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Bethlehem Council MInutes
BETHLEHEM CITY COUNCIL MEETING
10 East Church Street – Town Hall
Tuesday, June 18, 2013 – 7:00 PM
PLEDGE TO THE FLAG
Father Abraham Ha, of St. Anne’s Church, offered the
invocation which was followed by the pledge to the flag.
1. ROLL CALL
President Evans called the meeting to order. Present were Jean Belinski, David T. DiGiacinto, Karen Dolan, Robert J. Donchez, Michael D. Recchiuti, J. William Reynolds, and Eric R. Evans, 7.
2. APPROVAL OF MINUTES
The Minutes of June 4, 2013 were approved.
3. PUBLIC COMMENT
Redevelopment Assistance Capital Grant – Lehigh Valley Charter School for the Performing Arts
Jolene Vitalos, representing the Bethlehem Education Association located at 53 East Lehigh Street in Bethlehem, stated that she has been a teacher in the Bethlehem Area School District (BASD) since 1998, briefly living in Bethlehem on the west side, and for the past four years she has served as President of the Bethlehem Education Association and has recently been elected to another two year term. Ms. Vitalos remarked that just a few short months ago she was in this very room testifying before a group of Pennsylvania State Representatives regarding the impact of the current Governor’s budget on the Bethlehem Area School District and the challenges it brings to the education professionals and teachers she is elected to represent. One of the topics she spoke of that afternoon was the inequity in funding when it comes to the operation of local charter schools. Since 2010 and 2011 the Governor has cut $5.5 million dollars in State revenues in the Bethlehem School District. She said she understands that the Governor has now approved a $3 million dollar Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) Grant for the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts (LVPA) for the purpose of building a new facility within the BethWorks TIF zone on the City’s south side. Ms. Vitalos added that on the other hand the Governor has placed a moratorium on the availability of State subsidized funding for public school construction projects. She mentioned, as Council may be aware, the Bethlehem Area School District is in the process of planning the rebuilding of the Nitschmann Middle School on the City’s west end. The City is being asked to serve as a pass-through for the receipt of this money so it can be distributed to the Charter School and has this as an agenda item this evening. Ms. Vitalos wanted to thank Council for the opportunity to share why she believes this agenda item should be voted down by City Council. Commenting that the TIF on the south side was for the purpose of attracting for-profit businesses to the City of Bethlehem, she remarked that in turn, once the TIF timeline matures, both the City and the BASD would once again receive tax revenues. By allowing the not-for-profit LVPA Charter School to obtain land within the TIF zone, the land will never be available as taxable property. Ms. Vitalos stated that she is no fan of the unfair Charter School funding law on Pennsylvania’s books or a fan of our current Governor’s assault on public schools. She noted that currently the BASD is required by law to fund these public charter schools at the expense of local taxpayers and to the financial detriment of the School District itself. Ms. Vitalos pointed out that the BASD loses upwards of $12,000,000 dollars annually to public charters and they are not held accountable to the same standards and mandates as the local public school districts. She said the availability of RACP money to a public charter does not appear to be in the spirit of economic development, it appears to be to the detriment of the local school district, the City and yet another way for our Governor to weaken local school districts’ ability to increase tax revenues in the future. The expansion of the LVPA Charter School into the TIF zone brings three things to consider. She said first is the total elimination of future tax revenues from that parcel of land, and secondly, the unavoidable reality driving the school district’s expenses for charter payments upwards. Finally, what economic development is being created by granting this not-for-profit charter school to move into the TIF zone? LVPA is not a business. The TIF zone was created with the intention of attracting for-profit development to increase revenues for the City and the school district. Ms. Vitalos said she does not see how moving a not-for-profit school into a for-profit development zone strengthens local revenues. She is asking City Council to consider voting no to serve as the pass-through for this State RACP grant and to uphold its commitment to attracting for-profit development within the TIF zone for the purpose of generating future tax revenues. She added that our local School District’s Board of Directors voted last night to reinstate some of the lost opportunities due to drastic budget cuts under the term of our current Governor. Within the BASD we are creatively working to continue to provide quality public education to the City’s children. Ms. Vitalos reported that if City Council approves tonight’s agenda item on the RCAP grant, this is tax revenue that will never be recovered from the TIF zone. Again, she said, this would be a missed opportunity for strengthening our local public schools and our neighborhoods. Ms. Vitalos thanked Council for their time and a consideration of a no vote on this.
Diane LaBelle, Executive Director of the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts at 675 East Broad Street, stated she wanted to speak to Council about this school. Three years ago she said she came back to the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts, a school she was a part of when it opened in 2003 with 270 students. Now in 2013, ten years later, the school is a thriving and vibrant place where 450 students are not only successful but excel in the arts and the academics. This school is a beacon of light in a very tumultuous educational environment. Ms. LaBelle remarked that their tenth year has been a year of many changes and incredible good fortune. The Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts is very proud to have called Bethlehem home for ten years and is thrilled to be staying in the community that has welcomed them with open arms. She noted that last night at their tenth graduation for the second year in a row 100% of their senior students graduated, 96.7% of these students go on to a two year, four year college or a conservatory. Ms. LaBelle also noted that 106 graduates will receive $2.2 million dollars in scholarship aid for their higher education. She said their students are a very special group of students who work hard and have a work ethic and a passion for which companies will pay large sums of money when they enter the workforce. The students work hard to prepare for an audition to get into the school, they work hard to stay in the school since the program in academics and the arts is rigorous and requires a great deal of self discipline. Ms. LaBelle stated that even more so these students are a kind and considerate group of individuals in addition to their unbelievable talents. She said it is a school that they are proud of and proud to be welcomed by the South Bethlehem community, the Banana Factory, PBS 39, SteelStacks, Lehigh University, Northampton Community College, Touchstone Theatre, Godfrey Daniels, WDIY, Broughal Middle School, the Greenway, and all of the merchants and restaurants that have made this neighborhood special. She commented that this makes Third and Polk Streets the ideal location for their students to experience and understand what it means to be part of an arts community. What better place for creative young people to discover their talents and to thrive. Ms. LaBelle pointed out that devoted faculty and staff believed in the idea of the school and has worked very hard for ten years to create a school that has over 800 graduates that call this their alma mater. She said they have teachers that have been with the school for ten years who know that dedication, hard work and passion were required to create a school for the arts such as Charter Arts. The past ten years are a testament to what a dedicated and creative group of individuals can achieve. Ms. LaBelle mentioned that with 450 students now they have out grown the form of warehouse space in which they are located and a new school is needed to accommodate the true size of the dreams, ambitions and talents of this special group of students with a 350 seat theatre in the heart of the building, a performance café, and a rooftop performance venue along with state of the art studios, galleries and a resource library. She added that this new building will not only benefit the Charter Arts students but the community. She stated that educating their students is the highest mission of their organization; they have been doing that successfully for the past ten years, and look forward to the next ten and the next ten. Ms. LaBelle advised that their students love to come to school and Bethlehem is the right place for this school, Charter Arts is the right project for South Bethlehem and this new building is the right thing to do for the 450 students who are passionate and creative to make the world a better place. Charter Arts school will continue to make Bethlehem proud and they hope to be in the South Bethlehem neighborhood at Third and Polk Streets.
Michael Faccinetto, 3222 Marchant Drive, stated he is the President of the Bethlehem Area School District Board of Directors and he speaks tonight on behalf of the entire school district and Board of Directors. He said they are not here to oppose the LVPA School; they have every right to relocate and buy property and every right to expand if they see that necessary. He said they are here to oppose the RACP grant and the City of Bethlehem being a partner to this. About fifteen years ago he said the City, School District and County entered into a TIF agreement to redevelop the Bethlehem Steel property. Nothing happened for a long time and then in 2010 that agreement was redone to take in account the Sands Casino Resort. Mr. Faccinetto reported that they have invested over $30 million dollars of public school tax dollars to try to redevelop the site, all of which to date in the Steel Stacks campus has been non-profit. He said they understand that and this has been a gem for South Bethlehem that brings people and life to South Bethlehem. He said they do not hope that the City will take part in bringing the Charter School to a piece of TIF land, which is land where this tax money was invested. Mr. Faccinetto pointed out that this is the zone where they have given $30,000,000 and they do not want to be a part of taking an extra $3,000,000 of State money that could fund any number of projects. He said they have every right to buy the property but the School District has every right to make it easier and to help out. Mr. Faccinetto reported that RACP by definition through the State of Pennsylvania prioritizes projects by the greatest financial impact on the economy, large regional economic development, and the greatest impact on permanent job creation, not construction jobs, and to maximize the generation of new tax revenue. There will be no new tax revenue as a result of this; there will be no new job creation. Mr. Faccinetto related that the other issue they take offense with is the fact that this new school will allow the Charter School to grow by 200 students. He pointed out that if 100 of those students come from Bethlehem that is an extra $1,000,000 that will come out of the School District’s budget. The School District spent $13.2 million dollars this year coming up in the 2013-2014 school year on charter schools which are paid for by everyone in this room who lives in the City of Bethlehem, Bethlehem Township, Hanover Township, Freemansburg and Fountain Hill. Mr. Faccinetto added that this removes prime land from the tax rolls never to be put on the tax rolls again and is land where as the economy picks up could see construction of a building, an office complex, a restaurant, retail or residence which would all be tax paid entities. That is the purpose of the TIF zone and the reason the School District gave up so much money for the TIF zone. Mr. Faccinetto noted that public schools have had funding cuts year after year over the past three or four years and it does not get any easier. The more people that go to charter schools the more money that the School District gives up, the less money they have to educate every student that walks into the door. He continued on saying that you do not audition to get into the Bethlehem Area School District, you show up on the first day, second day, fifteenth day and the School District has the duty to educate you and they take that seriously. He stated that they need all of the revenue they can get, and cannot continue to go to the property tax owners. Last night the School District passed the budget and once again raised taxes. Many people say they should have a 0% budget; they do not have a choice to have a 0% budget and still operate efficiently. Mr. Faccinetto explained that they have a $224,000,000 budget of which $19,000,000 can actually be taken to make cuts, but everything else is fixed costs. To cut out an $8 million deficit out of a $19 million dollar budget he said is absurd. Mr. Faccinetto encouraged Council to vote no on the resolution. When the School District partnered with the TIF zone they did not see this partnership leading to a non-profit taking over a large chunk of land. It came to his attention earlier in the weekend that some School District TIF dollars would fund the project but said he is happy to say that as of this morning he heard that is not the case. The School District, he commented, cannot continue to give away money and continue to allow charter schools to grow and expand. If they want to grow and expand they should do it on their own. The School District cannot be a party to this and will certainly oppose the RACP grant, which they are excluded from. A new Nitschmann Middle School in West Bethlehem is being buildt and they are doing everything they can to keep it under wraps and keep the school efficient for the students and protect the taxpayers as well. Mr. Faccinetto noted that the School District will not get the PlanCon reimbursement that would have been $7,000,000 on a $48 million dollar project that was given away and are not eligible for RACP funds being a public school entity and a non-profit. To pass this money on to LVPA, he concluded, is not fair to the School District and to public education and hopes that Council votes no on this.
Christine Ussler, 1949 Main Street, remarked that she will speak in favor of this project from a slightly different perspective. She said she is the architect on this project, but even if she were not, in her capacity as the Historic Officer for the City she would support this project. This project will take a vacant lot and put in a new building. Commenting as a business owner on the South Side, she said it would make an impact on the businesses in that Third Street corridor and possibly Fourth Street. She said she does think this will help generate more business and business activity just like the Banana Factory did. Ms. Ussler, hoping in the long run there will be more tax dollars coming from South Bethlehem, does see this as a positive project for the South Bethlehem area. She believes that the school will have a greater impact on Third and Fourth Street than ArtsQuest and the Casino developments have because it is on Third Street and it will not be isolated. The students and parents will be walking the neighborhood. Ms. Ussler expressed that she thought the building will also provide greater levels of daylight and a better learning environment for the arts students since they are currently in a building that has very few windows. Ms. Ussler continued on to say that she hopes Council will support the project and thinks it will be a benefit to the community and in the long term bring in tax money to the School District.
Mary Pongracz, 321 West Fourth Street, stated that she finds the statements made by the two members of the Bethlehem Area School District very self serving and that the school district is in a state of financial insolvency because they have not over the years taken care of their financial problem. Ms. Pongracz stated she is retired from the School District. The reason a charter school is needed is because the School District does not meet the needs of a very important part of our community. Ms. Pongracz said she is a musician and believes that creativity is what makes us human. With knowledge of the arts children are able to give us entertainment and look at other cultures of the world. Ms. Pongracz stated she is a product of parochial school and has paid school taxes and supported parochial schools. She noted that probably every one of those people from the charter school pay school taxes. Therefore, she said, she thinks that our children are deserving of a charter school for the performing arts. She added in a public school you can get an education but you get a world in a charter school.
Stephen Antalics, 737 Ridge Street, stated that last evening at the School Board meeting he inquired whether the district could tap into RACP monies and the answer he received was that they did not know. He said he asked with regard to 85% of the south side Latino children who speak Spanish at home and are below poverty level and funding that was reduced for Pre-K and whether any of this money could support any of these Pre-K children because without Pre-K they have social development but not language development and by third grade they are well behind and probably predestined to drop-out. Mr. Antalics noted he looked into RACP funding this afternoon and it clearly states that a school district which has special purpose in local government would not be eligible because RACP grants must be authorities or general purpose from the local government. He said that is upsetting because that means these children cannot get that money. Mr. Antalics stated he has respect for the charter school, so rather than take a political or economic point of view a pragmatic point of view should be taken. He suggested this just might be, pragmatically speaking, a good way to keep the money locally because it is committed. He said he thinks it is a difficult decision and does respect the School District because the Board of Directors has come a long way, and they are very responsible to the City in terms of running the School District. Mr. Antalics said he does appreciate the problem with the TIF, but $3,000,000 should outweigh that. He said he sees and honors both sides, but encouraged Council to take the pragmatic approach and keep the money in Bethlehem.
Jim Gregory, 1502 High Street, said he is one of the Vice Presidents of the Lehigh Valley Labor Council and he understands the issues of a charter school. He agreed, as the School District said, and has no issue with them going anywhere else but it sets a bad precedence going in the TIF zone. Mr. Gregory commented that he thinks it is a bad mistake to consider this and asked Council to not put the charter school in the zone.
Beth Starbuck, 420 Rockhill Circle, stated that she is a business owner on the south side and is Chair of the Bethlehem Historic Conservation Commission. She said she approves of the charter school and mentioned that this would be good for the Historic District and for any urban environment. She understands that the TIF zone is a development area and that this may take away from tax base in the future, however, if the charter school is moving from an area that is taxed at a normal rate for any business and a business moves in to replace it they would be generating tax right away. She noted that if a business moves into the TIF zone it will not generate a normal amount of tax dollars for ten years. Ms. Starbuck said she thinks the charter school should be supported and it is not money that the School District could have anyway, so why take $3,000,000 away from Bethlehem.
4. OLD BUSINESS.
A. Old Business – Members of Council
B. Tabled Items
C. Unfinished Business
A. Director of Water and Sewer Resources – PennWorks Grant Application
The Acting Clerk read a memorandum dated June 3, 2013 from David L. Brong, Director of Water and Sewer Resources, to which was attached a request for consideration of a Resolution to support a PennWorks grant application from the Department of Community and Economic Development to be used for the Biosolids Dewatering Facility and Effluent Pump Station Improvements Project in the amount of $5,000,000.
President Evans stated that Resolution 9 A is listed on the agenda.
B. Deputy Chief of Police – Special Event Parking – Musikfest 2013
The Acting Clerk read a memorandum dated June 10, 2013 from Craig Finnerty, Deputy Chief of Police, requesting consideration of a proposed Resolution for Special Event Parking during Musikfest 2013. The time covered will be from 12:00 PM on Friday, August 2, and last through 11:59 PM on Sunday, August 11, 2013. The Special Events Parking Districts will remain the same as last year according to the map provided.
President Evans stated the Resolution will be placed on the July 2 Agenda.
C. City Solicitor – Establishing New Article 1732 – Abandoned Real Property
The Acting Clerk read a memorandum dated June 13, 2013 from John F. Spirk, Jr., Esq., City Solicitor, to which was attached a proposed Ordinance to establish Article 1732 of the Codified Ordinances entitled Abandoned Real Property.
President Evans referred the proposal to the Community Development Committee.
A. President of Council
1. Administrative Order – Rosalee Sabo – Civil Service Board – Fire
Dennis Reichard, Business Administrator, read Mayor Callahan’s reappointment of Rosalee Sabo to membership on the Civil Service Board – Fire effective through June 2017. Mr. Donchez and Mrs. Belinski sponsored Resolution No. 2013-112 to confirm the appointment.
Voting AYE: Mr. Recchiuti, Mr. Reynolds, Mrs. Belinski, Mr. DiGiacinto, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Donchez, and Mr. Evans, 7. The Resolution passed.
2. Administrative Order – Stephen Elek – Plumbers’ Examining Board
Dennis Reichard, Business Administrator, read Mayor Callahan’s reappointment of Stephen Elek to membership on the Plumbers’ Examining Board effective through June 2017. Mr. Donchez and Mrs. Belinski sponsored Resolution No. 2013-113 to confirm the appointment.
Voting AYE: Mr. Recchiuti, Mr. Reynolds, Mrs. Belinski, Mr. DiGiacinto, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Donchez, and Mr. Evans, 7. The Resolution passed.
3. Administrative Order – William Fitzpatrick – Zoning Hearing Board
Dennis Reichard, Business Administrator, read Mayor Callahan’s reappointment of William Fitzpatrick to membership on the Zoning Hearing Board effective through June 2018. Mr. Donchez and Mrs. Belinski sponsored Resolution No. 2013-114 to confirm the appointment.
Voting AYE: Mr. Recchiuti, Mr. Reynolds, Mrs. Belinski, Mr. DiGiacinto, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Donchez, and Mr. Evans, 7. The Resolution passed.
7. ORDINANCES FOR FINAL READING
8. NEW ORDINANCES
A. Authorizing Application – PennWorks Grant - $5,000,000 – Sewer Plant Improvements
Mr. Donchez and Mr. DiGiacinto sponsored Resolution No. 2013-115 that authorized the filing of an application for a PennWorks grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development in the amount of $5,000,000 to be used for the Biosolids Dewatering Facility and Effluent Pump Station Improvement Project.
B. Authorizing Application – Redevelopment Assistance Capital Grant Program - $3,000,000 – Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts
Mr. Recchiuti and Ms. Dolan sponsored Resolution No. 2013-116 that authorized the application for a Redevelopment Assistance Capital Grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the amount of $3,000,000 for the purpose of assisting Lehigh Valley Charter School for the Performing Arts in the construction of a new school in the City of Bethlehem, Northampton County, Pennsylvania. The grant will be passed through the City of Bethlehem to Lehigh Valley Charter School for the Performing Arts and the City is authorized to execute a Cooperation Agreement with Lehigh Valley Charter School for the Performing Arts for the administration of the project. The City of Bethlehem has been assured by Lehigh Valley Charter School for the Performing Arts that it will assume the full local share of the project costs, which will be in excess of the $3,000,000 grant, and also assume responsibility for the project’s ongoing operating and maintenance costs.
President Evans stated that some interesting debates on this matter were heard from public leaders and from the school on both sides, pleas from an emotional perspective, hard numbers perspective, impact on the TIF zone, impact on our neighborhoods and historical district, and on our citizens. He said he talked to a couple of Council Members today and there are a number of thoughts on where they are. There are a number of thoughts based on the number of different issues and in the end we all understand this is a pass through, not an authorization and not a funding mechanism. We are not deciding whether the $3,000,000 will be awarded tonight. That was a decision by the State. He said he thinks the decision comes down to where do we stand, do we choose to support what the school district is asking or support the Performing Arts grant that goes through the State. We need to have some of those discussions. President Evans said he thinks it is clear that we are not the School Board, we are the City Council. Council has different roles and responsibilities from the School Board but at the same time as we sit here as Council Members we share many of the same customers, or same citizens, and almost all members of the Bethlehem Area School District are Bethlehem citizens. He said we also realize they have Hanover, Freemansburg, Fountain Hill, and Bethlehem Township as well, where we just service the City directly. For the most part when the School District and City Council act we are dealing with the same citizens and they are impacted in the same way. There is a lot to think about as we move forward on this. Council is able to work a lot of different ways with the School District; we wear different hats and have different responsibilities as our roles on the board. We worked on the TIF together, we share facilities, if it is using the School District’s gymnasiums for our basketball leagues or if it is their golfers using our golf course, we do come and act together if it is in the best interest of our citizens. President Evans said he thinks all of us on Council have different thoughts on what that means and how we may even vote on this matter this evening. Philosophically he said he is opposed to charter schools although they do offer excellent systems. He is also able to attend a lot of programs, concerts and the fabulous musicals that both Freedom and Liberty offer. He said he thinks their choruses and orchestras are amazing. He said he understands and is aware of the costs that we were made aware of tonight and that charter schools are very expensive for our citizens. The Bethlehem Area School District made a tax increase last night probably higher than they wanted to and some programs have been cut more than they wanted to, just as Allentown and Easton are also deciding this evening. Mr. Evans commented that he thinks as a local board or municipality, whether it is a township, city or county, that Council should stand up for the things they believe in and that we should stand beside them even though we are not the School Board. President Evans concluded saying that even though we are City Council he supports the School Board’s thoughts and stated he will not be supporting the RACP grant flow through this evening. Mr. Evans then turned to the other Members to make their comments.
Councilman DiGiacinto said he had more conversations on this topic over the last couple of days that he ever expected to with many of the stakeholders involved in this grant. He said there are three things he has heard tonight. There has been talk about location, TIF dollars, and grant money. He pointed out that Council is here tonight to only vote on the pass through of the grant money and thinks the TIF dollars is another thing that needs to be tackled and looked at. Councilman DiGiacinto said he understands how the School District and the City feel about these TIF dollars in this particular area and thinks that is a conversation for another evening. As far as the land is concerned, he said it is in the TIF and Council Members should realize and remember that just two meetings ago Council did pass a Certificate of Appropriateness for the building of this school so we pretty much gave the go ahead. He said we are not talking tonight about the location and why it is or isn’t there. The grant itself as mentioned by many tonight has been awarded by the State. Mr. DiGiacinto said he is feeling very comfortable after discussions with City Officials and others that neither the City nor the Council advocated for this grant, we were facilitators. Council was not the one who went out and pushed the State to bring this grant for the Performing Arts School, they did it themselves with their people and with whatever pull they had in getting that and making it happen. He mentioned that if the City does not become the pass-through entity tonight it will just merely pass through some other entity, whether it is the County, the Redevelopment Authority or somebody else. Again, it is one of those things where the ship may have sailed a little bit on this and it might be symbolic, but the only thing he would have offered up and said he did suggest to the President of Council and one other Council Member, is that the Bethlehem Planning Commission, albeit not a prerequisite for this grant to be approved tonight or even for the grant to be awarded, the prerequisite was the Bethlehem Planning Commission’s passing of the plan to start this building which did not happen last week and probably will not happen until a certain traffic study is rendered. Mr. DiGiacinto said Council can vote tonight and he said he would be more than happy to wait, protocol-wise, until after the Bethlehem Planning Commission approves it to make sure that was followed through. He said either way he is prepared to make a move one way or the other. Again, he commented that this is a grant that is going to happen one way or the other. TIF dollars can be discussed on another night, if there is another night to talk about that, and he said he has spoken to Tony Hanna, Executive Director of the Redevelopment Authority, on this.
Councilman Recchiuti stated that he, like the majority of most Pennsylvanians, does not think the school districts get enough funding from the State, but as Mr. DiGiacinto commented, Council did not approve the $3,000,000, the State did. He noted that Council has done this before for other entities, this is not a new thing. In fact, he said, we criticize other municipal bodies for not doing this, for failing to pass through money from grants. Councilman Recchiuti commented that he thinks if we did not support this tonight Council will be setting a precedent that he does not think should be set. He said it would be a slippery slope if we reject one, what is the next one? He said he would be supporting the Resolution. Mr. Recchiuti said Mr. DiGiacinto touched on most of the points he wanted to make. He said this is private land, we are not selling the land, and we had nothing to do with the sale. Someone commented the TIF has been around fifteen years, but this parcel has been vacant for fifteen years. The TIF has not done much to support development on this parcel. He said we talk about SteelStacks and getting other development in there but thinks one of things we always say is SteelStacks is kind of on an island right now, it is not really connected to the Sands or the Third or Fourth Street Corridor. Mr. Recchiuti said he thinks this will help bridge that gap that is there since there are a lot of vacant spots on Third Street between the main business district and SteelStacks. Mr. Recchiuti said again he will be supporting this.
Councilwoman Dolan stated she also agrees strongly and philosophically and is against just about everything our current Governor does but in particular his slash and burn approach toward public education. That said, Ms. Dolan remarked that what is being presented here is called a false dichotomy, a connection that is not really a connection. She said this is not really a choice between the BASD and the Lehigh Valley Performing Arts Charter School because they do not pull from the same sources of funding and it is not going to hurt Nitschmann if the City accepts the pass through of State funds. She said she believes Council is being asked to do this for moral or philosophical support and thinks Council is very willing to do that as a body when it comes to directly speaking back to this Governor and would relish doing that. She said she thinks you would get a lot of support from Council in tackling those issues that are political in a political fashion. Councilwoman Dolan said she does not like the slippery slope of attacking a political issue in a fashion that in no way connects to what you are actually hurting through the attack. If we want to get at Governor Corbett, if we want to take a stand with our School Board, then let’s do that directly. Ms. Dolan said she would be the first in line to do it but does not see any reason why Council should hurt the citizens of Bethlehem by denying a very good development from occurring. She mentioned, as Councilman DiGiacinto said, this would be just perfunctory. Council is just allowing a grant to pass through. She said everything else has been approved, so what would be the harm in holding it up. Ms. Dolan said she knows a little bit about working with grants, and not having had any conversations with anyone this week on either side, she said you just don’t hold up for philosophical reasons a grant passing through. She said we already shot down that this is a TIF issue. It is not. She mentioned the question of having a non-profit in a TIF, and pointed out the City has a lot of non-profits in the TIF. Ms. Dolan said the idea of the TIF is to encourage development and that they are already willing to develop it without being beneficiaries of the TIF. She said we are not losing anything by having the school there; we are gaining something by having the school there. She said she thought these are probably the only types of kids that need charter schools, and those are kids who need to be in that environment. She said it is like vo-tech for performing arts which she thinks should be and thinks that it is being considered in New Jersey. It is for that type of kid who doesn’t do well or who won’t do well in the regular population and who thrives in a performing arts populated school. Ms. Dolan said we would be bringing them right into our arts community, feet on the ground. We always talk about that. She said this is Third and Polk Streets and there are restaurants and businesses there. They need people to buy things there. She said we talk about not having missing teeth, and said she has heard that from several people on this Council, not having missing teeth. She said there is a big missing tooth, a big fifteen year old gap in our development and someone wants to come in and build a beautiful structure that has been approved by our historic board and by our historic officer, and we have approved it as a structure. Ms. Dolan queried if Council should be beginning a process of making decisions about development in the City of Bethlehem for philosophical reasons. She remarked that she will not go down that road and thinks it is a bad road because Council has to often make decisions about things about which we are not philosophically in agreement. She said Council still has to make those decisions, positively or negatively, because they are right for the City of Bethlehem. A good example Council has been through is the Casino and also Broughal Middle School. One example of doing something that the School Board and City Council should understand pretty clearly as far as what is best for your constituents as opposed to the other body’s constituents is the demolition of Broughal. Council tried to send a message to the Board that we did not support it. She said Council voted no because it didn’t want to go down that path, down that slippery slope of telling the School Board what to do with their property. Ms. Dolan said she feels they are coming here and telling us what to do with this grant, but this is our decision to make. She questioned if Council turns down this money or shuffles it off to some other entity when are we going to do it again and who will be the next person up here asking us to turn down $3,000,000 to have a development in the City of Bethlehem because philosophically they want to send a message. She said it is not Council’s job and not what we were elected to do. Ms. Dolan said she does not think it is appropriate for people who have been in teaching positions nor have teaching positions who have gotten salaries through the school board, or unions that have given grant monies as has been the case with her. She said she will never vote on Council for something that is to send a message on behalf of the teachers. Ms. Dolan said she cannot and thinks this is a very bad way to go.
Mr. Reynolds stated that to him it appears clear there is enough support on Council to pass this through and thinks it is a tough issue. It is an issue that he says he disagrees with some of his colleagues on. He said he is almost always in favor of development but there are several things about this, and to get back to Councilwoman Dolan’s point, thinks when you look at this you have to weigh the positives and negatives and look at it philosophically and balance our own feelings about things versus balance in what is in the best interest of the community and if we think we are elected to pass those things on. This is a particular case, as Mr. DiGiacinto said, where whether we pass this resolution or not this money is still going to come. He said so that goes without saying. He added that his personal opinion on this is that he does not want to be someone who votes in support of it. He explained his reason why is that when the School District, County and City redid the TIF deal a few years ago, and granted he does not work for the Bethlehem Area School District and has never had a conversation about it, he is not sure whether or not the discussions included the idea of putting this piece of property right there as far as the Charter School. They certainly have every legal right to exist and at the same time one of the things Council has heard on one level in the past several months from people even on Council when they were running for office was the necessity to increase the amount of for-profit paying businesses that we have in the TIF district. He said to be honest he thinks that when you look at charter school reimbursements these are things he feels that dismantle public education. Mr. Reynolds said as Council disagrees he is looking at where they went to school or where they chose to send their children to school. He said as he has been reminded over the past several months, he is not married and has no children, but when he does his children will be going to the neighborhood public schools. Mr. Reynolds said that he thinks that one thing that has happened when he takes a look at Governor Corbett making a decision as far as the RACP, and said he has supported every RACP Council voted on in the past for a lot of economic development projects in the City, is that with the increase of charter schools one of the things that has been done is some of the most affluent people who use to lobby for public schools are taken out. He said you can look at the Bethlehem Area School District and at other surrounding school districts and some of the cuts they have had to make. He said we all pay taxes so we have an educated community and so our children can go to school, and that is why we pay taxes. He said he thinks it is the fact that it is $3,000,000 that can be diverted to this, and there is either $13,000,000 or $14,000,000 in charter school reimbursements. That affects the Bethlehem Area School District. Councilman Reynolds commented we can like or dislike it, but as people who believe in their neighborhood public schools, it is not something he wants to support. To get back to Mr. Recchiuti’s point before about the other bodies, and the county is the one that comes most to mind, when they spoke out against some of these RACPS and being a pass through, he said he thinks their objection was to the idea of people in Harrisburg making individual decisions about which businesses to support or not support. He said he thinks when people talk about slippery slopes he also thinks that is the reason why Council is elected. This is not an easy decision to make and he is certain that the Charter School provides opportunities for people but, at the same time, he is not in favor of supporting it. He said the bottom line, and he would agree with Councilwoman Dolan, is that this is part of a much bigger argument that we are going to have next year as the State of Pennsylvania about which direction we want to take with public education. Councilman Reynolds said he wishes them well with the project but will not support it.
Mr. Donchez stated he agrees with many of the comments made by Ms. Dolan and by Mr. DiGiacinto and thinks Governor Corbett overall is a disaster for public education. As a former public school teacher, he said he has sent his children to public schools. He said he thinks this is a philosophical issue in a sense and thinks that Council in the past has voted for pass-throughs even if they were opposed to it. Mr. Donchez asked Ms. Labelle if an agreement of sale has been signed for the tract of land. Diane Labelle responded that the agreement of sale is part of the whole package that will be signed when they have an agreement of sale and everything will close at one time with the financing package. Mr. Donchez commented that what we have here is a private entity in a sense purchasing this property but it happens to be within the TIF and said he would hope that in the larger scope of the BethWorks site that we have more businesses going in there. He said there is some truth to the point that it is possible that it may be a catalyst to fill in the gaps to create more economic development along Third Street because many of the businesses along Third Street are really hurting and some are closing. He said he never thought this issue would create so many phone calls in the last day or two. The City was not involved in this and was not aggressively pushing for this RCAP money. He said it is a pass-though like we have done many times before. Even if Council had some philosophical differences, he thinks most of the members of Council voted yes. Mr. Donchez stated that Council had an opportunity two weeks ago when voting on the Certificate of Appropriateness, to which Mr. DiGiacinto made reference, to raise questions at that point. He thinks that overall he is concerned about the fact that it is in the TIF, but that is not the main issue. Councilman Donchez stated this is strictly a parliamentary procedure issue of a pass-through and for that reason he said he will support it just on that point.
Voting AYE: Mr. Recchiuti, Mrs. Belinski, Mr. DiGiacinto, Ms. Dolan, and Mr. Donchez, 5. Voting NAY: Mr. Reynolds and Mr. Evans, 2. The Resolution passed.
Motion – Considering Resolutions 9 C through 9 H as
a Group – Certificates of Appropriateness
Mrs. Belinski and Mr. Reynolds moved to consider Resolutions 9 C through 9 H as a group. Voting AYE: Mr. Recchiuti, Mr. Reynolds, Mrs. Belinski, Mr. DiGiacinto, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Donchez, and Mr. Evans, 7. The motion passed.
C. Certificate of Appropriateness – 425-429 North New Street
Mr. DiGiacinto and Mr. Recchiuti sponsored Resolution No. 2013-117 that granted a Certificate of Appropriateness to paint the pergola the color black at 425-429 North New Street.
D. Certificate of Appropriateness – 55 East Church Street
Mr. DiGiacinto and Mr. Recchiuti sponsored Resolution No. 2013-118 that granted a Certificate of Appropriateness to replace the aluminum gutter, replace the front door, sidelights and transom at 55 East Church Street.
E. Certificate of Appropriateness – 37 East Church Street
Mr. DiGiacinto and Mr. Recchiuti sponsored Resolution No. 2013-119 that granted a Certificate of Appropriateness to repaint the woodwork on the façade of the home at 37 East Church Street.
F. Certificate of Appropriateness – 428 North New Street
Mr. DiGiacinto and Mr. Recchiuti sponsored Resolution No. 2013-120 that granted a Certificate of Appropriateness to replace brick walk with new concrete at 428 North New Street.
G. Certificate of Appropriateness – 245 East Church Street
Mr. DiGiacinto and Mr. Recchiuti sponsored Resolution No. 2013-121 that granted a Certificate of Appropriateness to reroof, replace gutters and downspouts and repaint entryway at 245 East Church Street.
H. Certificate of Appropriateness – 77 West Broad Street, Unit 18 C
Mr. DiGiacinto and Mr. Recchiuti sponsored Resolution No. 2013-122 that granted a Certificate of Appropriateness to retain existing signage and add a new sign with the logo at 77 West Broad Street, Unit 18 C.
Voting AYE on Resolutions 9 C through 9 H: Mr. Recchiuti, Mr. Reynolds, Mrs. Belinski, Mr. DiGiacinto, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Donchez, and Mr. Evans, 7. The Resolutions passed.
10. NEW BUSINESS.
A. Rescheduling Time of City Council Meeting – August 6, 2013 – 5:30 PM
President Evans stated that this was done the past couple of years due to Musikfest, specifically last year the meeting time was changed to 5:30 PM. Mr. Donchez and Ms. Dolan moved to reschedule the time of the City Council Meeting on August 6, 2013 to 5:30 PM. Voting AYE: Mr. Recchiuti, Mr. Reynolds, Mrs. Belinski, Mr. DiGiacinto, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Donchez, and Mr. Evans, 7. The motion passed.
Committee Meeting Announcement
Chairman DiGiacinto announced the Community Development Committee meeting that is scheduled for Monday, June 24, 2013 at 7:00 PM in Town Hall on the following subjects: Amendment to the Landmarks and Historic District Ordinance and Proposed new ordinance establishing Article 1732 – Abandoned Real Property.
11. PUBLIC COMMENT
Neighbor’s Tree; Police Matter
Jim Gregory, 1502 High Street, commented that the residents at 1504 High Street at one time had a perpetually growing tree that the City is well known for planting. The tree had done about $6,000 worth of damage to the property that he was forced to fix and it also constantly put pressure on the wires between their two properties. Finally his neighbor received a permit from the City to cut it down and now the City tree people asked that despite all the damage done by the last tree they are being told to put another tree on the property. He said the neighbor had cemented the property sidewalk since and now the tree people are telling him to dig up the concrete and plant another tree. Mr. Gregory said he thinks this is crazy being that there are three new trees across the street and he recently placed another tree in his backyard. He said he thinks there needs to be a compromise here and if the law does not allow compromise the law needs to be changed, and in the meantime his neighbor needs to be able to consider options. Mr. Gregory is concerned because his property could be damaged by a new tree. His said his neighbor did not want to come to this meeting because he has no faith in City government. Mr. Gregory is not sure who he should speak to on this issue but hopes he can be directed.
Mr. Gregory explained he had an issue with a Police search on his property and he believes that it was an illegal search and seizure but will be dealing with this in another manner. He said he would like his property back because it does not belong with the City. He commented that they took things that should not have been taken and he thinks they exceeded the warrant scope, but again said he will deal with this another place and another time. Mr. Gregory stated he would like his property returned promptly by the City.
Judy Koch, 113 E. Garrison Street, advised she sent a letter to Council, Mayor Callahan, and Joseph Kelly, Director of Community and Economic Development, about the comments made in the WFMZ article that was entitled “Rats Not Infesting the Bethlehem Neighborhood”. She said she thought the comments were made during the Council meeting but it turned out they were made after the meeting. She said these comments were still made. Ms. Koch stated that on April 16 she came to a Council meeting along with her neighbor, Emily Frye, to get some attention to the rat problem they have been having since May 2012 noted that as Council is aware, there has been action taken by the Bethlehem Health Bureau. She said they looked at the vacant home at 117 East Garrison Street and at her neighbor’s property at 111 East Garrison Street. She said that after seeing the property at 117 East Garrison Street the Health Bureau stopped going to the home and had Seitz Pest Control put down traps and bait. A few weeks later her neighbor at 117 East Garrison was told to clean the house and have a pest control company come regularly to the home. Ms. Koch said there were two thirty-foot dumpsters and two pickup trucks at the property that were taking out garbage. She said she has not seen anything since the clean-up but she smells what she believes is rat waste again and her dogs have been scratching at the walls and floor again. She was contacted by WFMZ about the comments made to the press by Mayor Callahan and Mr. Kelly and since then she has been informed that these comments have been heard on the radio, TV and Internet. Ms. Koch said her co-workers call her the rat lady and stated that she is a high school teacher and that her students, their parents, her co-workers and the public rely on her to be honest in everything she does and says. She remarked that she has not lied about this situation and she does not appreciate the comments made by Mayor Callahan and Mr. Kelly. She mentioned that anyone close to her has seen the pictures, have heard her complaining and have seen her at her worst in tears of anger, frustration and hopelessness. Ms. Koch did not want to bring this entire story public back in April but she though she had no choice after making eleven phone calls to the Health Bureau, email to Scott Sterner containing all of her pictures and documentation, a face to face meeting at the Health Bureau on January 28, two calls to the Mayor’s office on Sept 28 and October 9 in 2012, and a phone call to the fire inspector’s office on October 25. All of these phone calls, she reported, are documented. Ms. Koch emphasized that she is here at this meeting to make sure her documentation is looked at and is demanding an apology from Mayor Callahan and Mr. Kelly and said she sees this as a defamation of character and is extremely upset.
Vocational Schools; Invocation
Stephen Antalics, 737 Ridge Street, stated that he wanted to thank Councilwoman Dolan for her comments concerning vocational schools and said being from Bethlehem when you think of a vocational school you think of a hard hat. He said but if you go to other towns’ vocation is the arts and thinks we need to revise our vocational thinking to encompass the arts. He said he thought that in a sense the Performing Arts School is a vocational school as much as the existing vocational school. Mr. Antalics, commenting that the word invocation is a very general term, said the question he is raising is whether the invocation at a City Council Meeting should take on a religious nature. He thought that the invocation should be made very general so as not to offend people.
Private Schools; Development in Second Ward
Mary Pongracz, 321 West Fourth Street, stated that she wants to know where in the Constitution it states that every child in the United States of America must go to a public school and why would children be denied an opportunity to go to a private school. She remarked that if she ran her home like the school district runs their business she would not have a home. She said she is retired since 1985 and has spent thousands of dollars before that to give her children in her music classes what they needed. She said she did not ask them their nationality, their religion, or where they lived. Ms. Pongracz commented that they got an education and an education includes the arts. She said money gets thrown around and thought children should not be denied an education.
Ms. Pongracz then asked who gave the Parking Authority permission to have a right of demolition in the second ward in the City of Bethlehem saying the area is covered under the Historic Conservation Commission. She said she heard that they plan to build a multi-story apartment building with garages on the first floor and tear down two or three blocks. She questioned where the developer is getting his power and did he get permission to demolish from the Parking Authority. She said this has to be reviewed by the South Bethlehem Historic Conservation Commission, and in fact at their May meeting the Historic Conservation Commission had an agenda item regarding 333 Vine Street, yet that was mentioned in the newspaper article as being one of the properties included in this development. Ms. Pongracz remarked that she understands that some of the Council Members are in agreement with this developer. She said she thinks this is not development but a continuation of the rape of the south side. Ms. Pongracz stated that you cannot buy honor or integrity, and you cannot tell her that you are a good person when you plan to tear down the back of the First Reform Church on Fourth Street. She said she thinks this is a slap in the face to the citizens in the community.
Eddie Rodriquez, 701 Main Street, thanked Ralph Carp and the Parks Department for handling issues that he has called in about. He said he would also like to thank the dispatchers and the Bethlehem Police with their quick response regarding the Johnston Park Pavilion with the homeless problem there. Mr. Rodriguez said he made a call and they responded quickly and dealt with the situation and it seems to have been resolved temporarily. He stated that the City does have a homeless problem in the Johnston Park area that is sheltered by trees, and that is why they are in that area. Mr. Rodriguez added that he sees overgrown weeds on the pathway behind the Hotel Bethlehem and thinks those should be cut down immediately. He said he also sees a lot of furniture on City and owners’ properties and sidewalks that needs to be taken care of by the Health Bureau or Inspectors. Mr. Rodriguez referred to a restaurant at Third and Brodhead that has been taken down by eminent domain saying he thinks that this was a bad move. He said he would like to see that cleaned up as soon as possible. He stated the City needs to deal with vacant properties and do something other than taking down an entire block. Mr. Rodriquez commented that he does not think that is right.
The meeting was adjourned at 8:20 p.m.