Board of Supervisors
Minutes of January 23, 2008
The Newtown Township Board of Supervisors met on Wednesday, January 23, 2008 in the Township meeting room at 7:30 PM. In attendance were Supervisors: Chairman Thomas Jirele, Vice-Chairman Robert Ciervo, Secretary-Treasurer Michael Gallagher, Philip Calabro and Jerry Schenkman, members. Also present were: Joseph S. Czajkowski, Township Manager, Jeffrey Garton, Township Solicitor and Michele Fountain, Township Engineer.
Call to Order: Chairman Tom Jirele called the regular meeting to order at 7:30 PM with a moment of silence.
Invocation: The invocation was given by Gary Walsh, Elder of Crossing Community Church. This was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.
Minutes, Bills Lists and Reports
Minutes: Mr. Schenkman moved to accept the minutes of the organization meeting of January 7, 2008. Mr. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
Mr. Schenkman moved to accept the minutes of the regular meeting of January 9, 2008. Mr. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
Bills: Mr. Gallagher moved to authorize payment of bills totaling $213,683.93. Dr. Ciervo seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
Mr. Gallagher moved to authorize interfund transfers totaling $388,000. Mr. Schenkman seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
Historical Architectural Review Board: Mr. Schenkman moved to issue a certificate of appropriateness for Travelink, Inc., at 15 Cambridge Lane, as outlined in the memo dated January 11, 2008. Mr. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
2008 Budget Discussion
Mr. Jirele thanked Mr. Czajkowski, Finance Director Elaine Gibbs and Park and Recreation Director Bill Wert, along with Township staff, who spent a great deal of time re-examining the 2008 budget and making certain recommendations for reductions in some expenses.
Mr. Czajkowski presented the Board with a memorandum listing a number of reductions in the general fund. He said that the memo had been circulated, and Messrs. Gallagher, Ciervo and Schenkman had commented on the suggestions.
From Board of Supervisors
The following items were suggested without Board comment:
Mr. Schenkman questioned the reduction in Subscriptions and Memberships.
Mr. Czajkowski said that these memberships include, but are not limited to, National League of Cities, Pennsylvania League of Cities, PSATS, and Bucks County Consortium. He did not have the dues for each available but would provide those numbers to the members.
Dr. Ciervo said that the budget for this line item has grown considerably since 2004, and he would like to reduce it.
Mr. Jirele and Mr. Schenkman each spoke about the benefits derived from membership in these organizations. Mr. Jirele said that the Township has belonged to most of the organizations named for at least six years. The increase could be due to increased costs of membership.
Mr. Gallagher suggested leaving the originally budgeted amount and evaluating the expense during the 2008 year, with a possible reduction in next year’s budget.
The Board discussed the proposed reduction in training and meetings for the Board of Supervisors. Dr. Ciervo pointed out that this item has been increasing steadily since 2004, and he did not think Board members should be traveling nationally to attend seminars.
Mr. Schenkman said that last year he had attended five seminars, but intends to only participate in three this year. He stressed the importance of training and learning and the benefits of participation in these seminars.
Mr. Jirele noted that none of the Supervisors would be attending the PSATS convention this year, so he suggested that the budget be reduced to $4000. The Board agreed to this suggestion.
Mr. Czajkowski reviewed the Board contributions budgeted at $129,000, which include contributions to Wrightstown and Newtown libraries, First Night and First Fourth, Newtown’s Main Streets and Council Rock Senior Center. The Board usually pays for the First Fourth and First Night fireworks.
Mr. Schenkman expressed some concern about cutting donations to non-profit organizations which have come to depend on the Township’s annual contributions. He suggested that, rather than reduce contributions, the Manager contact the various organizations to discuss what impact a reduction or elimination of contributions would have. The donations could then possibly be scaled back in the next year’s budget, while giving the institutions involved notice that our contributions would be reduced.
Mr. Jirele said that he is very reluctant to reduce donations to libraries or to First Fourth, which is a volunteer event that the entire community participates in and benefits from. In the past, when asked about a reduced contribution to libraries, the library staff indicated that this would result in a reduction of hours open. He noted that First Night is a paid event that has a ten year history. This event might no longer need our donation, as ticket sales might be showing a profit.
The Board agreed to leave this item as budgeted, and to ask the Manager to contact the various organizations involved to learn whether the donations can be reduced or eliminated in the future.
Mr. Czajkowski said that professional services refers to consultants needed for a search for a chief of police. The amount has been reduced by $4,000.
Mr. Czajkowski said that the 2007 budgeted amount for legal services was less than half of the actual expenditures because of the large number of legal issues that came up during the year.
Mrs. Gibbs confirmed that there were a great many phone conversations with counsel on a number of issues.
Mr. Garton indicated that he did not anticipate the need for a large expenditure in legal fees this year. The Board agreed to reduce legal services to $75,000.
The Board agreed to the following reductions:
The Board discussed a reduction in the operating supplies, agreeing to keeping with the 2007 expenditures, allowing $11,000 for this item.
Mr. Czajkowski said that the Public Works department had budgeted for a new position of assistant manager. The Director of Public Works needs an assistant because of the overwhelming amount of work that keeps him in the office, instead of out in the field, supervising jobs. As the search has not yet begun, the position could be eliminated or postponed.
Mr. Schenkman suggested asking for a job description and a reduction in the budgeted amount for this year, aiming to evaluate exactly what the position would entail. He suggested leaving $25,000 in the budget for this new hire at mid-year. The Board members agreed. This would also change proposed reductions for FICA and health insurance.
The Board briefly discussed reducing overtime for the Public Works Department, but agreed that, since the overtime occurs when workers are addressing emergencies such as downed trees, it should remain as budgeted.
Mr. Czajkowski explained that budgeted amount for support staff salaries differed from the 2007 actual amount because there had been one employee on disability and two had left without being immediately replaced. There is also an increase in salaries because of the contract.
Mr. Czajkowski said that “contracted services” is snow removal. The Board agreed to a $5000 reduction. Operating supplies includes road salt, which had been paid by liquid fuels funds.
Mr. Czajkowski said that he is recommending some reduction in management salaries, as the Captain will be retiring, as will the Chief. The new chief will evaluate staff before hiring or promoting a new captain, if needed.
The Board discussed whether to reduce the budget, or to leave some flexibility for the new chief to make personnel decisions. Mr. Schenkman said he favored leaving the money available to the new chief.
Dr. Ciervo said that this would be a good place to save money, and elimination of the captain position should be discussed during the interview process when searching for a new police chief.
After further discussion, the Board agreed to reduce the management salaries by $40,000, which would give the new chief some flexibility in making personnel changes after evaluating the current staffing.
The Board discussed the actual amount versus budgeted amount for police overtime. Mr. Jirele said that he would like to see the police department working within the budget, and not allowing the overtime salaries to go as high as in 2007. The Board agreed to a reduction in the overtime budget of $40,000.
Mr. Czajkowski said that a reduction in the operating supplies of $15,000 is recommended by eliminating the expansion of the canine unit. The capital purchase budget can be reduced by $30,000 by changing the vehicle purchase plan. This year two cars would be purchased instead of three, and the Township could go to a replacement plan that would alternate three cars per year and two cars per year. This could cause some increase in maintenance.
In response to questions from the Board, Mrs. Gibbs said that the force currently has 24 vehicles for a 28 member force. The patrol cars are used 24 hours a day on local roads. The fleet includes the chief’s car, detective cars, and the DARE car. Not all of the vehicles are patrol cars. They have a four to five year life span.
Advertising and printing have been reduced by $2500.
The following reductions were agreed to:
Codes and Zoning
Mrs. Gibbs explained that the change from 2007 budgeted to actual amount for professional services reflects the change in status of Michael Solomon, the code enforcement officer. He had been contracted through Keystone for a portion of the year before joining the Township as a salaried employee. The remainder of the budget is for Keystone for inspections. These are for inspections that are not pass-through expenses, as when new construction is inspected, but rather for inspection of residents’ home improvements such as additions, patios and decks. The Board agreed to reduce this amount by $20,000, and to reduce other professional services by $5000, because of the elimination of the Township Planner, as CKS will now perform both engineering and planning functions. Other reductions include:
Public Works/Sycamore Street
Mrs. Gibbs explained that the budgeted amount is for general maintenance of Sycamore Street, including mulching and care of flower beds, maintenance of benches and trash receptacles and flag replacement. The Board agreed to a $2000 reduction.
Mr. Czajkowski pointed out that there has been a reduction in Workers’ Compensation Insurance in the amount of $12,000.
Park and Recreation
Mr. Czajkowski presented recommendations for reductions that Mr. Wert suggested for the Park and Recreation Department, with an overall reduction of $19,300. The Board agreed to Mr. Wert’s recommendations.
General Fund Discussion
Mrs. Gibbs said that she has recently spoken with Berkheimer about the Emergency Service Tax. The 2007 budget had anticipated $575,000 income from the Emergency Services Tax. The Township had been collecting $52 from each person employed within the Township, of which $5 went to Council Rock School District. There was some duplication, as employees who left a job during the year had paid at the start of the year, as had the replacement employee at the start of employment. With the change to a local services tax, the method of collection has changed; the full $52 is not collected at the beginning of the year, but is equally divided among the year’s paychecks. The amount now anticipated is $325,000, creating a $175,000 shortfall in income to the Township. The reductions proposed in the amended budget make up that shortfall with and produce a net savings of $117,000.
Mr. Czajkowski said that the Public Works Department is recommending a repair to a bridge on Sycamore Street near the McMaster parking lot. The repair, most of which can be done in-house, is estimated at $50,000. He provided photographs of the bridge and pointed out that the erosion damage gets worse with every heavy rain. Public Works is recommending that the repair be done very soon. This is an unbudgeted expense.
In response to Dr. Ciervo’s question, Mrs. Gibbs explained that money for the repair must come from the General Fund. Traffic impact fees can only be used for traffic improvements, such as traffic lights, turning lanes, etc.
The Board agreed to add this repair to the general fund budget, bringing the net savings to $67,000.
Dr. Ciervo said that he would like the local services tax to cover the entire cost of the ambulance squad and would like to eliminate the millage for rescue squad.
Mr. Jirele suggested paying the rescue squad from the savings in the general fund budget, and leaving flexibility in the local services tax.
Mrs. Gibbs said that the millage for the rescue squad tax amounts to about $9 per household. The Township contributes $51,000 to the rescue squad for fuel, etc. She urged the Board to leave the millage in place. She was not sure whether there would be expense involved in the removal, or whether it would be difficult to re-instate it next year if it were needed again.
Mr. Schenkman said that he would like the Financial Planning Committee to review this. He said that this is a budget; we do not yet know what the actual expenditures will be. He was hesitant to change the tax structure.
Mr. Garton said that it would not be difficult to eliminate the rescue squad millage from the tax bill, nor would there be any expense associated with making the change.
Mr. Jirele and Dr. Ciervo said that if there are reductions in the budget, the savings should be passed back to the residents in the form of a tax cut.
Park and Recreation Capital Fund
The Board reviewed the 2008 budget for capital expenditures for parks and recreation, which include:
Barn floor - $20,000
Deer Fencing - $50,000
Restrooms - $178,000
Engineering - $10,000
Windscreens - $3000
Storage shed - $5,000
Windscreens - $6,000
Irrigation - $10,000
Playground - $30,000
Irrigation - $12,000
Mr. Gallagher suggested creating a “Park and Recreation – to be determined” fund, to review each proposed project individually.
The Board discussed the various items on the Park and Recreation Capital Fund list. Mr. Schenkman said that it was his understanding that the floor for the Clark barn would help the department use the barn for various programs. The existing floor is dirt and cannot be used during bad weather. The deer fencing has been recommended as part of a Natural Resource Management evaluation being conducted by Heritage Conservancy. The Roberts Ridge playground has recently been retrofitted for handicapped children, with the improvements funded by grants and donations. He would like to hear from parents before eliminating this from the budget. There are currently only porta-potties at the site.
Mr. Jirele said that the playground with restrooms has been part of the Township’s master plan. The playground is large and used primarily by young children. He would like to see this one project completed.
Dr. Ciervo suggested that there could be a reduction in cost if the restrooms were located closer to School District facilities and tied into the School District water and sewer. He said that the restrooms should be removed from the budget for this year, while investigating possible cost reductions by working with the School District.
Messrs. Jirele and Schenkman favored leaving the restroom allocation in the budget, with the understanding that they would attempt to look for cost reductions.
Dr. Ciervo said that he preferred moving this, and other park and recreation budgeted items into the “to be determined” category, with a goal of saving toward purchase of open space.
Mr. Gallagher agreed with Dr. Ciervo on this.
Mr. Calabro said that it was his understanding that the windscreens for Chandler Field were needed for safety reasons.
Mr. Jirele said that he did not think that windscreens were necessary at Chandler Field, which is protected from wind by its location, and suggested moving both the windscreen and the equipment shed allocations to the “to be determined” category, along with the irrigation system for the field behind Staples.
The Board agreed to leave the Helen Randle Park field improvements in the budget, and to investigate the condition of the playground.
Mr. Schenkman said that the Heritage Conservancy has been conducting a Natural Resources Management study at the Clark Nature Center. Although the report is still in draft form, it is recommended that the rare and valuable rhododendrons be protected from deer by fencing. Deer are causing significant damage to the undergrowth at the Clark property. We should be protecting the open space that we have.
Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Jirele suggested that a more comprehensive approach to managing the deer problem should be considered. Mr. Calabro agreed that the rhododendron problem is a deer management problem and agreed that this issue should be investigated. Mr. Gallagher noted that the EAC has begun work on wildlife management.
Mr. Schenkman suggested moving the deer fencing allocation to the “to be determined” category until the Heritage Conservancy report is presented and reviewed.
In response to Dr. Ciervo’s question about $25,000 for a Park and Recreation vehicle, Mr. Czajkowski said that the department has already ordered, under state contract, a Ford Escape. The cost is less than the allocated $25,000, but he did not know the exact amount. The vehicle could take six to eight months to arrive, and will be paid at time of delivery. It is needed by the department to visit park and recreation sites, and to deliver program and park materials to the sites. The vehicle would be kept longer than a lease would permit. The Township is already sharing or “recycling” vehicles when possible. This item remained in the budget.
The total amount moved to the “to be determined” category for Park and Recreation Capital Fund would be $324,000.
Mr. Calabro moved to approve and authorize advertisement a preliminary amended budget including all of the cuts discussed and agreed to, and with the elimination of the rescue squad millage. Dr. Ciervo seconded.
Discussion of motion: Resident Glen Beasley thanked the Board for re-examining the budget. He suggested that, in light of the recent economy, the Township re-evaluate the expected earned income tax and income from investments. He questioned whether the Woll tract and municipal complex expansion would remain as originally budgeted.
Mr. Jirele said that the Board would re-examine Woll and municipal complex expansion later in the year.
Mr. Beasley suggested that the Board investigate the use of volunteer workers for installation of a deer fence around the rhododendrons. These plants are not ancient, but were planted about forty years ago. He also questioned the wisdom of eliminating training from the Board budget; $10,000 is a very small percentage of our budget. This is a very short term fix that could have long term repercussions. Training and learning are important to being a supervisor.
Resident Jay Sensibaugh questioned whether any money has been budgeted for matching funds for land preservation.
Mr. Jirele said that there have been conversations with the County on grants that are available and money from the Park and Recreation capital fund can be used for land preservation.
Mr. Sensibaugh asked about an additional police officer for enforcement on Swamp and Stoopville Roads. He also noted that no money has been allocated for deer control.
Mr. Jirele said that the Department had not requested a new officer. The Board pointed out that the new chief would be made aware of problem areas within the Township.
Resident Ethel Hibbs thanked the Board for the efforts to re-examine this budget and suggested that the 2009 budget work session meetings be televised for the benefit of the residents.
Resident Sue Beasley thanked the Board for re-examining the budget. She asked about the brief discussion on bridge repair at the McMaster house. She suggested that the Board consider seeking expert advice on propagating the rhododendrons to preserve the species, as these plants will not live forever. She suggested that the Board investigate a porta-potty that is handicapped accessible and designed for family use, rather than separate men’s and ladies’ rooms.
Mr. Jirele explained that the “bridge” is a culvert that runs from the Stockburger property, under Sycamore Street to the McMaster property.
Resident Jennifer Dix said that she had served on the Township financial planning committee. She noted that a recent Bucks County Courier Times article had pointed to Newtown Township as having the lowest municipal taxes in the County, with the average home assessed at about $190, as opposed to the average throughout the rest of the County at $750. She questioned the elimination of the rescue squad millage as a political move as it is only a $9 per household savings. She asked that the residents’ quality of life not be sacrificed.
The motion passed unanimously.
Reports and Comments of Officials
Chairman: Mr. Jirele reported that he has met with the Chairman of the Upper Makefield Board of Supervisors to discuss traffic, the Veterans Cemetery and ambulance coverage. Upper Makefield would be amenable to giving a larger contribution to the ambulance squad. Meetings will be scheduled with Wrightstown. A meeting will be held on January 29, 2008 at Chancellor Center with Newtown Township and Borough officials and The Newtown Corporation.
At Mr. Garton’s suggestion, Mr. Czajkowski agreed to confirm the date and time of the meeting and see that it is advertised.
Dr. Ciervo reported that he had researched the ambulance squad and learned that the squad covers Newtown Township and Borough, Upper Makefield, Wrightstown and portions of Middletown and Northampton. The squad made 10,200 runs in 2007, 75% of these transport, and responded to 2000 911 calls.
Manager: Mr. Czajkowski reviewed the Planning Commission report which included a review of a preliminary/final plan for revisions to the already approved Cricklewood Green plan. Because of the large number of “will complies” the Commission requested that the applicant make all revisions and return to the Commission for a recommendation. The Commission reviewed two Zoning Hearing Board applications, and recommended that the Board send the Solicitor to the Zoning Hearing Board to support the actions of the Zoning Officer in the application of Lawrence and Loretta Thomson. The Commission has requested that the Board authorize the Township Planner to give a short seminar on planning for the new Board and Planning Commission members. The Planning Commission will change its meeting time to 7:30 PM on the first and third Tuesday of the month.
Mr. Jirele said that a planning overview for new members would be a very good idea and asked Ms. Fountain to prepare a short presentation for the Planning Commission and any Board members who wish to attend.
At Mr. Schenkman’s suggestion, Mr. Czajkowski agreed to provide information on a “New Officials Training” course being given in Allentown.
Mr. Czajkowski asked that the Board approve an increase in the mileage rate for re-imbursement to $0.505 per mile, the standard IRS mileage rate.Mr. Calabro moved to approve the increased mileage reimbursement rate of $0.505 per mile. Mr. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
Solicitor: Mr. Garton reported that the Court of Common Pleas has ruled in favor of the Council Rock School District sale of 94 acres of the Melsky tract to Toll Brothers and 40 acres to Leo Holt. He informed the Court that Newtown Township is not taking a position on the sale and is fully committed to the Veteran’s Cemetery.
Mr. Garton asked that the Board pass a resolution appointing an auditor to conduct an audit of the Township’s accounts.
Mr. Gallagher moved to adopt resolution 2008-R-6, appointing Stanley N. Booz & Associates as auditors for Newtown Township to perform an audit of the 2007 accounts. Dr. Ciervo seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
Mr. Garton reviewed the Zoning Hearing Board application of Zachary Dunkelberger and Christine Haney of 6 Eldridge Place. The Board had no comment.
Mr. Garton reviewed the application of Lawrence W. Thomson and Loretta Thomson at 656 Linton Hill Road. He explained that there is some ambiguity in the Ordinance regarding the criteria for a special exception to build on a non-conforming lot. He said that he has spoken to Mr. Solomon, and he has confidence that the Zoning Hearing Board will be able to address this matter.
Mr. Gallagher said that perhaps the Ordinance should be reviewed to clarify the ambiguity.
Dr. Ciervo asked about a motion changing the zoning of the portion of the Melsky tract that is in Newtown Township.
Mr. Garton said that an ordinance would have to be prepared and it would require a map change. It would delete the Federal Cemetery Overlay Ordinance.
Engineer: Ms. Fountain said that her firm is recommending that the Board accept dedication of Wiltshire Walk development. The developer has agreed to provide snow removal for the remainder of the winter. There are sufficient funds in the maintenance bond to cover the two minor issues that remain on the punch list.
In response to Mr. Gallagher’s question, Mr. Garton said that once the Township accepts dedication, deeds are recorded and a maintenance bond is held for eighteen months. PennDOT is informed of the dedication and liquid fuel funds are collected. The Homeowners Association is responsible for Wiltshire Walk’s retention basin and open space.
Mr. Schenkman moved to accept dedication of Wiltshire Walk, subject to the conditions outlined by the Township Engineer. Mr. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
EXECUTIVE SESSION: Mr. Jirele reported that the Board had met in executive session to discuss matters of litigation and real estate acquisition. No action will be taken this evening.
The meeting adjourned at 11:15 PM.