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Bethlehem Council MInutes
BETHLEHEM CITY COUNCIL MEETING
10 East Church Street – Town Hall
Tuesday, December 2, 2014 – 7:00 PM
PLEDGE TO THE FLAG
1. ROLL CALL
President Reynolds called the meeting to order. Present were Bryan G. Callahan, Eric R. Evans, Michael D. Recchiuti, Cathy Reuscher, Louis N. Stellato, Adam Waldron, and J. William Reynolds, 7.
Honoring Joseph T. Mari, Jr. and Richard S. Derrico
President Reynolds stated that a Citation honoring Joseph T. Mari, Jr. on the occasion of his retirement from the Fire Department after 24 years of service and a Citation honoring Richard S. Derrico on the occasion of his retirement from the Fire Department after 20 years of service will be sent to them since they were unable to attend the meeting.
2. APPROVAL OF MINUTES
3. PUBLIC COMMENT
Andrew Cassano, 420 East Packer Avenue, stated he is Administrative Director for Zoellner Arts Center at Lehigh University. Mr. Cassano reported he is at the Meeting to speak about the proposed tax hike for the entertainment tax. On behalf of the several local not for profits, Mr. Cassano said he is at the Meeting to represent them and deliver a statement that it is time for the City of Bethlehem to differentiate the Sands Event Center, a multi-million dollar for profit commercial venture, from the dozens of smaller not for profit arts organizations who are dramatically impacted by the additional cost to their valued patrons. Mr. Cassano mentioned many of those patrons have been cultivated for decades. He said they wish to acknowledge the City for the impact of the services they provide to students of all ages who they collectively engage as part of their fundamental mission and who will be impacted by this tax. Mr. Cassano stated it is also time for the City to acknowledge the dozens of local small dance theatre and music businesses like the Lehigh Valley Ballet Guild, the Nardi School of Dance, and Touchstone Theatre who rent Bethlehem facilities and services at local art centers and venues like the Zoellner Arts Center and Moravian College. They are also impacted by additional taxes as they continue to struggle financially. Mr. Cassano continued on to say they fully acknowledge that the Casino is a tremendous asset for creating jobs, bringing in tourism dollars, and creating tax revenue for the City. However, the conversation has not been talking about the not for profit organizations or the small businesses that have been serving Bethlehem for many decades, much longer than the Casino. Mr. Cassano mentioned while no one wants another tax, they further acknowledge that the City of Bethlehem is facing very difficult decisions that affect jobs and vital services, and is looking for solutions and help from all of its constituents. Expressing they appreciate the conversation about the pros and cons of the tax, Mr. Cassano said they have not had the conversation about what they are all facing in addition to competition for ticket dollars and acquiring the best arts and entertainment, not just in Bethlehem or in the Lehigh Valley, but regionally as patrons will routinely travel from New Jersey and Philadelphia suburbs to the annual Bach Festival, Zoellner Arts Center, and many of the small other not for profit organizations. Mr. Cassano noted beyond that the conversation is missing about the not for profits. He said beyond all of the competition they face they are most importantly not for profit organizations that are actively engaged in seeking sponsorships and donations to support their mission. He advised that without these vital non ticket resources their operations would not be viable. They are all in the business of developing and preserving art forms, but in addition they offer extensive education and outreach programs. Mr. Cassano mentioned many of those programs are offered at low to no cost to the public schools and inner City youth programs. He pointed out that, in a time when arts education is being cut while simultaneously being acknowledged as a critical part of child development, the not for profit arts organizations and small businesses have filled that gap by developing hundreds of far reaching education and out reach programs, none of which are acknowledged by the City. Mr. Cassano informed the Members these mission driven services are not being taxed, and they rely on donations that is the key point. He explained that small donors in particular tend to view their overall support to an arts organization as including the tickets that they buy. It becomes increasingly difficult to ask for additional giving in a tough economy when arts organizations have been struggling for longer than the decade, when the cost of attending events is increasing but the organization is not getting additional revenue because it is being redirected to pay for an entertainment tax. Mr. Cassano related that small donations are a significant part of many arts not for profits and sometimes making up to 33% of donation dollars. For many local arts organizations, the mission includes arts experimentation and development and that, like pure scientific and technological exploration, does not always translate into ticket revenue. Mr. Cassano advised many are also serving economically disadvantaged students and patrons and that often means subsidized tickets, the key word being subsidized. There are additional differences in their operations that are being overlooked such as non profit board leadership, subjecting taxes on student productions and classes that are viewed as public performances, a heavy reliance on volunteers, and limits on the ability to earn revenue outside of their mission. Mr. Cassano stressed these factors must be taken into account when comparing the not for profit with a for profit, independent commercial organization. He emphasized it is also important to note that not for profit organizations and small performing arts businesses in Bethlehem are important to the brand, image, education, business partnerships, community engagement, and economic development of our great City as well as the Lehigh Valley. Mr. Cassano explained that, in addition to the Casino, they also raise the standard of living in the area, provide entertainment, and generate related business revenue, but they also promote learning opportunities, give local citizens the opportunity to participate in the arts, and develop different artistic disciplines. Mr. Cassano pointed out non profits must be viewed differently.
Bridget George, 440 Heckewelder Place, stated she is the Executive Director of the Bach Choir of Bethlehem. Ms. George mentioned she spoke at the last City Council Meeting when the topic of the Amusement Tax increase was being discussed so she will not say too much tonight. Ms. George informed the assembly she wanted to support Mr. Cassano’s eloquent explanation of the issue. Ms. George explaining that as a not for profit organization they must comply with many important laws, this is mission driven, not bottom line driven, and in view of the kind of services they give to the City, it is very important to make that distinction. Ms. George added she was recently in Cleveland which is a city where the arts have made an important contribution to turning around the economy of that city. Ms. George pointed out she was talking to many of the arts organizations there, and what is interesting to learn is that in Cleveland they do indeed have an amusement/entertainment tax, but not for profit organizations are exempt completely. Ms. George noted that was interesting to her and she listened to how they had won that case from their city. Ms. George, stating that she supports what has been said, requested that, for the benefit of the way the arts benefit this City and all its citizens, an exemption to the amusement for all not for profit organizations be considered.
Christine Roysdon, 421 Second Avenue, stated she is a volunteer board member and treasurer of the Chamber Music Society of Bethlehem. Ms. Roysdon said she wanted to speak about the changes to the entertainment tax. Ms. Roysdon informed the Members that for over 60 years her organization has provided classical chamber music concerts, string quartets, piano trios and the like for the Lehigh Valley with performers from all over the country and in fact the world. Ms. Roysdon, advising that most of their concerts are held at Foy Hall at Moravian College that is a wonderful hall, remarked and now they are paying the entertainment tax. Ms. Roysdon explained that much of the revenue they derive is from subscriptions, and they are now paying 5% of their entire subscription revenue to the entertainment tax. She continued on to explain that at $35 and $25 they top out at the current rate and end up paying 5% on everything they take in. Ms. Roysdon pointed out that like a lot of classical music organizations they are seeing a decline in subscriptions. She explained they are going after a lot more single ticket sales but for those they pay a premium in terms of advertising, and again for each and every ticket they sell at $35 and $25 they have to pay the maximum ticket tax of 5% of the entire price of their ticket. Ms. Roysdon advised that they do not raise prices because they are pretty much at the same level as most chamber music organizations across the country and are actually a little higher than the Williams Center and even the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. They do look for other sources of revenue beyond tickets. They have a lot of contributions from subscribers, and apply for and get a number of grants. Ms. Roysdon, informing the Members that they also do a lot of outreach, noted they do outreach to regional music students and give a lot of complementary tickets away to those students that is part of their mission. She explained that, as Mr. Cassano and Ms. George mentioned, it is part of their mission to educate and create a new generation of chamber music lovers. Ms. Roysdon noted last year for the first time in her 4 years as treasurer she was embarrassed to see their operating budget was in the red, and the ticket tax accounted for a full 40% of that redness. She added that calculating the ticket tax also added to her burden as a volunteer treasurer for a board. Ms. Roysdon stated that the element of the Ordinance that would require monthly reporting would make compliance for a number of small non-profits including theirs very burdensome. Ms. Roysdon pointed out they really want to keep their series in Bethlehem, they love Bethlehem and being part of the downtown’s cultural offerings. She said they would really like the City to take a look at the benefits of continuing the Amusement tax for non-profits. Ms. Roysdon asked City Council to think very carefully about an exemption and think carefully about the potential damage that this tax might do to what is currently a lively and very diverse set of cultural offerings in the downtown.
Attorney Matthew Croslis, 2030 West Tilghman Street, Allentown, stated he represents the Sands Bethlehem Event Center. Attorney Croslis pointed out that the Sands Bethlehem Event Center is not the Casino, but rather the Sands Bethlehem Event Center is owned by local businessmen who put their own money into developing that performing arts space. Attorney Croslis, informing the assembly that they lease the space from the Casino, advised other than leasing the space from the Casino the Sands Bethlehem Event Center is a tenant of the Casino. With regard to the proposed increase in the Amusement Tax, Attorney Croslis advised that the $1 increase on tickets $50 and above that affects 90% of the shows that are put on by the Sands Bethlehem Event Center. Attorney Croslis noted they did a quick review and are going to try to provide Council with some additional information explaining their concerns about the effect that this might have as a trickle down effect. Attorney Croslis stated that if this tax was imposed and the increase was imposed last year 15 shows could not have been booked because many of the performers do not allow them to pass these taxes on that would cut into the revenue the performers would have gotten, and the performers would not have booked the show. Attorney Croslis pointed out that with 35 shows the Events Center would have lost money, as the Event Center has to pay up front for the shows and hope it sells enough tickets to cover their expense. If this had been imposed last year 35 shows would have been lost so that would have been 50 nights this past year or going forward if it is a similar effect, 50 nights that the Event Center would have been dark. If they are dark on 50 nights the hotels do not have as many people staying in them, the restaurants do not have as many people eating in them, or as many employees working there. Attorney Croslis expressed that he wanted to inform Council of this before the final decision is made. Attorney Croslis advised they will try to put out some actual numbers as to what would have happened if these 50 nights would not have happened, and what would have happened to the occupancy rate at the hotels and things like that. Noting that the increase is supposed to generate $180,000 in extra revenue, Attorney Croslis stressed there is a possibility that it might offset if this happens, and based on their review so far that is what they believe would happen. Attorney Croslis pointed out it is a tough economy, and the City is faced with raising property taxes and laying people off. Communicating they understand that and are thankful to be part of the discussion, Attorney Croslis said they want to point out again that they are not part of the Casino, it is three local businessmen who built the Event Center, and they lease from the Casino. Attorney Croslis informed the Members that in 2013 the Sands Event Center paid $185,000 in the Amusement Tax, and in 2014 to date they paid $238,779 for a total of $424,000 and that is just the Amusement Tax. They also have EMT’s on site for every event that is not required but they do it for public safety, and in the last two years $98,000 was spent in EMT’s which is directly paid to the City. Attorney Croslis, advising there are also Police charges, said this is something they do not have to do, but they do it every Saturday night when the club is open, and for every event there are at least 1 or 2 Police Officers that is another $81,000 paid directly to the City. Attorney Croslis noted this benefits everyone, and makes sure that everyone has a safe and enjoyable experience. There are also some Fire charges of about $2,000 and that is required. Attorney Croslis explained he wanted to provide some additional information as to how they think it will affect not only their business but the economy locally. He communicated that hopefully there is an alternative solution for this matter, understanding the constraints that everyone is dealing with from the Administration to Council.
4. OLD BUSINESS.
A. Members of Council
B. Tabled Items
C. Unfinished Business
A. Director of Parks and Public Property – Recommendation of Award – Telephone System
The Clerk read a memorandum dated November 18, 2014 from Ralph Carp, Director of Parks and Public Property, requesting consideration of a Resolution to award a contract to RCN Business for the City telephone system replacement and service.
President Reynolds stated that Resolution 9 C is listed on the Agenda.
B. Director of Community and Economic Development – Recommendation of Award – Fair Housing
The Clerk read a memorandum dated November 25, 2014 from Alicia Miller Karner, Director of Community and Economic Development, requesting consideration of a Resolution to award a contract to North Penn Legal Services for fair housing services.
President Reynolds stated that Resolution 9 D is listed on the Agenda.
A. President of Council
Golf Course - Transformers
Mayor Donchez asked Ralph Carp, Director of Parks and Public Property, to give Council an update on what happened at the Golf Course with one of the transformers.
Mr. Carp informed the Members that over the weekend on Friday night a transformer failed at the Club House on the Golf Course. He explained it is one of three transformers and those transformers are probably the original ones installed in the 1950’s when the Golf Course Club House was built. Mr. Carp informed the Members that the Club House is running on emergency power now, and the staff is working to identify a replacement transformer and a better solution to the overall problem. He pointed out that if just the one transformer is replaced, there are still two older transformers in place that most likely will be problematic in the future. Mr. Carp, advising he is getting some numbers, said he hopes to have the problem solved and get off of the emergency generator in the next few days.
President Reynolds asked if there is an estimate of how much the new transformer would cost.
Mr. Carp replied the estimate is around $40,000.
President Reynolds wondered if there has been a discussion about where that money would come from.
Mr. Carp responded the Non-Utility Capital Fund has been identified as a funding source and there are several accounts being reviewed to obtain the funding. There are some savings from a few accounts that can be accessed and other accounts in the 2013 Bond Issue that have some funds left.
Mr. Waldron asked how the Club House is being powered currently.
Mr. Carp replied a diesel generator is being utilized.
Mr. Waldron pointed out that is not cheap.
Mr. Carp affirmed it has to be done to heat the building.
Mr. Callahan asked if PPL shares part of the responsibility.
Mr. Carp stated no and noted all of the infrastructure from the road all the way to the Club House is owned by the City.
C. Human Resources and Environment Committee
Mr. Waldron, Chairman of the Human Resources and Environment Committee, presented an oral report of the meeting that was held prior to the Council Meeting at 6:00 PM in Town Hall on the following subject: Proposed 2015 Budget – Personnel. The items were for information only and no votes or recommendations were given.
7. ORDINANCES FOR FINAL READING.
A. Bill No. 34 – 2014- Amending Article 910 – Trees and Shrubs
The Clerk read Bill No. 34 – 2014 – Amending Article 910 – Trees and Shrubs, on Final Reading.
Voting AYE: Ms. Reuscher, Mr. Stellato, Mr. Waldron, Mr. Callahan, Mr. Evans, Mr. Recchiuti, and Mr. Reynolds, 7. Bill No. 34 – 2014, now known as Ordinance 2014-34, was adopted.
8. NEW ORDINANCES.
A. Bill No. 46 – 2014 – Amending Article 309 – Moving Permit Fees
The Clerk read Bill No. 46 – 2014 – Amending Article 309 – Moving Permit Fees, sponsored by Ms. Reuscher and Mr. Evans, and titled:
AN ORDINANCE OF THE CITY OF BETHLEHEM,
COUNTIES OF LEHIGH AND NORTHAMPTON,
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, AMENDING
ARTICLE 309 OF THE CODIFIED ORDINANCES
ENTITLED MOVING OF HOUSEHOLD GOODS.
Voting AYE: Ms. Reuscher, Mr. Stellato, Mr. Waldron, Mr. Callahan, Mr. Evans, Mr. Recchiuti, and Mr. Reynolds, 7. Bill No. 46 – 2014 was passed on First Reading.
B. Bill No. 47 – 2014 – Amending Article 1113 – Food Code Regulation – Fees
The Clerk read Bill No. 47 – 2014 – Amending Article 1113 – Food Code Regulation – Fees, sponsored by Ms. Reuscher and Mr. Callahan, and titled:
AN ORDINANCE OF THE CITY OF BETHLEHEM,
COUNTIES OF LEHIGH AND NORTHAMPTON,
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, AMENDING
ARTICLE 1113 OF THE CODIFIED ORDINANCES
ENTITLED FOOD CODE REGULATIONS.
Voting AYE: Ms. Reuscher, Mr. Stellato, Mr. Waldron, Mr. Callahan, Mr. Evans, Mr. Recchiuti, and Mr. Reynolds, 7. Bill No. 47 – 2014 was passed on First Reading.
C. Bill No. 48 – 2014 – Amending Article 1731 – Inspection Fees
The Clerk read Bill No. 48 – 2014 – Amending Article 1731 – Inspection Fees, sponsored by Ms. Reuscher and Mr. Evans, and titled:
AN ORDINANCE OF THE CITY OF BETHLEHEM,
COUNTIES OF LEHIGH AND NORTHAMPTON,
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, AMENDING
ARTICLE 1731 OF THE CODIFIED ORDINANCES
President Reynolds, confirming that the fee increases had come from the Administration, asked if anyone from the Administration would like to speak briefly about the origin of the increases or how the particular numbers were decided.
Alicia Karner, Director of Community and Economic Development, noting that each fee was increased $25, informed the Members that the fees have not been increased in a number of years. An analysis that factored in the Maximus Study was conducted, as well as the cost to the Bureau, and it was found they were under-budgeting by about $100,000. By raising the fees $25 per inspection, the expectation is that the Bureau has raised the difference.
President Reynolds asked what percentage of these fees the City is actually able to collect.
Ms. Karner, noting this is different than the violation fees, explained this is to actually go out and do the inspections, so it is not the same thing that was discussed at the Budget Hearing.
President Reynolds, affirming he understands that, pointed out at the meeting there was a discussion about how it is hard for the City to get to every property or to understand exactly when every property should be paying these fees and when they should not be, and this is a issue that has been going on for a while.
Ms. Karner noted many times these are based on sale. For instance, if someone wants to sell their house they will pay the fee, and on improvements that are done to the property. The fees are not just on regulated rentals or annual inspections.
President Reynolds, stating he will vote for the proposal, said he thinks as has been discussed before this needs to be looked at. Acknowledging that internally in the Department they have looked at different ways to do things, President Reynolds thought it the City needs to look at the most efficient ways to collect the fees, and this is through no fault of Ms. Karner’s Department. President Reynolds noted that includes how the inspection fees apply, how often the City goes out, and so on.
Voting AYE: Ms. Reuscher, Mr. Stellato, Mr. Waldron, Mr. Callahan, Mr. Evans, Mr. Recchiuti, and Mr. Reynolds, 7. Bill No. 48 – 2014 was passed on First Reading.
Tabled at September 16, 2014 City Council Meeting:
D. Bill No. 28 – 2014 – Amending Article 304 – First Responder’s Fee/Amusement Tax
President Reynolds, confirming that Bill No. 28, the Amusement Tax, was tabled at the September 16, 2014 City Council Meeting, stated he will accept a motion and a second to take Bill No. 28 from the Table.
Mr. Recchiuti made the motion to take Bill No. 28 from the table. Ms. Reuscher seconded the motion.
Voting AYE: Ms. Reuscher, Mr. Stellato, Mr. Waldron, Mr. Callahan, Mr. Evans, Mr. Recchiuti, Mr. Reynolds, 7. The motion passed.
The Clerk read Bill No. 28 – 2014 – Amending Article 304 – First Responder’s Fee/Amusement Tax, sponsored by Mr. Recchiuti and Mr. Evans, and titled:
AN ORDINANCE OF THE CITY OF BETHLEHEM,
COUNTIES OF LEHIGH AND NORTHAMPTON,
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, AMENDING
ARTICLE 304 OF THE CODIFIED ORDINANCES
ENTITLED FIRST RESPONDER’S FEE/AMUSEMENT TAX.
Ms. Reuscher asked if there is a minimum ticket amount that the fee can be applied to.
Mr. Brong advised it is $10.
Ms. Reuscher asked how that number was decided.
Mr. Brong stated he is not sure.
Ms. Reuscher noted it was her thought in listening to some of the people who came to the Meeting to comment that maybe some of their concerns could be alleviated by raising the minimum and that may have less of an impact on the non-profits. Commenting this is just a suggestion, Ms. Reuscher stated she is interested in other thoughts on this matter.
President Reynolds confirmed if the Bill is passed this evening it is the First Reading, affirmed the Final Reading will be at the December 16 City Council Meeting, and any additional amendments could certainly be offered at the December 16 Meeting. President Reynolds added whatever changes would be made if those affected the revenue it would be included in the Budget as well. President Reynolds highlighted the fact that Mr. Brong was not the Business Administrator when the Amusement Tax was first instituted, and Mark Sivak, Director of Budget and Finance, who is not at the Meeting this evening, was in his current position when the Amusement Tax was instituted so he might be a good person to contact about this.
Ms. Reuscher stated she would reach out to Mr. Sivak in the interim.
Mr. Callahan asked how much money the City is collecting from non-profits from this tax as of now.
Mr. Brong advised he does not have that information with him tonight.
Mr. Callahan wondered if he should bring up an amendment at this time.
President Reynolds noted that would be Mr. Callahan’s decision.
Mr. Callahan stated he would defer to the rest of Council.
President Reynolds commented if the Members want to have further conversation about the tax they could.
Mr. Callahan, communicating all are music and arts lovers and the City has a proud heritage and tradition with music, pointed out the Middle Schools and High Schools also have great theatre programs and music programs and they are well recognized. Mr. Callahan related he feels the pain of the non-profits and he listened closely to what was said tonight. Mr. Callahan said he understands as far as raising the taxes for a revenue generator but it is too much for the non-profits to ask them to come up a dollar. Mr. Callahan noted Attorney Croslis highlighted the fact that the Sands Event Center is not part of the Sands Casino. The Event Center is run by local businessmen who took a huge gamble in opening up the facility and they took a lot of money out of their own pockets. Mr. Callahan thought there should be some give on the City’s part if possible, and at the bare minimum he would like to reduce the increased tax of a dollar to 50 cents and hopefully that will ease the pain a little bit.
President Reynolds asked if he is referring to what is included in the amendment Bill No. 28.
Mr. Callahan stated that is correct.
President Reynolds asked if Mr. Callahan wanted to offer that amendment.
Amendment - Bill No. 28 – 2014
Mr. Callahan moved to amend Bill No. 28 to lower the Amusement Tax from the Administration’s proposed increase of $1 to an increase of 50 cents, and to amend the collection on the fees from quarterly to monthly. The Clerk affirmed to President Reynolds that Ms. Reuscher signed the amendment to second it. The Amendment was as follows:
That the following in Section 1 which reads as follows:
304.03 Imposition of Tax
(c) The maximum tax imposed on any single admission shall not exceed $2.50.
Shall be amended to read as follows:
304.03 Imposition of Tax
(c) The maximum tax imposed on any single admission shall not exceed $2.00.
That new Section 2 be added to read as follows:
SECTION 2. That Section 304.06 that reads as follows:
shall be amended to read as follows:
That current Section which reads as follows:
SECTION 2. The effective date of this Ordinance is ___________.
shall be renumbered Section 3 and shall read as follows:
SECTION 3. The effective date of this Ordinance is February 1, 2015.
Mr. Evans recounted that Council first saw this proposal from the Administration in a memo dated August 26, 2014. The Members talked a little about it at that time and made the decision to not advance it which was a good decision, since the Proposed 2015 Budget had not yet been presented. Mr. Evans noted at the September 16, 2014 City Council Meeting the Members stated the proposed increase in the Amusement Tax does make a certain amount of sense but there were some concerns as to how will it would fit in the Proposed 2015 Budget that Council is now in the middle of reviewing. Mr. Evans thought by holding this until now it does gives Council a perspective, as the Members have been looking at sources of revenue and looking at ways to make cuts to the Budget. The Administration has brought a variety of options for Council to consider this year in order to make the Budget work. He continued on to say the Proposed 2015 Budget addresses eliminating some jobs that has some pain and it also includes a tax increase by which people will certainly feel pain there. Mr. Evans hoped the Members can work with the Administration on this matter. He noted Council talked about fees tonight a little bit, and looks for ways to increase revenue by finding areas where the City maybe is not collecting enough to offset costs. Mr. Evans pointed out this is just another piece of the puzzle, it does not solve it, but Council cannot dismiss it either and still hope that the Budget numbers add up. Mr. Evans observed that on any given night anyone of the groups, employees, Department Heads, or property owners could show up and say no to something, and the City would end back up with a $7 million budget gap. Mr. Evans thought this is a part of bringing everything together, and everyone needs to understand that the Administration and Council are working their best to spread out the pain and to have all the parties involved do what they can to help the City move forward. Mr. Evans noted he had concerns initially but he has some comfort with the memo today from Mark Sivak, Director of Budget and Finance, and that makes him feel good about this amendment as it stands now. Mr. Evans affirmed the memo shows the effect of a 50 cent drop and states if the fee is increased by the amount of 50 cents instead of a $1.00, and collected monthly for the calendar year, in the year 2015 the City would still be able to collect the proposed amount and it would not create a budget gap.
President Reynolds, noting Mr. Sivak is not at the Meeting, commented he believes Mr. Sivak stated the City will collect the 4th quarter payment but will not receive it until 2015. Starting on February 1, 2015 it would create a situation in 2015 by which the City would get the 4th quarter payment from 2014 but then also starting in February would get monthly payments for the rest of the year.
Mr. Evans noted it is good to look at this with the perspective of the fact that there are still a few budget hearings to know what else is involved. He observed that if Council were to say no to this proposal and make everyone happy, then at the next Budget Meeting the Members would have to come up with ways of getting money, such as less fire or police or find other ways to make the budget add up. Mr. Evans said he likes the logistics of the collection efforts that would allow the City to meet the Budget for at least the year 2015 without making any other cuts in personnel or services, and not have to raise the increased funds somewhere else. Mr. Evans noted for the year 2016 according to Mr. Sivak’s memo there would be a deficit of $90,000 which is a concern but not a primary concern. Mr. Evans thought this is a compromise and this allows the City to meet budget expectations this year and to hold the Budget together. Mr. Evans believed this is a fair request and we then need to revisit this in 2016 because we do not know how this will perform based on the projections we have heard. Mr. Evans remarked next year is another year but he thinks this is a fair compromise and he will support this amendment tonight.
Mr. Recchiuti, pointing out the budgeted amount for 2014 was $375,000 in revenue from the Amusement Tax and the actual and estimated amounts in the 2015 Proposed Budget Book are $420,000, asked is that number still on pace.
Mr. Brong commented that is a good number.
Mr. Recchiuti asked if the 3rd quarter revenue has come in.
Mr. Brong replied yes and noted the Administration is comfortable with the $420,000.
Mr. Recchiuti remarked that raising the Amusement Tax another 50 cents would create about another $90,000 every year, and next year would be extraordinary with the 4th quarter payment being received from this year and then having monthly payments next year. Mr. Recchiuti stated he will support the cap being increased by 50 cents tonight. Mr. Recchiuti recounted that the Amusement Tax was first proposed in 2012 by Mayor Callahan after going to some of the non-profits, and the larger entities looking for a PILOT agreement that time. Since that proposal came up empty the City was looking for revenue at that point and the Amusement Tax was one of the alternatives that time. Mr. Recchiuti thought the estimate at that time was $600,000 the first year, and it came up short at $215,000. Pointing out this will be the third year for the Amusement Tax, Mr. Recchiuti observed this is a little bit of trial and error. Noting the City will look at the revenue, Mr. Recchiuti said if it is over performing the tax can be brought back a little bit, but he thought that 50 cents is a good jumping point to get there so he will be supporting this tonight.
Ms. Reuscher stated she will be supporting this tonight, but she would like to do a little more research about possible amendments that could ease the burden on non-profits for the second reading of the Ordinance.
Mr. Waldron believed the compromise is good, it helps take some of the pressure off the performing arts centers, and puts more back on the City to try to close the gap. Mr. Waldron, stating that he has some concerns about the non-profits as well, said the Sands Event Center being the largest for profit will be influenced quite a bit by any change, as well as the non-profits, and maybe even more so. Mr. Waldron noted that to carve around the small non-profits might be an option, but the City also has to consider ArtsQuest that is a non-profit and quite a big one. Mr. Waldron pointed out that to exclude all of the non-profits may not be feasible because he has a feeling the City would not get anywhere close to that number. Mr. Waldron said he would be interested to see what the breakdown would be for profits and non-profits before the second reading of the Bill. Mr. Waldron noted another thing to consider with the Sands Event Center and ArtsQuest is the concession sales and specifically liquor being a very profitable source that many of the smaller non-profits do not benefit from. He highlighted the fact that ticket sales alone are not the driving profit for some of the larger entities as they are for the smaller ones. Mr. Waldron stated he would be interested in coming back and talking about this issue a little bit more as maybe a way that some of the burden on the smaller non-profits could be decreased, but as far as tonight’s amendment he will be supporting it as well.
President Reynolds felt it is important to say that all are in this together, as far as the Administration, Council, non-profits, and for profits. President Reynolds noted Mr. Evans had stated before that there are tough choices to be made, but it is important to realize the economic benefit that the whole arts community has and that includes those that might not be non-profit organizations. He noted that some of the larger non-profit organizations in the City have been questioned as far as the commitment they can make. President Reynolds pointed out that the Administration came forth with a proposal and when the City originally created the amusement tax there was a $600,000 estimate. However, that number was then lowered and the City responded to the fact that it was not coming in as budgeted, and that is what led to the $425,000 number that is currently in the Budget. President Reynolds communicated he has his doubts, if the tax is passed as it is currently proposed of raising it to $2.50, whether or not the $600,000 revenue number would be one that would be within reach. President Reynolds pointed out Mr. Sivak has looked at the math, but Council has heard from the profit and non-profit entities here about the effect the tax could have on the total amount of revenue coming in. He stated this is something that is important to be looked at as well. President Reynolds encouraged Members of City Council between now and the Final Budget Meeting to take a look at this matter as far as any changes someone would like to make. President Reynolds highlighted the fact that any change must be met in the final budget by either a different increase in revenue or a decrease in some type of cost going forward. President Reynolds noted it was explained that, even if the City takes in a few more dollars next year, in the future the City will receive a little less and that sets the stage for City Council and the Administration to continue to work together in 2015 as the year goes on to find ways to control costs in preparation for the 2016 Budget.
Mr. Callahan asked Mr. Brong if it is possible to get a breakdown of what the non-profits paid last year in the Amusement Tax.
Mr. Brong replied yes.
Voting AYE on the Amendment to Bill 28 - 2014: Ms. Reuscher, Mr. Stellato, Mr. Waldron, Mr. Callahan, Mr. Evans, Mr. Recchiuti, and Mr. Reynolds, 7. The Amendment passed.
Voting AYE on Bill No. 28 – 2014, as Amended: Ms. Reuscher, Mr. Stellato, Mr. Waldron, Mr. Callahan, Mr. Evans, Mr. Recchiuti, and Mr. Reynolds, 7. Bill No. 28 – 2014 was passed on First Reading.
A. Appointing City Clerk – Louise M. Kelchner
Mr. Recchiuti and Mr. Stellato sponsored Resolution 2014-238 that appointed Louise M. Kelchner as City Clerk effective December 15, 2014.
President Reynolds noted that Ms. Biedenkopf has decided to retire from her full time duties as the City Clerk. President Reynolds commented he will be discussing this further at the Budget Hearing next week as far as what Council’s plan will be. President Reynolds, advising it is the intention to keep Ms. Biedenkopf on with the transition period for Ms. Kelchner, commented there will be time in the future when Ms. Biedenkopf ends her temporary employment as far as the transition. President Reynolds commented that what Ms. Biedenkopf has meant to City Council over the years has been truly unbelievable. President Reynolds said he knows this is a day mixed with many emotions for Ms. Biedenkopf, and Council is confident that Ms. Kelchner will do an excellent job.
Mr. Callahan affirmed he has been on Council for 11 months and was surprised by the amount of work Ms. Biedenkopf does, and said the professionalism and the efficiency and accuracy of her job is astounding. Mr. Callahan mentioned she has been a big help to him and many on Council, and he appreciates everything she has done, her help and guidance. Mr. Callahan wished her the best in her future endeavors.
Mr. Evans commented, as has been said, Ms. Biedenkopf has been a fantastic worker for a long time and valued by the Members of Council and other employees of the City. Mr. Evans noted she will be missed on many levels at City Hall. Mr. Evans stated he is happy that Louise Kelchner will be an excellent replacement and will be able to step in with the guidance of Ms. Biedenkopf. Mr. Evans pointed out Ms. Kelchner has a lot of institutional knowledge that she will be bringing to the position so he believes this transition will be fairly seamless.
Mr. Recchiuti stated he was chatting with Ms. Biedenkopf before the Meeting and she mentioned that she was 28 years as the City Clerk and has 30 years with the City. They were talking about some of the past Council Presidents and the Councils she has worked with. Mr. Recchiuti commented Ms. Biedenkopf will be missed, and he welcomed Ms. Kelchner back to City Hall and added some of us know her as Mayor Callahan’s Executive Secretary for a number of years and also the Executive Secretary for Mayor Cunningham. Mr. Recchiuti pointed out Ms. Kelchner is someone who is familiar with City Hall and he is happy to sponsor her Resolution tonight and welcome her.
Ms. Reuscher, expressing her gratitude to Ms. Biedenkopf, said her this first year on Council would have been a lot more difficult and thanked her. Ms. Reuscher stated she is also looking forward to working with Ms. Kelchner.
Mr. Stellato, noting he has only known Ms. Biedenkopf for a few weeks, stated he knew her mother for many years through church and they are both beautiful people. Mr. Stellato thanked Ms. Biedenkopf for the help she has given him and welcomed Ms. Kelchner.
Mr. Waldron thanked Ms. Biedenkopf for her help to Council and the City. He noted no request ever sent to Ms. Biedenkopf went unanswered or unfulfilled and most of the time more information than one thought was available was received. Mr. Waldron stated he is confident Ms. Kelchner will continue that trend.
Ms. Biedenkopf thanked Council for the kind words and thanked them for the opportunity to serve City Council. She pointed out that tonight is Ms. Kelchner’s night and welcomed her as City Clerk and congratulated her.
President Reynolds pointed out that Mayor Donchez had the opportunity to work with Ms. Biedenkopf for a number of years and he wanted to give him the opportunity to offer comments.
Mayor Donchez stated he probably has known Ms. Biedenkopf longer than anyone in the room. When he was first elected in 1995 he was a rookie on City Council but he had the privilege of serving for 8 years as President of Council. Mayor Donchez thought that City Council has been very blessed by having Ms. Biedenkopf in addition to Nanette Snyder, Assistant City Clerk, who will be retiring also. He expressed that they have served the City with integrity, professionalism, hard work, and dedication. Mayor Donchez commented he will miss Ms. Biedenkopf as all of the Members of Council current and past will. Mayor Donchez wished her the best and welcomed Ms. Kelchner to City Hall.
President Reynolds noted there is cooperation between the Administration and City Council as far as what is in the best interest of the City. He stated that many ended up running for City Council because they grew up in a time as concerned citizens when that was not always the case. President Reynolds recalled that about 10 years ago there was a period of time in which City Council Meetings had a lot of strong personalities and there was a lot of disagreement with the Administration at the time and between Council Members. President Reynolds thought one of the greatest things one could say about Ms. Biedenkopf is she may have been the only person who was able to stay universally popular with all Members of Council who served on Council, and Members of Council agreed that Ms. Biedenkopf was good at her job. President Reynolds noted it is sad Council is losing Ms. Biedenkopf, and thought if every employee gave what she gave to her job over the past 30 years, the world would be a better place.
Voting AYE: Ms. Reuscher, Mr. Stellato, Mr. Waldron, Mr. Callahan, Mr. Evans, Mr. Recchiuti, Mr. Reynolds, 7. The Resolution passed.
President Reynolds welcomed back Ms. Kelchner.
B. Authorizing Records Destruction – Department of Water and Sewer Resources
Mr. Recchiuti and Mr. Stellato sponsored Resolution 2014-239 that authorized the destruction of records from the Department of Water and Sewer Resources.
Voting AYE: Ms. Reuscher, Mr. Stellato, Mr. Waldron, Mr. Callahan, Mr. Evans, Mr. Recchiuti, and Mr. Reynolds, 7. The Resolution passed.
C. Authorizing Contract – RCN Business – City Telephone System
Mr. Recchiuti and Mr. Stellato sponsored Resolution No. 2014-240 that authorized the execution of a Contract between the City of Bethlehem and RCN Business for City telephone system replacement/service.
President Reynolds, affirming that Council received a memo from Mr. Carp about the contract, asked Mr. Carp to review the process and why it needs to be done now.
Mr. Carp informed the Members that he and Greg Cryder, City Electrician, have worked for a year and a half on this project, trying to put together specifications, and to fully understand the needs of the City and all of different departments with regard to telecommunications. Mr. Carp highlighted the fact that the current phone system is an ISDN Verizon system that was installed in the early 1990’s. In assessing the technology today versus the early 1990’s, the City's phone system is antiquated, and Verizon no longer supports it. Mr. Carp pointed out most of the technicians who knew ISDN technology have long since retired or moved on to other ventures. Mr. Carp, explaining the Administration wanted to bring the City's phone system up to date, advised they spoke extensively with many different departments to understand their needs not just for the City Hall facility, but for all the different buildings throughout the City including the water filtration plant, public works garage, fire houses, and so on. It was decided that since the City does not have the expertise in-house to determine the system architecture, an RFP process was put together versus a bid process to specifically define what equipment the City wanted to have installed in the buildings. Mr. Carp explained it was left to the system providers to determine the best technology that would best support the City's needs and desires, and to take into account expandability and future service. Mr. Carp confirmed an RFP was issued and the City received 4 responses out of about 8 or 9 providers. Of the 4 that responded, RCN was the only service provider that offered the City a system that was felt met all of the requirements and specifications spelled out in the RFP. Mr. Carp advised the Administration is recommending award of the project to RCN. The dollar amount in the contract is spread over 7 years, and the City is paying roughly through the course of the operation of the system and installation what it is paying right now for Verizon and MCI for long distance.
President Reynolds asked how the 7 year term was decided.
Mr. Carp, responding that he did not want to burden the City with a lot of up front charges, advised it certainly would have been expensive to purchase all new handsets for all of the desktops and so forth. He looked at basically a lease-purchase, amortized the cost of the handsets and built that in with the monthly service fees. There will be a lot of rewiring of City Hall to upgrade to better service and to replace a lot of the old phone wire that is in the building. Mr. Carp stated there will be upgrading of City Hall and other buildings in many different ways with all new handsets and excellent technology. Mr. Carp emphasized that the best part is the level of service and support the City will receive from a Bethlehem-based business and with local employees' support. Mr. Carp noted it will be fiber and wire and will not be internet based where the City's data leaves the building and goes somewhere and it is no one’s responsibility until it reaches that service provider, so RCN bridged that gap. The system that will be put into place will be more of a bricks and mortar type and RCN will give the City 24/7 support on the system.
President Reynolds asked if there are representatives from RCN at the Meeting.
Mr. Carp affirmed there are if Council would like to ask any specific questions.
Mr. Recchiuti queried if RCN will be the service provider also.
Mr. Carp replied yes.
Mr. Recchiuti asked if any phone numbers will be changed.
Mr. Carp responded everything will be the same.
Mr. Waldron asked if the upgrade would affect the 911 Center.
Mr. Carp replied no.
Voting AYE: Ms. Reuscher, Mr. Stellato, Mr. Waldron, Mr. Callahan, Mr. Evans, Mr. Recchiuti, and Mr. Reynolds, 7. The Resolution passed.
D. Authorizing Contract – North Penn Legal Services – Fair Housing Services
Mr. Recchiuti and Mr. Stellato sponsored Resolution No. 2014-241 that authorized the execution of a contract between the City of Bethlehem and North Penn Legal Services for Fair Housing Services.
Mr. Recchiuti, noting he was an intern at North Penn Legal Services after his first year of law school, added they provide excellent services and have been doing work for the City for a number of years.
Voting AYE: Ms. Reuscher, Mr. Stellato, Mr. Waldron, Mr. Callahan, Mr. Evans, Mr. Recchiuti, and Mr. Reynolds, 7. The Resolution passed.
Considering Resolutions 9 E through 9 H as a Group
Mr. Waldron and Mr. Recchiuti moved to consider Resolutions 9 E through 9 H as a group. Voting AYE: Ms. Reuscher, Mr. Stellato, Mr. Waldron, Mr. Callahan, Mr. Evans, Mr. Recchiuti, and Mr. Reynolds, 7. The motion passed.
E. Certificate of Appropriateness – 15 East Third Street
Mr. Waldron and Mr. Callahan sponsored Resolution 2014-242 that granted a Certificate of Appropriateness for the alteration of the previously approved metal sign at 15 East Third Street.
F. Certificate of Appropriateness – 401 East Fourth Street
Mr. Waldron and Mr. Callahan sponsored Resolution 2014-243 that granted a Certificate of Appropriateness to install lettering on the front window at 401 East Third Street.
G. Certificate of Appropriateness – 208 East Fourth Street
Mr. Waldron and Mr. Callahan sponsored Resolution 2014-244 that granted a Certificate of Appropriateness to build an addition on the rear of the single family residential structure at 208 East Fourth Street.
H. Certificate of Appropriateness – 410 East Fourth Street
Mr. Waldron and Mr. Callahan sponsored Resolution 2014-245 that granted a Certificate of Appropriateness to replace the siding at 410 East Fourth Street.
Voting AYE on Resolutions 9 E through 9 H: Ms. Reuscher, Mr. Stellato, Mr. Waldron, Mr. Callahan, Mr. Evans, Mr. Recchiuti, and Mr. Reynolds, 7. The Resolutions passed.
10. NEW BUSINESS.
President Reynolds announced that the Fourth Budget Hearing will be held Monday, December 8, 2014 at 6:00 p.m. in Town Hall on the following proposed budgets:
Public Works Department
Liquid Fuels Fund
Non-Utility Capital Fund
Council, Mayor, Treasurer, Controller
Department of Administration
General Fund Revenue
General Fund Expenditures
President Reynolds added the Final Budget Meeting will held Thursday, December 11, 2014 at 6:00 p.m. in Town Hall.
Regional Passenger Rail Service
Ms. Reuscher stated she would like to follow up on the issue of Regional Rail. Noting that Kirk Raup is at the Meeting tonight, recalled this is something that was spoken about before and in general all are very supportive of it. Ms. Reuscher, expressing her understanding there has been some discussion with the City of Allentown and the City of Easton, wondering if Council could get an update on those discussions.
Mayor Donchez responded he met with the Mayor Pawlowski of Allentown and Mayor Panto of Easton on the subject, along with Becky Bradley of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, a few months ago. The Cities of Bethlehem, Allentown and Easton all passed similar Resolutions supporting the concept of Rail Service about two or three years ago. Mayor Donchez noted in discussions with Mr. Raup he had indicated he would provide, which has never come to the Administration, a letter of support for an Authority from the City of Allentown and the City of Easton. Mayor Donchez advised he has discussed the issue with both Mayors and that letter will not be forthcoming. Commenting all support the concept, Mayor Donchez denoted it is more of a regional issue, or a County issue, or an issue for the LVPC, but there is nothing new to report on the issue.
Ms. Reuscher asked if the discussions at any point were about LVPC taking on a feasibility study or some sort of planning around this matter.
Mayor Donchez reported there was some discussion on that.
Ms. Reuscher asked if it has been followed up on.
Mayor Donchez pointed out he has not discussed this with Ms. Bradley in two months, so he does not know the status.
Livingston Street – Traffic
Mr. Evans reported Council received an email that will be forwarded to the Police or Public Works-Streets Department that is a request from a few concerned people living on Livingston Street in the area of Marvine Elementary School. Mr. Evans stated there are some issues with traffic with cars going too fast in and around the crosswalk. It is even mentioned in the email that the Crossing Guard has shifted down and crosses further up for more visibility. Mr. Evans noted he will be asking for follow up on the matter.
Mr. Evans stated that on Thursday night he was at a Recreation Commission meeting at which Pat Herrity, a member of the Commission, asked whether the definition of Malicious Loitering that is in Codified Ordinance Article 941 can be used in general and if it would be applicable to different areas of the City such as the downtowns, and other areas. Mr. Evans advised he is bringing up the matter and will follow up and see if this would be effective for the Police to enforce in areas of the City aside from the parks.
President Reynolds turned to the memo he had sent to the Members of Council and the Administration on the 911 System. President Reynolds stressed that one of the big decisions going forward as far as the 2015 Budget is the future of the City's 911 System. President Reynolds pointed out that his memo dated December 1, 2014 included the revenues and expenditures for the 911 System that were taken from the Budget Book. He thought one of the tough decisions that will need to be made in the next few weeks is not only the proposed tax increase from the Administration having to do with the 911 System but also the future of what the City will do with its 911 System. President Reynolds affirmed this is an issue that has been going on for a number of years, and noted the numbers he put together from the Budget book were the total amount of expenditures in the 911 System compared to the revenue the City received from Pennsylvania for those years. President Reynolds, reading from his memo, stated that from 2010 to 2013 the City received from the State on average approximately 75% of the total costs of the 911 System. In 2014 that number was down to 56%, and in 2015 the number is also 56% that is part of the rationale for the Administration coming forward with the tax increase. President Reynolds advised the majority of the tax increase has to do with the 911 System. President Reynolds thought it was important for Members of Council as well as the Administration and everyone else to talk about the matter going forward because all have a lot of questions about what to do with the City's 911 System. President Reynolds stated he knows other Members of City Council have strong feelings about this matter as well, as far as how much longer the current 911 System will be viable. President Reynolds, highlighting the fact that there are various issues involved in the matter, noted it has been heard for years about the State of Pennsylvania changing its formula, and added often it has long reaching implications to the funding source. In looking at what is occurring with the 911 System, similar to what many deal with in public education, President Reynolds stressed there is a declining percentage of support coming from the State that is leaving the City and the City of Bethlehem's taxpayers with a decision about whether or not they want to continue the City's 911 service. Pointing out that Members of Council have heard about the matter from Mr. Haffner, 911 Director, and many have visited the 911 Center, President Reynolds affirmed that people treasure the service they receive but there is certainly a financial cost to the 911 system. President Reynolds, stating that going forward he certainly thinks there will be some tough decisions to make, stressed the story comes down to the percentages in that the City is receiving a smaller percentage year after year to provide a basic service. President Reynolds communicated this is not an ideological issue about whether or not people want their government to provide this particular service, since what is being talked about is the 911 System that is one of the most basic services the City is in charge of providing, but rather it is about the fact that the State continues to short change the City in this area leaving the City to question the future of the 911 System as it currently exists.
Mr. Callahan commented he appreciates what President Reynolds is saying. Mr. Callahan asked if the numbers that President Reynolds submitted to Council included any capital.
President Reynolds stated the budget numbers do include the capital that is included in the Bond Issue.
Mr. Brong pointed out the numbers are co-mingled.
Mr. Callahan asked Mr. Haffner about the tower on South Mountain and when that was done.
Mr. Haffner replied the latest tower installed was at the water tank on Lynn Avenue in the area of South Mountain, was part of the overall radio upgrade in 2008, and was part of the $4.5 million upgrade although he does not know what percentage of that was the tower.
Mr. Callahan asked Mr. Haffner if the $4.5 million included the upgrade to the consoles in the 911 Center.
Mr. Haffner, advising it did not, said it was just the back room infrastructure and for the consoles that was in done in 2012 and was roughly about $1 million.
Mr. Callahan asked if there were any other substantial upgrades in the last 4 or 5 years.
Mr. Haffner responded no, and stated the only other one coming up is the phone system in 911. He noted that for both of those upgrades, the radio system and the consoles, the State subsidized the funding so the City did not have the full responsibility for paying the whole thing.
Mr. Haffner, advising that was before he became the Director, thought it was in the neighborhood of 50% but stated he will check the numbers.
Mr. Callahan asked if the $2.25 million is included in the numbers provided by President Reynolds.
Mr. Brong, stating some is, explained it is really a mixed bag. He added that, without getting into a lot of detail, the way the City stated the finances for 911 is wrong in that the operating statement must be separated from capital interests. Advising that was not done, Mr. Brong noted it was commingled because of the State’s involvement. Mr. Brong, acknowledging it is underfunded, said the State needs to step up, and pointed out that the way the City states things is not giving a clear picture.
Mr. Callahan expressed his appreciation that the Mayor, along with Allentown Mayor Pawlowski, has sent a letter to the State. He asked how much of the proposed tax increase of 2015 can be attributed to 911 operations.
Mr. Brong replied it is the most significant part of it. He stated about $985,000 is due to 911 and perhaps $450,000 is due to general purposes.
Mr. Callahan, confirming that 911 is an important service the City provides to the citizens, emphasized the cost is also something that people need to be made aware of. Acknowledging there are some major questions that need to be answered, Mr. Callahan commented his understanding is that additional upgrades will have to be done in the next few years.
Mr. Haffner highlighted the fact that one more upgrade is the phone system for which the City has already received funding from the State. He informed the Members that if Council wants to move forward with that it would happen in the second quarter of next year.
Mr. Callahan asked what is the cost.
Mr. Haffner said he believes the total is $650,000 of which $400,000 came from the State.
President Reynolds added there was an article in the Morning Call newspaper the other day that started this conversation. Expressing his agreement with what Mr. Brong had said many times, the details of eligible funding are important but they get away from the bigger issue that the costs of the 911 Center are going up and the City is receiving less money from the State as a percentage of those costs. President Reynolds noted some of those costs have to do with what the State tells the City that the 911 system needs to have to be up to date as far as technology.
Mr. Haffner replied that is correct.
President Reynolds communicated this is a situation by which the State is telling the City that it needs a particular technology, needs to handle 911 text messages, and needs to do certain upgrades, but at the same time the State is not funding those upgrades.
Mr. Haffner replied that is also correct, and the State has only funded the City to a point up until now and the City does not know what future funding may be received moving forward.
Mr. Recchiuti, noting that the Administration’s proposed 2015 tax increase is .99 mills, pointed out that .67 mills of that would go towards an increase in the dedicated 911 tax. Mr. Recchiuti, highlighting the fact that citizens already pay a 911 tax on their telephone bills and cell phone bills, remarked that essentially the citizens of Bethlehem are being double taxed for 911 service. Mr. Recchiuti thought it is something the State needs to look at because 911 is an essential service as President Reynolds has denoted. While observing that an alternative would be to join the County 911 system, Mr. Recchiuti said he is not sure it was ever fully studied. Mr. Recchiuti advised that he discussed the Adams County 911 system with his father-in-law who is the Chief of Police of Cumberland Township. Mr. Recchiuti explained Adams County has a regional 911 system within the County and advised that the 911 Center is in Gettysburg and Cumberland Township is served by that 911 system. Another regional 911 Center is located to the north that serves the upper Adams County area. Mr. Recchiuti wondered if something similar could be done and would be feasible if Bethlehem went with the Northampton County 911 system. Continuing on to say the capital costs of 911 are the biggest cost drivers, Mr. Recchiuti pointed out that in 2008 the City spent $2.25 million, and in 2012 the City spent $500,000, the CAD costs the City $234,000, and other costs were $1.2 million proposed. Mr. Recchiuti thought it seems the City has to work more closely with its neighboring municipalities and the Counties to get the costs at a more manageable level using technology and efficiencies, such as a CAD system and dispatch that can be shared and utilized by other municipalities in addition to the City. Mr. Recchiuti informed the assembly that he has read the 2013 State 911 Report in which it talks about regionalization and sharing of resources. Mr. Recchiuti stressed it is something on which the City has to focus going forward.
Mr. Haffner mentioned that, with regard to the CAD system and State funding, in order for the City to purchase its CAD system it had to be something it could leverage with the other 13 municipalities in the region or the State would not approve funding for the City. However, Mr. Haffner explained when other municipalities decide they want to look at a CAD system they will have to look at what others in the region are using; i.e., Bethlehem, and look at that as an alternative if they want to obtain State funding. If they stay with their current CAD system then there is nothing the State can do. If Allentown wanted to consider a new CAD system, the State would look favorably if Allentown wanted to share Bethlehem’s CAD system. If Allentown wanted to buy a new CAD system on their own, the State would not look favorably on that investment and would not help them fund it. Mr. Haffner confirmed that in order for the City to get the CAD system it purchased it had to look at it from a regional perspective. Other municipalities interested in new CAD systems will have to come to Bethlehem to look at what it purchased and confirm with the State whether or not they want to go in that direction, otherwise the State does not necessarily have to fund it.
Mr. Haffner confirmed to Mr. Recchiuti that Bethlehem is the first in the region to purchase a new CAD system. Further affirming to Mr. Recchiuti that if Lehigh County wanted a new CAD system it would look at Bethlehem’s system, Mr. Haffner stated that before Bethlehem purchased the new CAD system he opened it up to all 13 members of the region and 8 attended the demos. He affirmed that all of them reviewed and scored the system that Bethlehem purchased, and all liked the system that Bethlehem purchased which is part of the reason that Bethlehem purchased what it did. Mr. Haffner noted that Lehigh County and Allentown are looking at coming into Bethlehem’s system. Mr. Haffner informed Mr. Recchiuti that Bethlehem has enough server space, for example, to have Lehigh County and Allentown come on Bethlehem’s system. If Bethlehem did not, then the State would offset those costs because it is cheaper for the State to buy a few more servers for Bethlehem’s system then to buy two more counties an independent CAD system. The State looks at the total cost and decides if infrastructure needs to be built out to support neighboring municipalities and it is less expensive than buying two new systems they will pay for servers as part of the upgrade.
Mr. Recchiuti asked if Bethlehem’s is the smallest 911 Center in the State. Mr. Haffner replied no, and advised that Bethlehem is 32nd out of 69. Mr. Haffner further informed Mr. Recchiuti that Bethlehem is not the smallest of the 13 in the region. Mr. Recchiuti inquired why Bethlehem is taking the lead, and if it will be reimbursed for expenses. Mr. Haffner responded it depends on how Bethlehem moves forward. Mr. Haffner explained that the experience with the CODY system was why Bethlehem took the lead with CAD since it was able to leverage 911 funding to do it. Affirming that Bethlehem did not take the lead in replacing the phone system and Allentown took that lead, Mr. Haffner advised that Allentown is in a position to share its phone system. Mr. Haffner continued on to say when he comes before Council in mid-2015 to ask about a phone system it will be to join Allentown’s network that is already being shared with Northampton County. Noting there is $621,000 projected for next year for the 911 phone system out of which $430,000 would come from Act 56 and $192,000 from the City, Mr. Recchiuti asked what would that cost if the City were doing it on its own. Mr. Haffner replied that was a quote Bethlehem received from the State at the time the funding was secured, and the City is in process of compiling the quotes. Mr. Haffner advised he will have two quotes, one for a stand-alone system and one for a shared system with Allentown. Mr. Brong acknowledged to Mr. Recchiuti that capital costs would be part of the Non-Utility Capital Budget. Mr. Haffner noted it was part of the 2010 Bond Issue so that the funds have already been secured.
Mr. Recchiuti, observing it ultimately needs to be decided if the 911 System is something the City of Bethlehem continues to provide, highlighted the fact that there is nothing the City can do right now. Restating that $2 million in tax dollars is going towards 911 in 2015, Mr. Recchiuti pointed out a lot of citizens like Bethlehem’s 911 Center, including him, but as the fiduciary for the taxpayers Bethlehem has to make sure it is doing the best with the tax money. Mr. Recchiuti communicated the question is whether it is most efficient for Bethlehem to fund a 911 Center that is going to be costing taxpayers a lot more money in the future, which is something that is not yet known, or merge with Northampton County, Lehigh County, or the City of Allentown, for example, and try to consolidate costs. Mr. Recchiuti stated it is something that has to be reviewed and studied, and affirmed that Chairman Evans has volunteered to hold Public Safety Committee meetings on the issue next year.
Mr. Callahan, expressing his agreement with Mr. Recchiuti’s comments, said he would be very interested in attending the meetings. Mr. Callahan thought it would be useful to have Northampton County give an overview of its program and facilities. Mr. Callahan said it is incumbent on all to get the word out to citizens that if they want Bethlehem to keep its own 911 Center they have to also know the costs of maintaining and operating the 911 System. It also has to be decided if it is something the City wants to continue, or whether it should consider the alternative of going with Northampton County’s 911 system. Mr. Callahan asked whether the City would receive revenues if Allentown used the City’s CAD system.
Mr. Haffner, explaining there are a number of ways to look at it, exemplified that since Allentown already has a new phone network that Bethlehem will be joining, Bethlehem would say that Allentown can join the City’s CAD system. He noted that a buy-in fee would not be charged in that case. Mr. Callahan asked if Lehigh County would pay if it wanted to use Bethlehem’s CAD system and the Allentown phone system. Mr. Haffner replied yes, and said more importantly Lehigh County would also share the long-term costs. Mr. Haffner continued on to advise the more entities that join the more costs such as maintenance and upgrades would be split that are the significant cost drivers moving forward. The more that share the phone system, for example, the stronger it becomes with bargaining maintenance costs. Mr. Callahan asked who would establish the rates if Lehigh County decides to join Bethlehem’s system. Mr. Haffner responded the vendor that provides the service and the hardware.
Mr. Callahan, highlighting the fact that the issue affects the Police, Fire, and EMS Departments, commented he does not know where they stand on it. Mr. Callahan noted it is his understanding that if the City were to join Northampton County’s system it would affect Police more than Fire, and asked why that would be the situation.
Mark DiLuzio, Police Chief, said the 911 System in Bethlehem is more than just a 911 System. Chief DiLuzio advised it is also a secondary radio system. He explained that within the 911 System, other than answering a 911 call, there are 109 City cameras are monitored by the dispatchers. All of the Police Department’s paperwork is in the CAD system including hundreds of warrants that are not in a national database. Chief DiLuzio informed the assembly that Northampton County would not monitor the City’s cameras, the warrants, or the different events in the City that is something the City will still have to pay for. Chief DiLuzio exemplified that the City cannot just shut off the switch and lock the door of its 911 Center and go with Northampton County. He emphasized there are secondary responsibilities for EMS, Fire, and the Police. Chief DiLuzio stressed it is a very serious and major decision. Chief DiLuzio expressed his opinion that for the City to leave its 911 system would be a catastrophe for public safety, and communicated he did not believe the taxpayers needs can be reproduced by the County. Chief DiLuzio thought the 911 Center is a needed function of the City for its citizens. He explained that a senior citizen with a heart condition who calls the City’s 911 Center will get a Bethlehem dispatcher who knows the alley the citizen lives on, will get a Bethlehem Police Officer who knows how to get to the house quickly, a Fire truck with EMT’s who also know the shortcuts, and a Bethlehem Paramedic who knows how to get there. Chief DiLuzio, emphasizing that time is very important on emergency calls, explained that at the County the call may be answered by a dispatcher from Bangor who may not know anything about the streets of Bethlehem taking a call about a crime in progress in the City.
Robert Novatnack, Fire Chief, in response to Mr. Callahan advised that while the Fire Department has less calls to which to respond than the Police Department, pointed out they work together closely. Fire Chief Novatnack expressed there are four branches of emergency that are public safety, 911 Center, EMS, Fire, and Police. He advised that all of the information comes through one source, he knows the staff personally, there is training at the Fire Stations, they have gone out on the Fire trucks, and it is a great working relationship. Chief Novatnack stressed they are the lifeblood that keeps everything together, and without the communication that is quick and concise everything would be lost on a Fire call.
President Reynolds observed that Police Chief DiLuzio had expressed it would be a catastrophe for 911 to leave the City of Bethlehem. Police Chief DiLuzio, acknowledging it is a strong word to use, commented he stands by it. President Reynolds, pointing out it has been heard what the State might do, highlighted the fact that the State bill passed in June merely extended the current funding system as is, but there has been no bill that changes the funding system that State Representatives or Senators could sign. Mr. Haffner replied that is correct, and further confirmed there is no bill. Mr. Haffner continued on to inform the Members that for the last two and a half years, as president of the Pennsylvania National Emergency Members Association that oversees all 69 of the 911 centers in the State, he along with others worked to put together a draft piece of legislation to present to the chairpersons of both the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. They have the document, reviewed it in November, and at some point it will be introduced. The legislation will completely restructure the 911 law as it is known today. While advising that meetings have been held to answer questions, Mr. Haffner restated that nothing has been introduced to their committee or to the General Assembly. Expressing his appreciation for the letter that Mayor Donchez sent, President Reynolds stressed that a bill was not introduced so nobody could sign on to it, and pointed out that by signing on to the bill it is being said they want to change the tax structure. President Reynolds emphasized that the Administration came forward with a tax increase to Council because nobody in Harrisburg wants to even allow a bill to exist that someone could sign on to and this is what the City is dealing with. President Reynolds exclaimed the City is being stuck holding a bag because Harrisburg does not even want to allow a bill by which anybody in any county throughout Pennsylvania can go to their State Representatives and Senators and say the municipalities need this because if not the citizens throughout the State will have their taxes go up because Pennsylvania will not even allow a bill to exist. Mr. Haffner responded that is correct. Restating all are in this together, President Reynolds highlighted the fact that the State is not even in the conversation other than a few newspaper articles. President Reynolds pointed out that Council, the Administration, and the citizens are paying the price.
Mr. Evans observed it will be interesting and productive to have several hearings, and advised he has called the Northampton County 911 Director. Mr. Evans highlighted the fact that determinations about the City’s 911 Center is a process that has to be worked through and will take some time. Mr. Evans stated he would like to keep the issue at the forefront, and pointed out there are not really alternative options for 2015 because it is a matter by which the City cannot simply stop its 911 operations. Mr. Evans highlighted the fact that technology advances are important but the large expense is difficult to handle, and needed upgrades will continue. Mr. Evans remarked about the magnitude of how quickly the 911 expenses jumped, and the shortfalls were known and growing as indicated in the Audit two years ago and in the Budgets. Mr. Evans stressed that from last year to this year it grew from $1 million to $2 million, and the question is what will be the revenue from the State because adjustments have not been made. Mr. Evans noted that the City could wait but the number could continue to grow at a rate that it cannot sustain and it would have to continue to look at tax revenues that is an avenue it does not want to keep using. Mr. Evans advised he would like to invite as many people as possible to the committee meetings, and do whatever the City can do from its end until the State is able to make adjustments to make things more productive.
Mayor Donchez, expressing his agreement with comments of the Members of Council and Mr. Haffner about 911, said the Administration certainly wants to work with City Council during 2015 on the issue. He further noted that the conversations with Mayor Pawlowski of Allentown, the 911 Director of Allentown, and Mr. Haffner will continue in 2015, and the 911 Directors of Northampton and Lehigh Counties will continue to meet. Mayor Donchez agreed that all are in this together and have to work together to evaluate what will be best for the City. He acknowledged there are costs to everyone for 911 services.
President Reynolds added that dialogues should continue with State Representatives and Senator.
Mr. Evans, expressing appreciation for the work done by Mr. Haffner and the staff, pointed out it has been made clear it is not a question about performance. Noting the radio system is intertwined with the 911 system, Mr. Evans highlighted the fact there is a lot to discuss and reiterated it is a question of how much can the taxpayers afford and at what point does the City look at options although they may not be very welcoming. He added that everything has to be explored.
Mr. Haffner thanked the Members of Council and stressed that he sincerely appreciates their interest and the energy they bring to the conversation. Mr. Haffner expressed he also appreciates the questions because it allows him to share the information he has. He added that if all can continue to collaborate as a region which is one of the goals then the more the infrastructure and operations can be shared that is a better situation. Mr. Haffner acknowledged there are conversations that need to take place above his department, and stated he truly respects and appreciates Council’s assistance.
11. PUBLIC COMMENT.
Parking; Road Conditions; Amusement Tax
Artie Curatola, 813 Laufer Street, recalled at the last Meeting he spoke about raising the fines for parking within 15 feet of a corner or a stop sign in a business or residential area and making those areas tow away zones because it is a problem that can cause accidents for pedestrians and drivers. Mr. Curatola pointed out the current fine for parking at a corner is only $10. Mr. Curatola stated there are road conditions that are traffic hazards such as heavily rutted roads and oil slicks on a rainy day such as in the vicinity of Brodhead Road and Route 512. He wondered if people could sign a petition so that the township would have to donate money to the fine arts in Bethlehem. Mr. Curatola thought there should not be any tax on live entertainment. He thought bars that have DJ’s should be taxed because it costs them less money than having a live band and it could help the City with its expenses. Mr. Curatola explained that a live performer would play for less money than to play at a venue that is being taxed.
Rail Authority - Passenger Rail Service
Kirk Raup, 818 W. Union Boulevard, asked City Council to follow through on the proposal to form a Rail Authority for passenger rail service that was recommended by the Community Development Committee that he thought would address some of the Mayor’s concerns. Mr. Raup recalled one of the matters discussed at the Committee meeting was if the City decides to go forward in forming a Rail Passenger Authority along with Allentown and Easton that City Council officially contact the City Councils of Allentown and Easton to ask that they join in the effort. Mr. Raup remarked that would have more of an impact than someone coming to a City Council Meeting who thinks it is a good idea to sell the concept to the Lehigh Valley. Mr. Raup advised that Mayor Panto of Easton will most likely join in the proposed Authority if Bethlehem takes some initiative. Mr. Raup affirmed that he provided a copy of the draft Ordinance to Easton and to Allentown. Mr. Raup reiterated that if Bethlehem goes ahead he would ask City Council to send letters to Allentown and Easton to request they join in the proposed Authority. Pointing out that Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton are the three cities in the Lehigh Valley that will be directly served by rail, Mr. Raup explained that Bethlehem would have two stations in the City limits versus Easton and Allentown that would have one. In addition, Bethlehem would see rail service much sooner. Mr. Raup highlighted the fact that it has taken many years to get to this point, and he would like to do his best to see that the project does not die because if it does it will be gone forever. He added that the Counties will not do it for the Cities and the Planning Commissions are not empowered to create Authorities. Mr. Raup communicated that the Planning Commissions have a wealth of information and data for the project and can make sure that it complies with all the rules. Mr. Raup expressed that Bethlehem would be the City to show leadership in the project as it would benefit the most and the soonest. Emphasizing he would like to document and describe the project and the reasons for it, and to clear up misconceptions and misunderstanding when there is more time than is available at a Council Meeting, Mr. Raup again requested that Council follow through on the recommendation of the Committee and asked that a public hearing be held as is required by State law. Mr. Raup, stressing there is very little cost involved and he has offered to pay for it, informed the Members it is risk free and there is no financial or legal liability to any of the three Cities. Mr. Raup confirmed that the project must be done by a municipal entity rather than a non-profit or individual.
Certificate of Appropriateness – 24-30 West Fourth Street
Stephen Antalics, 737 Ridge Street, said he is still having problems understanding the Certificate of Appropriateness that was approved for the Benner project. Remarking there are many people very upset with the approval by City Council despite the comments of people who addressed the issue, Mr. Antalics stated he thought he would look into the issue and do some research. Mr. Antalics noted that Resolution 2013-194 denied a Certificate of Appropriateness Resolution for a garage door at a restaurant at 217 Broadway. He commented the door that was ordered was not the door that was received, and the door that was received did not fulfill the Historic Conservation Commission’s guidelines because it had six panels instead of four, but it was already installed. City Council tabled the Resolution to look into the matter, there was quite a bit of discussion about the matter, and City Council supported the Commission in denying the Certificate of Appropriateness. Mr. Antalics highlighted the fact that the streetscape had been destroyed because there is a gas station and a CVS on either side of the restaurant, and there is no historic district there so the garage door had no effect on the streetscape. Mr. Antalics reported that this year, the Historic Conservation Commission considered a nine story building in the center of Fourth Street where the streetscape has not changed in almost 100 years. Pointing out that the Chair of the Commission argued that the Hotel Bethlehem on the North Side is nine stories, Mr. Antalics stressed that there was no Historic Conservation Commission in 1926 when the Hotel was built by Mr. Schwab of Bethlehem Steel Corporation. Mr. Antalics remarked that developers donate money to people running for public office, and said it would behoove every person running for public office to refuse donations from a developer. Mr. Antalics informed the Members that this issue is very serious to many people in the City, and people are doing research to look into it. Mr. Antalics expressed his belief that this is crying out for a class action suit to look at a nine story building in the middle of a historic district that has not changed in 100 years, while the same Commission turned down a six panel instead of a four panel garage door. Mr. Antalics said he wants this on the public record so that we know really what has happened.
Amusement Tax; 911 – State Reimbursement; Rail Cars – Crude Oil
Peter Crownfield, 407 Delaware Avenue, thanked Mr. Antalics for his remarks. Mr. Crownfield thanked the speakers for their remarks on the effect of the Amusement Tax on non-profits that he said is a very serious issue. Mr. Crownfield thought it was interesting that the tax was capped so people buying expensive tickets pay a lower amount than people buying inexpensive tickets. Mr. Crownfield, focusing on President Reynolds’ comments about the 911 issue and the diminished funding from Harrisburg, said the school systems have started to speak out about this because they, as the City in the case of 911, are made out to look like the bad guys since they have to raise taxes because the State legislators want to look like good guys and not raise taxes. Mr. Crownfield communicated that Bethlehem should join with other Mayors and leaders and criticize the State. Mr. Crownfield, noting the Norfolk Southern is a very active rail line that runs along the Lehigh River, advised that among the cargo it carries is crude oil. He stated it is known from experience what happens if there is a derailment, and stressed almost inevitably one of the rail cars will ignite and others will rupture from the heat. Mr. Crownfield asked if anyone in the City or the Counties’ emergency management has considered the fact that there is nothing than can be done if this happened. He asserted there is not enough equipment in the entire Lehigh Valley to put out such a fire. Mr. Crownfield stressed that the rail line goes through the heart of Bethlehem and stated that someone needs to look at the issue.
The meeting was adjourned at 9:15 p.m.