Reading City Hall in snow

READING, Pa. – The Reading City Council on Monday tabled a resolution to submit an application to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development for the renewal of five opportunity zones in the city.

Opportunity zones are part of a state program that offers tax incentives on capital gains in order to stimulate economic development.

While councilmembers did not object to the renewal of the zones for another five years, they said they want the city administration to provide more specific information on the boundaries for and properties within each zone.

In order to qualify for an opportunity zone, a specific census district has to have poverty rates of at least 20%.

Jamal F. Abodalo, community development director, said that by partnering with the Berks County Industrial Development Authority and the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance, the city has the ability to market specific properties to potential businesses.

"Opportunity zones benefit the city by creating new jobs, reducing unemployment and increasing the median income," Abodalo said. "The zones are designed to drive long-term capital into low-income communities, using tax incentives to encourage private investment."

Councilwoman Marcia Goodman-Hinnershitz asked if the city could come up with specific criteria and guidelines for businesses that want to locate in an opportunity zone.

"Do we have any real leverage once we pass an ordinance to create the zones," Goodman-Hinnershitz asked. "Do we have any ability to say 'yea or nay' to a company that may want to come into the city?"

Abodalo said the city is in the driver's seat when it comes to marketing the zones to specific industries.

"Our best control on how to vet industries is through the land development approval process done through the city planning commission," he explained.

In another matter, the council voted 4-3 to table a proposed contract for new accounting and payroll software.

The council was asked to award the contract to Tyler Technologies, Plano, Texas, at a cost of $1.1 million, with $700,000 available for fiscal year 2021 and the remaining balance for 2022.

Councilmembers Melissa Ventura, Donna Reed, Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz and Stratton P. Marmarou voted to table the contract, saying they wanted to hear from department heads and see more information about the program because of the cost.

Council President Jeffrey Waltman and Councilwomen Lucine Sihelnik and Goodman-Hinnershitz wanted to move forward with the contract, suggesting that the council should trust the work done by the administration in recommending the new software.

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