Friday, July 25, 2014

Hazleton parking garage lease deal sparks dispute

May 28. 2014 11:07PM
By Geri Gibbons Times Leader Correspondent

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HAZLETON — After heated discussion involving City Council members and residents on Tuesday, the council tabled a resolution authorizing a lease agreement among the Hazleton Parking Authority, the City of Hazleton and DHD Realty Holding LLC.

Resident Grace Cuozzo addressing council in regard to leasing a centrally located downtown parking garage to a third party.

“I was under the impression the parking garage was a public facility, not to be leased to a private entity. If DHD Realty directly leases spaces on a monthly basis, where will students from Luzerne County Community College and customers of the downtown area park?” she said.

Neal DeAngelo, representing DHD, said the company had need of approximately 140 spaces, and would be leasing out other spaces to residents as needed. He said the business wanted to rent the entire parking facility because of issues of safety and maintenance.

Councilwoman Jean Mope said the mayor had made the decision to take over the city’s parking authority without input from council. She said had council been consistently updated, the process of addressing leasing of the parking garage could have been made in a more timely and expedient manner.

Cuozzo added that if council did approve leasing of the garage, DHD should not be afforded tax-exempt status as a “for-profit” entity.

In another matter, residents addressed council on the legality of its storm water fee ordinance that they say they believe is unenforceable because it had not been properly advertised.

In regard to recent bills issued reflecting terms of that ordinance, Councilman David Sosar encouraged residents to “appeal, appeal, appeal.”

“This is money you’re spending,” said Sosar. “You need to participate in the process.”

Cuozzo said the ordinance did not specify a penalty for late payment of the fee nor provide a timeline for payment.

Mope said the ordinance had assumed that storm water and sewers were to be separate and, in fact, there was cross contamination in several areas. She said the situation needed to be corrected.

Mope, agreeing with Sosar, advised residents also to “appeal, appeal, appeal.”

Cuozzo provided a template to attendees and residents wanting to appeal their storm water bills based on improper advertisement, failure to set a minimum rate and inaccurate computation. A hearing on a case-by-case basis would follow those appeals.

Several council members highlighted the failure of its administration to cooperate with council, as evidenced by the absence of the mayor and solicitor, reducing its effectiveness.

When questioned regarding future appointments to the Blighted Building Committee, Mope said the mayor didn’t consistently keep council informed on such matters.

The next meeting of City Council will be on June 17 at 6 p.m.

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