January 1, 2004: Headlines: COS - Bangladesh: City Government: City of Reading: Bangladesh RPCV Tom McMahon is Mayor of Reading Pennsylvania

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Bangladesh: Peace Corps Bangladesh : The Peace Corps in Bangladesh: January 1, 2004: Headlines: COS - Bangladesh: City Government: City of Reading: Bangladesh RPCV Tom McMahon is Mayor of Reading Pennsylvania

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-141-157-13-244.balt.east.verizon.net - on Sunday, January 16, 2005 - 1:11 pm: Edit Post

Bangladesh RPCV Tom McMahon is Mayor of Reading Pennsylvania

Bangladesh RPCV Tom McMahon is Mayor of Reading Pennsylvania

Bangladesh RPCV Tom McMahon is Mayor of Reading Pennsylvania

Tom McMahon

Thank you very much.

President Spencer, members of Council, friends, and fellow Reading residents. Each year the Mayor is required by our City Charter to provide a current state of the city report.

The year end financial results are not in, and traditionally the administration asks for an extension of one month to present that data.

I did not want to wait an entire month to share some observations with you, as I believe we must be on with the business of government and must communicate with council and the citizens.

From the perspective of three weeks in office, I would like to share with you some highlights and bright spots, as well as some major concerns that need to be addressed in our city.

Let me start with commending City Council for the new spirit of cooperation that has begun. You have been supportive of this administration in our first month, and we are moving forward together to address issues that are long overdue for action.

We are all working together to fill the vacancies in important boards, authorities and commissions. If we ask for citizen involvement, we need to find a way for those folks willing to serve, to actually take a seat at one of the tables of government. It is also a wonderful way for us to prepare young people for service to this community.

Over the past three weeks, I have tried to meet as many people as possible in city government and to overview the work that is being done.

Let me give you a few examples:

In spite of cutbacks in staffing in the department of public works, the street crews and recreation crews charged with keeping the streets free of snow have done a very good job. The police, fire and public works directors have updated the snow emergency plan showing a high degree of cooperation among departments.

In spite of some tax increases last year, we have had to eliminate 22 positions, mostly in the public works department. In heavy storms, our citizens must have patience while the remaining workers do their jobs.

In the fire department, I have seen the dedicated work of our men and women as they fought the fire on S 16 ½ Street that was contained in spite of some of the most challenging physical situations you can imagine. Fortunately no one was killed. On Saturday evening, a mid-block fire on Gordon Street was also contained.

When I took office I promised all of you that I would be upfront and be honest in my appraisal of the city.

Let me get right to it.

In 2003 we lost 16 people to senseless violence. Drugs, crime, and murder have gone hand-in-hand in this community for too long. We have been labeled the 25th most dangerous city in the United States.

At any one time we have hundreds of abandoned houses in our city. Many times, these are havens for drug deals, and targets for arson, as appeared to be the case on Saturday night.

Owners need to be located, properties acquired for demolition or rehabilitation, but we cannot let these derelict properties continue to spread blight in our neighborhoods.

I will soon be asking the various housing agencies to come together to help stem this tide.

We still have far too many homes that refuse to use legal methods for their trash disposal. Drive or walk the city streets and you’ll see the vacant buildings that now serve only as canvases for the gangs that have no respect for our City and feel some strange need to tag OUR turf with THEIR graffiti.

Our city personnel continue to be stretched in their ability to meet service needs. Last year, our fire department responded to more than 4,000 calls, while our city ambulance service responded to nearly 11,000. Our codes enforcement department processed nearly 7,000 complaints, issuing close to 3,000 notices. My city coworkers are out everyday providing service to our citizens, but the resources we have are increasingly scarce while the needs continue to escalate.

As you know we have a lot of challenges. A lot of these can be answered with one thing…one thing we don’t have a lot of….M-O-N-E-Y.

Our city has a declining tax base and increased need for services. We are faced with possible significant costs in connection with our sewer plant that is long overdue for major upgrade.

We are facing a potential loss of an annual $6 M transfer from the sewer fund to the general fund at the end of this year. This is about 12 % of the entire city general fund budget.

I will do whatever I can to forestall the impact of this, but I need all your help in addressing this issue and the issue of the sewage treatment plant that needs major, expensive upgrades. We can choose to pays huge fines to the EPA or we can step up and do the right thing as a region, because the plant serves 12 municipalities. It is a regional problem that needs a regional solution, and I will ask the county commissioners to stand with us to meet this challenge.

Our management and union personnel have been, and will be, anticipating compensation raises – funds that haven’t been allocated in the budget. Last year many city employees were laid off with the Public Works Department being among the hardest hit. Yet, the snow will continue to fall, the streets will continue to need repairs, and our children will continue to need clean and safe parks in which to play. Those are the challenges we face.

The 2004 budget that I inherited increased taxes. The increase in the earned income tax will generate an additional $2.4 million from the prior year. Increases in the Realty Transfer tax, and a 20 percent increase in licenses, fees, and permits will also generate additional revenue. These additional revenues will to some extent offset the decline in property tax revenue, but they still won’t adequately provide the necessary funds for the expenditures we anticipate.

The cost to our city from fringe benefits and pension that we pay to our workers continue to rise. We cannot continue to operate with the benefits structure that is in place today. If left unchecked, these costs will continue to affect us going forward.

And, our number one priority of crime prevention increased our police budget by 9% which now totals nearly $20 million, or 40 percent of our general fund operating budget.

I promise that we’ll do our best to live within this budget. But it’s going to take more than that to keep our city afloat. We’ll need to look at new ways to conduct business. Regional cooperation opportunities with the county of Berks could involve the transfer of park properties and negotiating contracts with our unions that make sense for our city are all on the table.

The challenges I have laid out ARE the reality. That IS the state of our city. BUT, it does not need to be the state of our city tomorrow! And it’s not my state of mind.

The political campaigns of last year are behind us. We now have a new campaign and it is one that we are on together. It is the campaign for Reading’s future.

Council and the administration are not sitting here as opponents. We’re here as members of the same team, working for the people of Reading.

Together we can deliver what people want – safe neighborhoods, a clean city, family-supporting jobs and financial stability.

Our city must celebrate our diversity, where families enjoy good quality of life in peaceful neighborhoods and have pride of ownership in affordable homes. Where good jobs are plentiful and where opportunity is open to all.

If we do it right, Reading can be a role model for cities everywhere.

As I discussed in my inauguration speech there is much to do. I plan to concentrate on four major goals for the next four years:

Number 1 is to fight crime and disorder

Number 2 is to create a business friendly environment.

Number 3 is to revitalize our downtown and our neighborhoods.

And number 4 is to restore the financial health of the city.

I won’t tolerate having this City remain as the 25th most dangerous city in the country.

We have decreased crime by 10% over the past year. The battle to take back our streets has begun in earnest, as neighbors are starting to step up and help law enforcement officers in the fight for safe streets.

When a bullet goes through the window of a head start classroom or a library with innocent children trying to learn to be good citizens, the outrage should energize each of us to do whatever it takes to make the city safer.

There are still too many guns on the street, too many shootings, and too many lives in jeopardy.

We have made progress, but we must do better.

We need to get our people and our neighborhoods involved. If you see a crime taking place report it. If there’s snow on your sidewalk or your neighbor’s sidewalk grab a shovel. If you see trash on your street find a trash can.

Council members: I ask all of you to pay particular attention to the people in your council district. Together, lets help neighbors form neighborhood organizations to make their blocks of this city safer.

Government can’t do it all, but we can certainly help. That’s why I’m now working on developing an Office of Neighborhoods as part of my administration.

This office will provide assistance to neighborhood organizations and crime watch groups, coordinate graffiti removal, and help track citizen complaints. If we want to tackle the crime and grime of this city, then we’re going to need the help of our neighbors to get it done. I’ll look to Council for support of this initiative.

The challenges we face, and more importantly, the solutions to these challenges go beyond the borders of our city. Our region lags behind United State averages in job growth, education, and household income. The region’s lackluster economic growth is due in part to our own urban decay as jobs and households have moved out of the metropolitan area. We’ll need regional solutions to these regional problems.

Realistically, the challenges are great, but the future looks bright.

Development projects around the Buttonwood Gateway, Riverfront Commerce Center, 5th and Penn, and Reading Area Community College are all on track. Groups are now working on plans for the Riverfront and we expect to have the riverfest return on the second weekend of October of this year.

The County Commissioners and our other area legislators have pledged support to the City. Our business community is united behind us.

That is the state of our city today. The path that we choose to take will mean hard work and sacrifice to make Reading a great city. Together we can make it work. Our neighbors are counting on us.

Thank you.

When this story was posted in December 2004, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: City of Reading

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Bangladesh; City Government



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