Mayor tackles Reading poverty crisis

Published: Jan 10 2012 07:00:00 PM EST   Updated On: Jan 11 2012 05:39:01 AM EST
READING, Pa. -

Just days after Vaughn Spencer was inaugurated as Reading's newest mayor, residents could be seen stopping him as he went into City Hall, asking for help solving everyday problems.

Spencer stopped to chat, smiled, shook hands, and assured that he would follow up.

But concerns of residents will surely have to be added to the long list of already mounting challenges like poverty, crime, attracting businesses, and creating jobs.

Struggling in this reality is Felicity Lord, who lives on McKnight Street in Reading. She was laid off just days before Christmas.

She said, if given the chance, she knows exactly what she would tell Mayor Spencer.

"They need better paying jobs, something you can live on," said Lord.

"I understand the frustration," said Spencer, "because the economy is bad and jobs are really tight."

Spencer said the city will play a bigger role in creating jobs.

He said 10 jobs could be created by having the city take over recycling, instead of paying a private company.

"We saw that we could be able to do the recycling for less than we were paying to contract it out," said Spencer.

Spencer also wants to create a city department to handle information technology services for the Parking Authority, the Water Authority and the Reading School District.

Spencer is also pushing to create a department to handle towing.

For all these newly-created departments, employees would be needed, and Spencer explained those jobs would go to Reading residents.

"We're going to continue to look at what we're contracting out, and to see whether it can be done in house, and with the possibility of creating jobs," said Spencer.

When Spencer was asked what goes through his mind when he looks at the city of Reading, he responded without hesitation, "I see a beautiful city."

And that's exactly what Spencer is hoping investors see.

But many entrepreneurs have complained that opening a business in Reading is a red tape nightmare.

"From what I'm hearing, our process is too long compared to other cities," said Spencer.

Spencer said he is interested in creating a "one-stop shop" permitting process for business owners, which would be a streamlined version of the current permitting process. He refused to say by how much he would trim the process, but he did explain that he didn't want to rush the system, which would just create problems in the long run.

"And at the same time, by shortening the process, are we doing our due diligence in what we need to do?" asked Spencer.

But no matter how streamlined the process, the mayor says convincing companies to invest in a what has been labeled a dangerous city will be tough.

Spencer explained that he plans to work with the police and target crime-ridden neighborhoods.

"I'm going to be visiting those neighborhoods, knocking on doors," said Spencer.

The mayor's initiatives will have to be approved by city council, but many are hoping this will lead the city out of financial turmoil.