Newtown Township

Board of Supervisors Work Session

JANUARY 31, 2002 


MINUTES WERE APPROVED at the regular meeting February 27, 2002. WORK SESSION OF 1/31/02: Mrs. Goren moved to approve the minutes of the work session of 1/31/02 with one correction. The motion on the issue of the Canine Unit should read “Ms. Goren moved to approve the K-9 unit with two dogs”. The motion was seconded by Mr. Jirele and passed unanimously.


Members Present: Scott R. Harp, Chairman; Tom Jirele, Vice Chairman; Richard Weaver, Treasurer; Anne Goren, Secretary; Raymond “Skip” Goodnoe, Member; Steve Harris, Solicitor; Bob Pellegrino, Township Manager; Gerald Smith, Engineer; Elaine Gibbs, Finance Director.

Call to Order: Chairman Harp called the meeting to order at 8:05 AM.

Mr. Harp explained that the purpose of the meeting was to discuss goals and priorities for 2002, to help give the administration some idea of initiatives that the board would like to work on this year.  He said the K-9 unit and Newtown Rental demolition would also be discussed.

Goals Discussions

Mr. Harp said he had asked for input from the board.  Issues suggested were:  municipal complex expansion; recreation, including park development; general administration; open space initiatives; OR Zone development; Sycamore Street traffic management; and improved relationships with county, state and federal agencies and officials, especially as related to funding and grants.  The board decided that traffic management was ongoing, rather than an initiative, and would not remain on the goals list. 

Municipal Complex Expansion

Mr. Harp said he had spoken with Mr. Pellegrino, who had some ideas and suggestions about how to proceed.  Mr. Harp suggested that this would be a good work session topic, and recommended that the administration present options for the board to examine at the next work session.  Mr. Pellegrino said that he has begun to gather the existing information, such as budgets and preliminary plans.  He said he would like the staff to look at each of their respective departments and the proposals that were put forth and give him specific recommendations on where changes might be necessary in the plans.  He has met with the bond advisors that the township has used in the past, and they are looking at the finance mechanisms that could be put into place to fund this project and others.  He also visiting other administrative facilities with employees, such as Buckingham Township, to get ideas, and is researching additional options.  Mr. Jirele asked Mr. Pellegrino to draw up a list of decision points for the project.  Mr. Pellegrino will target March to come back to the board with recommendations and a general overall plan with options in different areas. 

Recreation

Mr. Weaver presented a list of recreation issues.   The Richboro Road Trail is at the end of Mill Pond Road where it meets Richboro Road, and will run into the Newtown Trail.  He said design specifications need to be developed, funding investigated, and a target date set.  Ms. Goren suggested that available grants be investigated first, so that specifications of the trail could be developed to meet those requirements.  Mr. Pellegrino noted that this is not a particularly large project. 

At Roberts Ridge, playground equipment is being researched, and trail construction, grading, a gazebo, installation of electricity and tree installation need to be addressed.  Restrooms are not planned on the site at present; Mr. Harp said that either arrangements could be made with the school for use of their restrooms or port-a-potties utilized if necessary.  Mr. Goodnoe asked which plan Mr. Weaver was working from, and said that the Boucher and James plan had never been approved by the board.  Mr. Harp said that this plan would need to go before the Recreation Board with recommendations, and that Mr. Weaver’s plan just presented an idea of what is being worked on.  Mr. Goodnoe questioned the taking of bids for playground equipment that had never been approved; Mr. Jirele said that the comprehensive plan included playground equipment in Roberts Ridge Park.  Mr. Goodnoe felt that the plan should go through the approval process before bids were taken.  Ms. Goren said that she would prefer to vote on a project after she has seen detailed information, and such information was being collected now. 

Mr. Weaver said that the area behind Bed, Bath and Beyond would need grading for a pad or all-purpose field.  Mr. Pellegrino has asked the engineers to determine what would be involved for development of this area for various options, such a skate park or hockey rink.  All that would be necessary for an all-purpose field is seed, feed, lining and mowing.  There is money in the budget for a skate park.  Ms. Crescenzo asked if these plans were preliminary; Mr. Weaver said that no action had been taken on this project besides cost estimations.

Mr. Weaver said that the only present plan at Silver Lake Park was for parking.  Grading, the surface material, and the entrance would need to be determined.  The master plan showed an informal softball field and picnic area. 

Mr. Weaver said that the township would need to work with the Bucks County at Hidden Lake, because part of the land belongs to Bucks County.  It will be a passive recreation area; trail construction, an entranceway and adequate parking need to be provided.  Some benches and trees will also be needed.  Mr. Harp asked why Hidden Lake had never been included on any plans.  Mr. Goodnoe asked if any board members had walked on the property, and said he thought it was not suitable for park development, since it was quite marshy.  Mr. Harp said he thought the board should look at the Hidden Lake property, since it was township property not being used by the citizens of Newtown.  Mr. Goodnoe said that the lake is not part of the open space, and could not presently be accessed by residents, since it is county-owned. 

Mr. Weaver said that the entrance to the Clark Property needs to be worked on, and a parking area provided.  The present trail is not clearly marked; perhaps the scouts could clean up the trail and add mulch.  Maintenance would include the house, the grounds and mowing.  Mr. Harris said that the property could only be used for passive recreation, and that Mrs. Clark has the right to remain in the home for the remainder of her life.  He said that the township has leased the PECO land adjacent to the Clark Property, and should be included in any discussion of this property.  Mr. Harp said that a traffic study about the entrance is underway, and that a parking lot of crushed stone could be installed.

Mr. Harp asked Mr. Weaver to ask the Recreation Board to prioritize the presented park projects for the board.

General Administration

Mr. Harp cited a list of general administration issues outlined by Mr. Pellegrino. He noted that Mr. Pellegrino and Elaine Gibbs have been developing a new budget format, which will be more user friendly.  In addition, they are preparing an annual report, which will be available to the public. 

Open Space Initiative

Mr. Harp said he thought the board should keep an open mind and pursue any open space issues. 

OR Zone

Mr. Harp said that this issue should be put on the board’s agenda for future discussion. 

Sycamore Street

Mr. Harp said that board should do whatever it can to assist and facilitate a swift completion of this large project.  

Improve Relationships with County, State and Federal Agencies and Officials

Mr. Harp said there is money available for a number of projects, and he has spoken to some people who are interested in helping with the granting process.  Mr. Harp asked the board to consider having a two or three person task force whose only job would be to help the township apply for grants. 

Conclusion

Mr. Harp said the priorities for these goals would be set by the administration.  Ms. Goren said she would like transportation, notably the Newtown Rail, addressed.  Ms. Crescenzo said she felt a good relationship with the school department was important; the board explained that they could not influence school policy, but were attempting to improve communication with the school board on an ongoing basis.  Ms. Goren pointed out that Rick Abramson, the township representative, should be the one to speak to school department issues.   It was noted that Mr. Jirele is the board representative to the school district. 

Mr. Harp said that the identified goals would be worked into the agendas for upcoming regular and work session board meetings.  Linda Mitchell asked if the community center should be included on the list of Recreation goals; Mr. Harp asked Mr. Weaver to bring the issue up at the next Recreation Committee meeting.  Mr. Jirele said he felt the issue should be on hold while the issue is being investigated by committee.  Ms. Goren said that costs would need to be determined before a community center could be discussed. 

Ms. Crescenzo said she felt that the timing of this meeting was unfortunate, as many people could not attend during the morning.  Mr. Harp said that these discussions were preliminary, and the public would have adequate chance for input.  Mr. Weaver pointed out that the public has access to the minutes of all public meetings.               

Demolition Permit – Newtown Rental

Mr. Harris said that the board had received a copy of the letter from Mr. Clemons, the attorney representing Newtown Rental Center.   Mr. Clemons, on behalf of the owner, said he would not grant an extension of time for the township to act on the demolition permit, and that it was the intention of the owner, at the end of the period, to demolish the structure.  The township had 90 days to act on the permit; the 90 days will expire before the next regularly scheduled board meeting.  Mr. Wilson disputes the contention that he represented that the building would be used for residential use.  Mr. Harris asked what action the board would like to take at this time. 

Mr. Harp said that Mr. Jirele had some ideas for possible resolution of the issue, and felt the board should encourage a dialogue between Mr. Jirele and Shannon Wilson.  Ms. Goren said that board needed to take action of a legal nature.  She said she was on the board when the contract was approved, and she remembered specifically receiving assurances that the house would be preserved.  She said the board should hold him to his word.  Mr. Harris said that the only action that he would recommend taking would be to file an injunction action, alleging that the owner made those representations and that he is bound by those representations.   Mr. Pellegrino said that there are representations in the finding of fact in the Zoning Hearing Board decision that indicate the existing buildings would be utilized, and specifically says that the farmhouse would, after renovations, be used as a residence.  Mr. Pellegrino said that at the land development stage there was no indication from the owner or on the plans that the building would be demolished. 

Ms. Goren moved to authorize Mr. Jirele to speak to Mr. Wilson, and, in the event that he is unsuccessful at reaching an amicable resolution, to authorize the township solicitor to file the appropriate documents for a preliminary injunction.  Mr. Harp seconded the motion.  The motion passed unanimously. 

Police Department – K9 Unit  - Chief Duffy

Chief Duffy addressed the issues of concern to the board.  Mr. Goodnoe asked why the K-9 unit was disbanded several years ago.  The Chief explained that Officer Pentz, who was the K-9 officer, was injured for approximately a year, and when he returned the program was not re-instituted.  Chief Duffy said the program had been successful. 

Chief Duffy introduced Sergeant Ponticelli from Bensalem Township, who is in charge of their K-9 unit, to answer questions from the board.  Sergeant Ponticelli said that Bensalem has had the K-9 unit for 20 years and has never had any lawsuits.  Mr. Pellegrino said that the township has liability coverage if a dog bit someone.  Mr. Jirele asked what the township’s liability would be if a dog bit someone off duty.  Sergeant Ponticelli said he could not speak to the township’s liability policy, but proper training of the dogs would minimize this possibility.  Sergeant Ponticelli said they have strict policies concerning the handling of the dogs.  He said that, based on the Garcia decision that care of the animal at home deserves compensatory time, K-9 officers in Bensalem receive 12 hours every five weeks of compensatory time.  He said that there is ongoing training totaling eight hours per month; the initial training is 480 hours, mandated by the United States Police K-9 Association.  This training certifies the dogs, and brings the township assistance with subsequent training issues.  Chief Duffy said that there would be adequate department coverage during the training period.  Sergeant Ponticelli said that New Jersey State Police has a grant that pays for training for any outside department, including in-service training.  Through the County Drug Forfeiture Fund, the county will pay for any narcotic training and narcotic overtime that results from training.  The fund will also cover any overtime incurred by the use of the narcotic dog. 

Sergeant Ponticelli said that only one dog works at a time, and, as a supervisor, he would be reluctant to send a dog to assist in another township.   He said a young dog can cost $3000 to $3800, and comes with a guarantee that if the dog doesn’t work out the township would get another dog.  He said he thought the K-9 also had great value as a good publicity tool, to bring children and residents closer to the police.  The Sergeant said the presence of the dog has a great deterrent effect as well.  They have had a greater need for the K-9 unit since September 11th. 

Sergeant Ponticelli said that in Bensalem one dog is owned by the trainer, and the other two are owned by the township.  The liability is carried by the township, and when a dog is retired, the handler signs a waiver that puts liability back on the handler if he decides to keep the dog.  

Chief Duffy said he has prepared a draft policy for the K-9 unit.   

Mr. Jirele felt he had not had sufficient time to review the relevant information.  He suggested that the issue of the ownership of the dogs should be decided and included in the K-9 policy.  The board and Chief Duffy agreed that a policy supporting a K-9 unit in Newtown Township and a use of force policy should be in place before any dogs are put on patrol.  Ms. Goren suggested that Mr. Pellegrino and Chief Duffy continue their work on such policies.  Mr. Harp said that the program should be evaluated a year after its inception. 

Mr. Goodnoe voiced his concern that the K-9 program becomes policy and not subjected to circumstances, and that the program would receive continued support.  Mr. Goodnoe said that he was concerned with the budget, and said that he had not seen fully detailed costs for the program.  Chief Duffy said he was not requesting any additional funds in the police department budget, that his budget would cover the K-9 program.  Ms. Goren said she was comfortable with the cost. 

Bob Conway expressed his support for a K-9 unit, saying that the dogs would be another valuable tool for the police department. 

Ms. Goren moved to approve the K-9 unit with three dogs.  Mr. Weaver seconded the motion.  Harp, Goren, Weaver and Jirele voted for; Mr. Goodnoe voted against.  The motion carried. 

Executive Session:  Ms. Goren requested an executive session to discuss land acquisition.  The board went into executive session at approximately 9:45 am.

Adjournment

Without objection, the meeting was adjourned after the executive session.

Respectfully Submitted by:________________________________________
                                            Leslie Dunleavy, Recording Secretary      2/14/02