the only money saved by not accepting MRS’s money and keeping it with the current tax claim bureau.  He said the city still needs to pay the legal costs.  He said he agrees with Lieutenant Zipovsky and the Pension disagreement.  He said the Pension Plan composition is mirrored after the third-class city code. He said regarding employee salaries, if the fire or policemen are still on the job doing their duties, it is considered overtime and need to be paid.  Rabo said the salaries need to be paid as income.  He said the vacant property registration fees are missing from the 2018 budget.  He also said the airport income is missing from the budget. Rabo asked council to look into this.  He said there is other income the city could look into to.  He asked where the liquid fuels money went.      

Judy Yurcho, 984 N. Locust Street, Hazleton, said she has been following the city’s current ACT 47 situation.  She said once the city sells their assets, they cannot get them back.  She said selling Hazleton Sewer & Water Authorities will not be in the best interest for the city.  She said Lehigh Valley Hospital is an asset for the city of Hazleton.  She said corporations trying to come into Hazleton with high-paying jobs are always kept out.  She said the city’s residents are paying more taxes than Luzerne County.

Cuozzo asked Mayor Cusat if he received the $290,000 from the loan given to Luzerne County.  He said he did not receive this money.  He said council should know; they sent the request for the pay back of the loan. 

Yurcho said the city’s elected officials owe the residents a better way of life.

David Zapotocky, Pension Board Representative for the Hazleton Police Department, asked why Resolution 2017-94- Resolution Authorizing the Council of the City of Hazleton to Appeal the City’s Aggregated Pension Board’s 11/15/17 Decision, was presented at the meeting.  He said there were no objections by the city solicitor or by Mr. Mundie at the 11/15/2017 Pension Board meeting. Mundie said he and Mayor Cusat voted no, on the resolution, at the 11/15/17 meeting. Mundie said at that meeting, the solicitor said the exact opposite of what Ken Zipovsky stated tonight.   He said the solicitor said it is not under the third-class city code.  Mundie said this is a department of the city. Zapotocky said if the water authority board made a decision and council or the mayor did not agree, then they can override them. Mundie said it will go to a judge to decide.  Mundie said it will increase the city’s pension payment by $500,000.  Mundie said a retired policeman will see an increase in his pension and will bankrupt the city. Zapotocky said it will not change the MMO.  He said the city will then need to hire another attorney. Mayor Cusat said it is only to get a clarification.  Mayor Cusat said it is the right thing to do to for the taxpayers. Zapotocky said the city’s policemen work long, hard hours.  

Mope asked if there is a time-limit to appeal.  Mayor Cusat said an appeal needs to be filed within 30 days.  Mundie said the new council members can change the current council’s decision.  Mope asked if this resolution is passed if it will stay as approved.  Mayor Cusat said the Pension Board did not decide how to re-coop the money from the current workers, dating back to 2003.  He said the employees will need to pay back what they earned.  He said the Pension Board needs to vote on how it will be paid back - i.e.- a lump sum or payments over several years.   Cuozzo asked who is managing the Pension Board.  Mayor Cusat said the he is working on bringing the Pension Board together. 

Mundie said the actuary stated the increase would be $458,000 based on the two recent retired policemen.  Mayor Cusat said it is based on the whole police department.  Zapotocky said the police department did their own actuary. He said the city owes a loan to the Pension Board going back to Mayor Yanuzzi’s term. He said this is where the $458,000 is coming from.  Sosar said council never heard of this loan.  Mayor Cusat said the increase is for the entire police department for the year.  He said it would be 5% of the EIT. He said the EIT would increase from 2.35 to 2.42.  Mope asked if the city could increase the EIT at this time with money in the account.  Mayor Cusat said this is under ACT 205 to increase the EIT to pay the pension payment.  Cuozzo asked where the loan came from.  Don Leshko, Hazleton Fire Chief, said the city voted to do the “smoothing” process.  He said the city was paying 75% into the MMO.  He said the city collected 100%. Leshko said it is not a loan.  He said, in 2017, the city put in 100%.  He said the actuary the police department performed made it “haul” out.  He said the actuary was done at an 8% factor.  Atty. Karpowich advised the city it should have been done between a 6 ½ – 7 ½ return.  Leshko said the Pension Board was set up by ordinance by the city council.  He said the Pension Board officials only require the council president to be on the board.   Mope asked with the city paying 75% instead of the 100%, would the city need to repay this.  Leshko said no.  He said the city will be putting in 100% this year.   Cuozzo asked why the account was carrying a surplus.  Mayor Cusat said he has “no idea”.  Mayor Cusat said it should have went back to paying in 100%.  Mope said with the $1,000.000 in this account, the employees should have been paid for their investments. Mope said council was not aware of this extra money in the account.  Leshko said it had to do with the auditor general and city council not approving the “smoothing” process.  Mope said with paying in 75%, the city should have only collected 75% of the EIT taxes. 

Sosar said city council has been misled, by past mayors, and were told 75% is the amount they are able to pay.  He said they were using the resident’s money for this.  He said, now, the policemen are paying the penalty.  Zapotocky said policemen work a lot of overtime.  Sosar said the policemen who are at the end of their career will receive their pensions.  He said the young policemen, just hired, will have to worry about the pension money being there.  He said the overextension of the city will result in receivership. He said the city’s current expenditures are out-of-control.  Sosar asked when the last time the mayors’ have followed the city budget.  Mayor Cusat said the resolution states the Pension Board cannot force the city council to do something.  Mayor Cusat said it is to appeal the decision.  He said the question is if the Pension Board, or any other board, can force city council to increase spending.  He said an appeal needs to be placed by December 15, 2017.  He said it will give city council the right to hire an attorney.  He said there are 25 boards, commission, and authorities.  Mope said she does not know why this resolution is in front of council.

Old Business:

ORDINANCES:

Ordinance 2017-22   Modifying Consolidated Plan For CDBG Program Year 2016 and 2017 (3rd READING)     

Presented by Cuozzo.  Seconded by Mope.

Roll Call:  Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-absent; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie- yes  

ORDINANCE PASSES 4-0


New Business:

ORDINANCES:

Ordinance 2017-24 An Ordinance 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, 2018 and Ending December 31, 2018  (1st  READING)

Presented by Mope.  Seconded by Cuozzo.

Roll Call:  Cuozzo- yes; Gavio-absent; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes

ORDINANCE PASSES 4-0 ON 1st READING


Ordinance 2017-25  Re-Enacting Ordinances 1931, 1932, and 1933, which Continue in Force and Effect for the Period January 1, 2018 through December 31, 2018, Imposing the Real Estate Tax, Earned Income Tax, Per Capita Tax, and Resident Tax, Respectively (1st  READING)

Presented by Cuozzo.  Seconded by Mundie.

On the Question:

Cuozzo asked, looking at the audits, if it is worth charging the resident tax.  Mayor Cusat said he did look at it.  He said it is still brings in a positive $30,000 - $40,000.

Roll Call:  Cuozzo- no; Gavio- absent; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes

ORDINANCE PASSES 3-1-0 ON 1st READING


Ordinance 2017-26  An Ordinance 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  (1st  READING)

Presented by Cuozzo.  Seconded by Sosar.

Roll Call:  Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-absent; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes

ORDINANCE PASSES 4-0 ON 1st READING


Ordinance 2017-27 An Ordinance Amending Ordinance 88-14, Re-Enacting the Mercantile and Business Privilege Tax for the Period of January 1, 2015 through    December 31, 2015 (1st READING)

Presented by Sosar.  Seconded by Mundie.

On the Question: 

Sosar said this is one of the disliked taxes in the city.  He said until the city finds a replacement, this tax needs to be utilized. He said nobody on council wants to vote in favor of this tax.  Mope said the City of Hazleton is not competitive with outlying areas such as West Hazleton. She said their downtown is filled with businesses while Hazleton is empty. She said residents do not want to pay the mercantile tax where other cities do not use this.  She said this tax is hurtful to the city. 

Roll Call:  Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-absent; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes

ORDINANCE PASSES 4-0 ON 1st READING


Ordinance 2017-28 An Ordinance of the City of Hazleton Fixing the Tax Rate of Real Estate Located in the City of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, for All City Purposes for the Fiscal Year 2018, Beginning January 1, 2018 and Ending December 31, 2018 (1st READING)

Presented by Sosar.  Seconded by Mope.

On the Question:

Mope said to disregard the dates on the cover page.  The dates were changed from 2015 to 2018.

Roll Call:  Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-absent; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes         

ORDINANCE PASSES 4-0 ON 1st READING


Ordinance 2017-29 Re-Enacting Realty Transfer Tax Provisions Pursuant to Article XI-D of the Tax Reform Code of 1971, and Authorizing the Department of Revenue of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to Determine, Collect, and Enforce the Tax, Interest, and Penalties (1st READING)

Presented by Sosar.  Seconded by Mope.

Roll Call:  Cuozzo-no; Gavio-absent; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes

ORDINANCE PASSES 3-1-0 ON 1st READING


Ordinance 2017-30 An Ordinance Approving the Sale of 2017 Tax Claims  (1st READING)    

On the Question:

Sosar made a suggestion to table this ordinance until the 12/19/2017 city council meeting.  He said council wants to do something different with the tax claims.  He said to let the ordinance die.    He said there will be a whole different ordinance or resolution.

ORDINANCE DIES 


RESOLUTIONS:

Resolution 2017-88 A Resolution Permitting the City of Hazleton to Apply for a Luzerne County Local Share Account Grant on behalf of the Downtown Hazleton Alliance for Progress

Presented by Sosar.  Seconded by Mundie.

On the Question:

Couzzo said she will vote no because all of the LSA grants should be ones that benefit the city as a “whole”.  Mope agreed.  Mope said she wants the city to apply for LSA grants.  She commended Fire Chief Donald Leshko in complying with the LSA grant process.  Mope said   the same agencies apply for these grants.  She said if they do not have the money, they should not have accepted the property.

Krista Schneider, Executive Director, Downtown Hazleton Alliance for Progress, said this is a   Phase II renovation project of a blighted building, on Broad Street, that was donated to them. She said it would cost several thousands of dollars to demolish. She said it will be used as a small business incubator. She said she is working with Penn State University- Hazleton campus and CAN DO.  She said she raised $400,000.  She said there has been a new roof installed, new electrical service, code improvements, and structural upgrades.  She said the ground floor will be utilized as a small business incubator. Mope asked if this will include a restaurant.  Schneider said no. She said that was a proposal, several years ago, for a culinary incubator for food start- ups.  She said it will be used for co-working space for small businesses that do not have the money to rent office space.  She said this will allow them access to Wi-Fi.  She said they will have access to Penn State University resources and curriculums for small business entrepreneurship.  She said one way to grow the tax base is to grow small businesses in the city.  Mope asked if there is a small incubator in Wilkes-Barre.  Schneider said there are incubators in Wilkes-Barre, Scranton and Carbondale.  She said Penn State is investing several million dollars for a grant program for “launch boxes” throughout the commonwealth.  She said about 19 commonwealth campuses currently have these incubators. She said the Penn State Hazleton campus applied for a $10,000 grant for this facility. She said the Downtown Hazleton Alliance for Progress is trying to revitalize the downtown.

Cuozzo asked what the total cost is of project.  Schneider said the total will be $600,000 for   Phase II.  She said she has $150,000 already pledged in private donations.  Sosar said one of the programs that has many awards is Kutztown University.  He said Kutztown University has worked specifically with the Spanish-speaking communities.  He said she should look into partnering with Kutztown for their resources.  Schneider said, currently, Penn State does not have a Spanish-speaking staff.  She said they are looking into hiring a Spanish-speaking staff.

Mope said she does not want to see the building being renovated, in the city, given an LSA grant, and then they move out of the city, Mope suggested to all agencies to get their request for an LSA grant before the deadline with the new city council members coming on.

Roll Call:  Cuozzo-no; Gavio-absent; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes.

RESOLUTION PASSES 3-1-0


Resolution 2017-89 Awarding Contract for the 2017-2018 Winter Emergency Snow Removal Equipment

Presented by Cuozzo.  Seconded by Mope.

On the Question:

Cuozzo asked if there is a bid bond included.  Frank Vito, Highway Department Manager, said Allan Wufsus, City Engineer, opened up the contract.  Sosar asked if it was in the spects.  Vito said council was told, in 2016, it was not required.  Vito said Allan Wufsus explained to council the reason why the council does not need bid bonds for this contract.  Cuozzo said Vito needs to go back to the city council minutes.  Mundie asked Mayor Cusat if it is up to the mayor or council.  Mayor Cusat said it is not a project.  Vito said if council does not award this, then they will go to the next contract.  Cuozzo said a bid bond should be included with the contract. Vito said they need to know there will be 4-5 people in place to complete the work.  Mope said, in 2016, the   city was without a snow removal contract because the contractor never showed up. Sosar asked why the city is doing this.  Mope said the city would award the contract to the second contractor even if their price is higher. Mope said there needs to be something in place for the snow removal project.

Roll Call:  Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-absent; Mope-yes; Sosar-no; Mundie-yes.

RESOLUTON PASSES 3-1-0


Resolution 2017-90 Resolution Supporting Legal Action Regarding the Opioid Crisis

Presented by Mundie.  Seconded by Mope.

 On the Question:

 Mundie said he placed this resolution on the agenda. He said Luzerne County already has their own resolution for the opioid crisis. Mundie said council is giving the mayor permission to go out    and negotiate. Mayor Cusat said he already knows about this problem.  Mundie asked if the mayor will negotiate with a company that will not cost the city anything.  Mayor Cusat said he needs to pick a company. He said he met with several companies.  Mope asked if these will    be class-action suits.  Mayor Cusat said it will not be class-action; they will be individual suits, as municipalities.  Police Chief Speziale said it will be based on cost.  Sosar said it is becoming   more like the “anti-smoking ban”.

Roll Call:  Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-absent; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes

RESOLUTION PASSES 4-0


Resolution 2017-91 A Resolution Authorizing the City of Hazleton to apply for a Luzerne County Local Share Account Grant on behalf of the Alice C. Wiltsie Performing Arts Center, Inc.

Presented by Mope.  Seconded by Mundie.

On the Question:

Mundie said a representative of the Alice C. Wiltsie Center contacted Bob Gavio regarding the LSA grant request.  Mundie said he is all for LSA grants.  He said if the city has more than others   than that is okay. Mundie said they received $1,000,000 from the state several years ago.

Roll Call:  Cuozzo-no; Gavio-absent; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes

RESOLUTION PASSES 3-1-0     

Resolution 2017-92 A Resolution Requesting Local Share Account Funds for the Purchase of a Loader with a Snow Blower Attachment for the City of Hazleton

Presented by Mope.  Seconded by Cuozzo.

Roll Call:  Cuozzo-yes; Gavio-absent; Mope-yes; Sosar-yes; Mundie-yes

RESOLUTION PASSES 4-0


Resolution 2017-94 A Resolution Authorizing the Council of the City of Hazleton to Appeal the City’s Aggregated Pension Board’s November 15, 2017 Decision

Presented by Mundie.  Seconded by Mope.

On the Question:

Mundie asked Mayor Cusat if the Pension Board can impose raising taxes.  Mayor Cusat said the Pension Board is taking some of the authorities off the city council by asking the city council to raise taxes. Mundie said council is not appealing how the pensions are figured out. Mayor Cusat said the case may go to court and the judge would decide if city council rights were taken away. Mundie asked if we are appealing this. Police Officer Zapotocky said city council is appealing exactly that. Zapotocky said then council can say this is not allowed and can be fought in county court. He said city council would state the Pension Board “over-stepped” their boundaries.  Zapotocky said city council can say this is not allowed and this would then go to the county court.  Mope asked why this case was presented to city council without council not being informed.  Mayor Cusat said the Pension Board is telling city council what to do.  Mope told Mayor Cusat to “remember’ this with the delinquent taxes. Mundie said the administration wants city council to pass this resolution.  Mundie said this information comes from the city solicitor, Atty. Donald Karpowich.  Zapotocky said it was never brought up at the Pension Board Meeting or in executive  session. Mayor Cusat said what was stated in executive session is that the administration felt the Pension Board can make a suggestion to city council and there needs to be an amendment to the ordinance or to the contract.  Mayor Cusat said administration needs more information.  Mundie said he can only go by the solicitor’s advice (Atty. Donald Karpowich) to appeal. Mundie said it should go further. Mundie said the policemen do a great job and deserve big pensions. Zapotocky said Mayor Cusat and Atty. Karpowich wrote the motion. He said it was not explained in the meeting. Zapotocky said Mundie did not understand this until it was re-explained to him.  He said it should have been an issue at the Pension Board meeting and not at this meeting.  Mundie said one policeman’s pension is being raised  from $50,000 to $80,000.  He said the city cannot afford this.  Mayor Cusat said the   administration is not questioning the numbers. Mayor Cusat said the dispute is whether a board, commission, or authority            can make a legal decision without council’s approval. Zapotocky said it should have been explained to all of the audience members at the Pension     Board meeting. He said Mayor Cusat and the solicitor should have explained this to all attendees. Zapotocky said it is a huge problem that the city solicitor is also the attorney for the Pension Board. He said it will be a huge conflict-of-interest. Mope asked why this was not brought up at the Pension Board meeting if it was felt council’s position was taken over. She asked if it was made clear to change as to not supersede council’s power. Mayor         Cusat said this was his position “all along” and wanted to table as to get more time. He stated it was brought up in the executive session. Zapotocky asked Mayor Cusat why he made a motion. Mayor Cusat told Zapotocky he can make a motion to say anything.

Sosar asked how many people, on the Pension Board, are receiving a pension. He asked if it is a “self-serving” board.  Police Lieutenant Zipovsky said the board consists of the mayor, Fire Chief, city council president, member of the Fire Union, Police Chief, member of the  Police Union, member of the non-uniformed union and the city administrator. Sosar asked if    it is an “even-up” board. Sosar said there needs to be a ninth member to break any “ties”. Mayor Cusat said when the original ordinance was written, there were only two pension funds.  Mayor Cusat said there were seven members. He said when the other pension was added, he said the ordinance was never amended to include a non-uniformed member.  Sosar said, over time, this has evolved into a problem.  Mayor Cusat said there are a lot of problems with the pensions.  He said the administration is slowly rectifying this     issue.  Mayor Cusat said it will take some time. Sosar said it is difficult because the policemen deserve their pensions.  Sosar said the city’s residents will pay for what the police deserve. 

Police Lieutenant Zipovsky said the policemen have a contract.  He said the pensions have been given to the employees, historically, in the past. Mundie said there are some employees who did not receive their pensions. Mundie said there were some policemen who did not get a pension. Mayor Cusat said no employee under Plan “C” was given overtime.  He said employees under “Plan A’ have gotten a five-year average with over time.  Mayor Cusat said it decides whether a board, commission, or authority can tell the city council how    to spend money.  Sosar asked how far back this goes.  Mayor Cusat said it goes back to 1999.  Cuozzo asked if there are any Pension Board minutes from this time frame. Mayor Cusat said no. Sosar asked if anyone retired under Plan “C”.  Police Chief Speziale  said Plan “C” is a later plan. Sosar asked who developed Plan “C”.  Speziale said Plan “C”  is for the new employee hires.  Mope asked if this includes the fire department employees.  Zipovsky said it does include the firemen. Speziale said Plan “A” is from 25 years ago. Zipovsky said the last employees who retired from Plan”B” was from 2003.  He said any   employee hired after 1996 is included in Plan “C”.  Mope asked what the difference is in Plan “C”.   Mayor Cusat said it is just a difference in calculations.  He said the employees in Plan     “A” received 75% and employees in Plan “C” are receiving 50%. Mayor Cusat said that is the major difference. Cuozzo said the problem is the definition of “salary”.  Speziale said the    problem is the definition of “total salary”. Sosar said that is the problem.  Mayor Cusat said the Pension Board interprets the word “total salary” to mean including overtime.  He said the question is whether the Pension Board has the right to say how the council that passed this contract, interpreted as, and if they have the right to tell council to raise taxes.  He said the question is whether the Pension Board has the right to tell council to raise taxes.  Cuozzo  asked when employees receive their tax papers, at the end of the year, is total salary and  overtime included. Cuozzo asked if it is separate. Mayor Cusat said it is a “nightmare”.  Mope asked if total overtime and total salary is included in the taxes. Mayor Cusat said     this is not  the issue.  Mayor Cusat said the issue is whether city council wants to appeal this. He said it is whether the Pension Board or commission has the right to tell council how to spend their money. Cuozzo said this could happen on any ordinance.  Mayor Cusat said the question is if the Pension Board has the right to tell council how to spend their money.  Cuozzo said the definitions are there.  Mayor Cusat said there is no definition for “total salary”. Mayor Cusat said that is why the definitions are so important. Mundie said the employees never contributed with their overtime hours.  Mundie said it was never counted for their pension contributions and how to define percent. Mayor Cusat said that is an issue for the Pension Board. Mayor Cusat said that is a “contractual” thing. Zipovsky said this is also “contractual” and it is all “semantics”.  Mundie said it is for a judge or a court to decide. Zipovsky said it can cause unnecessary litigation. Zipovsky said the city needs to re-negotiate. Mundie said it can cost the city millions of dollars. Mundie said the new council members can “throw this” case out. Policeman Mark Zola said if council does not understand this, they should not vote. Zola stated the new council members need to decide on this issue. Sosar said since he has been on council, he was never involved or informed of these pension issues with the police or fire departments. Sosar said he doesn’t know what the other city council members did. Sosar said the city residents state they are tired of the arguing between the city administration and the city council members at the city council meetings.  He said council is never informed and not given any information. Zola said if council is not informed they should not vote on this resolution.    

Mope said this issue was “dumped” on city council.  Sosar said if this is tabled, and the deadline is December 15th, it is a non-decision (decision). Mundie said he knows exactly what he is voting on.  Policeman Zola said council does not understand what they are voting on. Mope said city council is being put on a time constraint. Mundie stated there is a 30-day time period. Mope asked with the city’s current situation, in being under ACT 47, and no recommendations from PEL, what does council do. Mayor Cusat said council has 30-  days to make a decision. Mope asked if an extension can be made due to the city currently in ACT 47.  Cuozzo said administration and city council need to sit down and negotiate this contract.  Policeman Mark Zola said this issue has been going on for two years. Mundie said the higher pension payments will bankrupt the city.  He said it is going on all over Pennsylvania. He said it will “kill” the cities. Mundie said the pension plan is under-funded.  Mope asked if the city goes into receivership whether everything is “up in the air” to   be negotiated.  Mayor Cusat said the state cannot tell the city what to do.  He said when the contract is open, they will tell the city how much money they have to spend. Cuozzo asked the policemen if they are willing to negotiate with some issues in their contract due to   the city’s financial situation.  Mayor Cusat said the policemen have been more than fair.      

Mope asked Mayor Cusat what happens if this resolution is voted down.  Mayor Cusat said it fails.  Mope said she does not know how to vote.  Mope said the policemen deserve their money.  She said they work hard. Cuozzo said they have a contract. Cuozzo said this contract was made a long-time ago. Cuozzo said they are talking total salary. Cuozzo said this will hurt the city. Mope said the policemen deserve their money.  She said she wants to          open this up to negotiations.  She said she is trying to prevent any employee layoffs.  She said if it comes up again in the next 15 days, she will vote again.

Sosar said he did not appreciate people coming to council meetings saying council was unfair to the police for not voting to hire five, six or ten new policemen. He said he knows what   pensions are about. He said when someone tells him he will trade his for mine, he said he will overlook this.  He said he is going to vote no on this resolution.  He stated he is going to watch closely how soon negotiations will be discussed.  Sosar said the residents got a 1.3% increase in their Social Security benefits over the last three years.  He said the mayor gave employees a 3% salary increase and Mayor Cusat gave people jobs. He said he will vote no.

Mope said council was not involved in the cost of living discussions in the budget. She said    council was not involved with the cost of living negotiations. She said it was thought council decided on the cost of living. She stated council is treated like a “separate entity”.  She said it was wrong to use the EIT increase to hire more policeman. She said everyone was misled. She said council never had anything against any department in the city.  Sosar said the newspaper article, in tomorrow’s Standard-Speaker, will be very negative towards city council. He said council does the best to fight for the people of the city. He said it doesn’t  count.  Cuozzo said council also fights for the workers.  Mope said it dies and council is not appealing.     

Roll Call:  Cuozzo-no; Gavio-absent; Mope- no; Sosar- no; Mundie-yes.

RESOLUTION FAILS 3-1-0


Comments from the Audience:  Mark Rabo, 1st St., Hazleton, said regarding the city pensions, he agrees with Policeman Zapotocky and the conflict-of-interest.  He said this needs to be explored.  He spoke to Lieutenant Zipovsky, regarding the definition of salary, in the recodified third-class city code, under Title 11, under subchapter 8- Police- Chapter 143-Pensions, Subchapter B, reads: “The fixed amount of compensation paid at regular, periodic intervals by the city to the member and from which pension contributions have been deducted.” He asked if the Pension Board can regulate pensions for policemen, firefighters and other employees.  Rabo said yes; Title 11 gives the authority. He said this needs to be read for some clarification.  He said the definitions define “salary”.  Cuozzo said the contract was in place before the recodification was made.  Rabo said for the Pennsylvania Retirees, the Public Employee Retirement Commission regulates the pension plans.

Rabo said he wants to help the policemen, firefighters, and other employees.  He said the city needs to send a letter to the state for using the gas tax for police services.

Ann Marie Kaschak, Lincoln Street, Hazleton, said the city is allotted $35,000 in the budget for legal services, and in August, the city was at $54,960.  Mope said Mayor Cusat had $0 in the budget, under special legal. Mope said he had it under other expenses. Mayor Cusat said special litigations are the law suits that the city is involved in.  Mope said labor is a different issue.   

Comments from Mayor:   Mayor Cusat thanked Jack Mundie, Dave Sosar, and Grace Cuozzo for serving on city council. 

Comments from Junior Council:  None.

Comments from Council: Sosar asked Mayor Cusat regarding an audit for the City of Hazleton Transit Department.  Sosar asked how and when this audit was paid for.  He said council was not aware of this audit.  Mayor Cusat said Mr. Rob Moore was not involved with the campaign.  Mayor Cusat said council needs to talk with Hazleton City Transit Director, Ralph Sharp.

Mope wished the new city council members better luck in obtaining information.

Cuozzo said the new budget is giving the new council members a chance to change some items.  He said it may include a big tax increase.  She suggested the new council members go and talk with the city’s authorities before deciding to sell these entities.  She said regarding the pension plan, she could not vote for this.  She said she could not approve the city hiring an attorney.  She said the Pension Board did nothing wrong.  She said if anyone has a problem with this, they need to talk with the state.  She said total salary has been included in the contracts. Cuozzo suggested to define everything with the next contract. She said the resolution presented was not what Mayor Cusat said.  She asked where the money went before Mayor Cusat was elected.  She said all the unions need to look at the audits.

Mope said council needs to investigate and track where the money is being spent.  She wished good luck to the new city council members.  She said the city residents cannot afford a tax increase.  She said residents will be moving out of Hazleton with a 40% tax hike. She said if the city would sell the sewer and water authorities, the residents rates will be doubled or tripled. She said it will still come out of the citizens’ pocket. She said city council did a sustainable budget that included the selling of delinquent taxes. She said if the taxes were sold, the city would, currently, not be in ACT 47. She said council was willing to pay MRS the fee for their services.  Mope said there were two opinions, from two city administrators, that agreeing with the mayor can only be done with the city having a cushion of money. She said council did not short the city of funds, the mayor did.

Sosar wished everyone a good holiday season.  He said it is a cooperative effort.  He said everyone needs to work on a new contract for the pension plan.  He wished the new city council members luck.

Mundie said the City of Hazleton has the best police force in the state and the Police Chief is the best in the country. 

Adjournment:  Mundie motioned to adjourn the meeting. Mope seconded.  Meeting adjourned.

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