Board of Supervisors
Minutes of July 9, 2008
The Newtown Township Board of Supervisors met on Wednesday, July 9, 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, Jerry Schenkman and Philip Calabro, members. Also present were: Joseph S. Czajkowski, Township Manager, Jeffrey Garton, Township Solicitor and Joe Nolan, Township Engineer.
Call to Order: Chairman Jirele called the regular meeting to order at 7:30 PM with a moment of silence. Reverend Sandra Reed of St. Mark’s AME Church gave the invocation. This was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.
Changes to the Agenda: Mr. Czajkowski said that Police Chief Pasqualini would give a report under “Reports of Officials.”
Sue Herman of Lower Makefield Township said that she is concerned that certain roads leading to the Veterans Cemetery becoming major arterial roads. She would like traffic calming for these roads, and does not support traffic roundabouts at Washington Crossing and Stoopville Roads.
Resident Mick Petrucci, Vice President of Newtown Business and Professional Association announced the upcoming car show on State Street on July 20, 2008, with a rain date of July 27, 2008. For information on this, and other NBPA events, check the Web site www.newtownbpa.org. He congratulated the Township on its win in the Township/Borough softball game at the First Fourth celebration.
Mr. Czajkowski agreed to post information about the car show on the Township television station.
Minutes, Bills Lists and Reports
Minutes: Mr. Petrucci noted that page 8 of the minutes of June 25, 2008 should read “Mr. Petrucci said that his parents have an interest…”
Mr. Gallagher moved to accept the minutes of the regular meeting of June 25, 2008, as corrected. Mr. Calabro seconded and the motion passed 4-0-1, with Mr. Schenkman abstaining.
Bills: Mr. Schenkman moved to authorize payment of bills totaling $316,941.11. Dr, Ciervo seconded.
Mr. Gallagher noted that the payment to him is reimbursement for mileage for attendance at a conference.
The motion passed 4-0-1, with Mr. Gallagher abstaining.
Mr. Gallagher moved to authorize interfund transfers totaling $423,407.72. Mr. Calabro seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Reports of Committees, Boards and Commissions
Chairman: Mr. Jirele suggested that the Board members begin discussing the budget process at the next meeting and asked that this be added to the July 23 agenda.
Other Board Members: Dr. Ciervo thanked the Board and the community for their support and condolences upon the recent loss of his father to pancreatic cancer. He said that his family has begun a campaign to raise awareness of the disease and to promote research efforts. For information or to make a donation visit www.fundacure.com.
Planning Commission: Chairman Allen Fidler reported that at its July 1, 2008 meeting, the Commission asked Codes Enforcement Officer Mike Solomon and the Traffic Engineer to gather information about traffic conditions on Newtown Yardley Road at the entrance to the Headley development/Friends Lane, and to consider whether a traffic signal might be warranted, and if so, whether a fee has already been collected from the developer of the commercial property opposite Headley. This information is expected to be given to the Commission when the Traffic Engineer next reports.
Mr. Czajkowski said that the Township has collected funds for this traffic light from the commercial developer, however the project is part of PennDOT’s TIP for Newtown Yardley Road improvements.
The Board discussed whether the traffic lights along Newtown Yardley Road could be synchronized to allow for breaks in traffic to allow Headley residents to exit the development. It was noted that at certain times of day the traffic is continuous in all directions, and when vehicles are stopped for red lights, cars at the Terry Drive/Lower Dolington Road intersection are turning onto Newtown Yardley Road. It was agreed that the Township might want to proceed with further investigation to remedy this situation, as TIP items can take many years to be addressed.
Mr. Fidler reported that the Commission reviewed T-Mobile Northeast, LLC’s application for conditional use I-1 and I-2, Communications Antenna and Communications Equipment Building at 251 Frost Lane. The applicant proposes to install nine panel-style antennae and one whip antenna at the top of an existing water tower. One cabinet will be installed on a 10’x20’ concrete slab, for which setback variances have been granted by the Zoning Hearing Board. The Commission voted to recommend that the Board approve this conditional use application subject to certain conditions.
Our Solicitor has advised that recent case law has upheld ordinances prohibiting video signage and for this reason the Commission members agree that the Jointure should have such an ordinance in place and voted to recommend that that Board adopt JMZO 2008-07.
The Commission voted to recommend that the Board adopt JMZO 2008-04, which requires a wetland transition area in the JM, CM, CR-1 and CR-2 Zoning Districts to protect wetland soils. Existing construction along Newtown and Core Creeks in Newtown Township are grandfathered.
Mr. Jirele asked that the Commission review recent discussions at the Joint Zoning Council on the use of wind turbines on private property.
Conditional Use – T-Mobile Northeast, LLC, 251 Frost Lane: Attorney Jeffrey Wuerstle, was in attendance to present this application for uses I-1 Communications Antenna and I-2 Communications Equipment Building in the R-1 Medium Density Residential Zoning District. The applicant proposes to install nine panel-style antennae and one whip antenna at the top of the existing water tank. The antennae will be mounted to the existing railing. The top of the panel antennae will be 69 feet and the whip antenna will be 75 feet above grade. One cabinet will be installed on a 10’ x 20’ concrete slab. The plan states that five additional cabinets can be installed in the future. A variance has been granted for setback of the slab by the Zoning Hearing Board.
Mr. Garton said that notice of this hearing had been advertised in the Newtown Advance on June 26 and July 3, 2008. The advertisement, application, plans by CMX dated February 29, 2008, revised March 5, 2008 are entered into the record. Mr. Garton reminded the Board that this application had been reviewed and recommended for approval by the Planning Commission on July 1, 2008.
Mr. Wuerstle said that he has three witnesses: Bryan Martinelli, Mario Calabretta and Brian Grebis. All would testify to information in a packet of exhibits Mr. Wuerstle would present.
Mr. Wuerstle entered the following exhibits:
Mr. Garton said that, if all witnesses would confirm the contents of exhibits presented, there would not be need to swear them in to testify.
In response to Mr. Gallagher’s question, Mr. Wuerstle said that the updated plan differs from the plan submitted originally in that it has been revised to show compliance with the Township Engineer’s requests.
In response to questions from the Board, Mr. Wuerstle said that on Exhibit 11, white areas of the map represent areas without T-Mobile coverage after installation of the antennae. A location north of the Township would be sought for an additional antenna. He explained that the platform for the cabinet could support up to 5 cabinets if needed, but at this time only one is planned. No additional impervious surface would be needed for additional cabinets. Surrounding neighbors have been notified by mail of this evening’s hearing as well as the Zoning Hearing Board meeting. No neighbors have come forward with any objections. No interference with other telephone signals, television or internet connections will result from installation of these antennae. Inquiries have been made about liability insurance, but a carrier had not yet been contracted.
Mr. Jirele noted that this is one of the locations that the Jointure has designated as suitable for a cell tower.
Mr. Schenkman moved to grant conditional use approval for T-Mobile, Northeast, LLC to install communications antennae and communications equipment building, uses I-1 and I-2 at 251 Frost Lane, subject to the following conditions:
Reports of Officials
In response to Mr. Gallagher’s question, Mr. Czajkowski said that the Woll tract would be on the July 23 agenda. The revised plans are to be reviewed by the Planning Commission first.
Bond Counsel Appointment: Mr. Garton explained to the Board that Bond Counsel would be needed in connection with the Township’s bond issuance. Bond Counsel would draft documents including Township resolutions, legal advertisements, paying agent agreement, general certificate, federal tax certificate. Required federal and state tax forms, would prepare bond closing documents and a legal opinion. Bond Counsel’s legal opinions would appear in the “red book”.
Mr. Czajkowski provided the Board with a summary of responses to the Township’s request for proposals for Bond Counsel. All the responding firms are well qualified and our consultant, Scott Shearer, has worked extensively with all. Dinsmore & Shohl and Fox Rothschild had the lowest fees, but Fox Rothschild has indicated that there is a possible conflict of interest as this firm frequently represents clients in Newtown Township, so would request that the Township execute a conflict of interest waiver. Dinsmore & Shohl’s fees would be $9,000 plus expenses not to exceed $1500; Fox Rothschild’s fees would be $8,900 with expenses not to exceed $2500.
Mr. Garton agreed that all on the list are well qualified; he suggested that the deciding factors should be fees and potential conflict. He did not think that Dinsmore & Shohl’s location in Pittsburgh would be a concern, as Bond Counsel might appear when the ordinance is adopted, but it is not necessary.
Mr. Gallagher said that he has conducted some research of his own, and has been told that Saul Ewing is the best in this field. Its attorney, Bob Jones, has been highly recommended to him. He did not think the higher price of between $14,500 and $19,500 should be a hindrance on such a large bond issue and important transaction for the Township.
Mr. Schenkman said that he has worked for a firm that did some municipal bond work in New Jersey; the work is pro forma, although there is some exposure to professional liability. He feels confident that all responding firms would do a competent job; so would feel comfortable choosing the lowest bidder.
Mr. Jirele suggested eliminating Fox Rothschild from consideration because of possible conflicts. He agreed that the work is a routine business, and both Mr. Garton and Mr. Czajkowski feel all responding firms are competent. He also would choose the lowest bidder.
Dr. Ciervo said that because Dinsmore & Shohl’s offices are in Pittsburgh, he would prefer considering King Spry, with offices in Bucks County.
Mr. Garton said that the expenses are capped, so location should not make a difference.
Mr. Calabro moved to name Dinsmore & Shohl as Bond Counsel. Mr. Schenkman seconded and the motion passed 3-1-1, with Dr. Ciervo voting nay and Mr. Gallagher abstaining.
Volunteer Appointment to Building Code Board of Appeals: Mr. Czajkowski presented the resume of resident Susan Procell for the open position on this Board. He said that Ms. Procell is assistant code enforcement officer in Upper Makefield, and he has worked with her. She would be an excellent addition to this Board.Mr. Gallagher moved to appoint Susan Procell to the Building Code Board of Appeals. Dr. Ciervo seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Police Chief's Report
Chief Pasqualini reported that he is working toward getting the Police Department accredited. He presented the Board with an organizational chart for the Department.
In the past month the Department has met with District Attorney Michele Henry. The Department was involved in three drug investigations leading to 9 arrests. This involved reimbursable overtime from the County.
The Department responded to 1201 calls, issued 385 traffic citations, and had one truck detail. New scales have been ordered, and once they are in place, more truck details will take place.
Chief Pasqualini said that the Department responded to 34 reports of suspicious circumstances. He urged residents to call in any suspicious activities. The regular phone number is manned 24 hours a day, but suspicious activities should be reported on 911. Reports can be made anonymously.
The Chief said that because of recent reports of West Nile Virus in Tyler Park, residents are urged to report findings of dead birds to the County Health Department. He said that areas of standing water could be breeding grounds for the mosquitoes that carry the virus. He asked that information on reporting dead birds be placed on the Web site and television station.
In response to questions from the Board, Chief Pasqualini said that the officers have been working to increase traffic patrols and to address traffic and truck safety issues.
Mr. Garton said that review of the Reilly Zoning Hearing Board application would take place at the July 23 meeting.
JMZO 2008-04 – Wetland Transition Areas: Mr. Garton said that this Ordinance would require wetland transition areas of a minimum of 50 feet in the JM, CM, CR-1 and CR-2 Zoning Districts.
Mr. Schenkman moved to authorize advertisement of JMZO 2008-04. Mr. Gallagher seconded.
Discussion of motion: In response to Board comments, Mr. Garton said that not all zoning districts are included, and existing encroachments would be grandfathered. Going forward, wetland areas will be protected.
The motion passed 5-0.
JMZO 2008-07 – Video Signage Regulations: Mr. Garton said that this Ordinance would amend the signage regulations to prohibit electronic message centers. The prohibition is content neutral.
Mr. Gallagher moved to authorize advertisement of JMZO 2008-07. Dr. Ciervo seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Discussion of Open Space Funding: Mr. Garton said that in response to the Board’s request, he has provided information related to a timeline for funding of open space. If the Board wishes to enact an earned income tax devoted solely to the acquisition of open space, an ordinance must be filed with the Board of Elections directing placement of a referendum on the November ballot no later than the 13 th Tuesday prior to the general election. This would require an approved ordinance adopted no later than August 4, 2008.
Notice of a ballot question must be provided to the Board of Elections at least 45 days prior to the election, which would be September 19, 2008. A resolution to be adopted by the Board of Supervisors for a referendum question related to incurring additional voter approved debt would have to be adopted. He provided copies of a draft ordinance and resolution, noting that to meet the deadlines, the Board would need to authorize advertisement of an ordinance at this evening’s meeting.
Mr. Jirele said that the Township would need to match the County Open Space grant of $580,000 in order to participate in the County Open Space Program. He asked how much money would be brought in with an increase in the earned income tax.
Mr. Gallagher said that our current 1% earned income tax, split with Council Rock School District, is expected to bring the Township $5.8 million. About 41% of that tax comes from non-residents employed in the Township. An increase to 1.25% would bring an additional $2.9 million. A 1 mill increase in property tax would generate $308,000.
Mr. Jirele said that an increase of .25% seems too much, and said that he would like additional input from the finance department.
Mr. Schenkman said that he would like more information on other ways to fund the open space program. He would like the Financial Planning Committee and Open Space Subcommittee to provide information before making a decision.
Mr. Jirele said that there are time constraints to getting a referendum on the ballot.
In response to questions from the Board, Mr. Garton said that if a referendum were passed, an ordinance would be needed to enact the tax increase. The referendum could be worded as “not to exceed” a certain amount.
The Board discussed whether an increase to 1.25% would be too much and might possibly keep voters from supporting the referendum. Dr. Ciervo said that he would like to collect the full $2.9 million for a few years, enabling the Township to acquire a number of parcels as soon as possible.
Mr. Schenkman noted that voters who supported the County initiative did not expect that they would be asked to support through taxes at the municipal level as well. He asked whether it would be better to use the general fund for acquisition, postponing a tax increase.
In response to Board questions, Mr. Garton said that it would be possible to word a referendum in such a way that general funds could be reimbursed. He also pointed out that a referendum approved amount could be decreased but not increased. If a referendum were defeated, the question could not be put to the voters again for a few years, but he was not sure of the exact time.
Mr. Gallagher moved to authorize advertisement of an ordinance to raise the earned income tax up to an additional 0.25% . Dr. Ciervo seconded.
Discussion of motion:
Mr. Calabro said that in the current economic environment it might not be a good idea to ask voters to support a tax increase without clear information on the plans the Township has. He said it might be better to explore other options, and postpone a tax increase until the economy improves.
Mr. Jirele and Mr. Gallagher each said that the referendum question would only ask whether voters would support a tax increase for open space. If the money is not needed, no increase would take place.
Mr. Schenkman agreed with Mr. Calabro, also pointing out that residents will be faced with an increase in their real estate taxes to support the municipal expansion. The residents would infer that a tax increase would take place if a referendum appeared on the ballot. He said that other options should be considered and he would like input from the Financial Planning Committee.
Dr. Ciervo said that he supports the motion, and the increase in earned income tax, because this is a very good time to purchase real estate. He noted that 41% of the earned income tax is paid by non-residents. By using this method rather than a real estate tax increase, those unemployed or retired on fixed incomes would not pay. The Board of Supervisors knows what parcels are available, and purchase of these parcels cannot wait. The increase in the tax would be in force for a few years in order to protect these open parcels. He would like to let the residents decide on the issue.
Mr. Jirele said that a similar referendum was put to the residents in 2000. Because it failed, the Township was unable to purchase the Melsky tract, which will now be developed. He would like to protect other open parcels, but suggested that .25% might be too high an increase. He would like the wording of the ordinance to be refined to allow for a lesser increase.
Resident Sue Beasley said that while she supports the acquisition of open space and supports the referendum, she is concerned about the timing of the question because of the current economy. She suggested postponing the referendum and exploring other options at this time. She said that she did not think all of the open space opportunities would disappear between the general election in November and the primary election next spring. She asked whether, if the referendum were to fail, the Board would proceed with open space acquisitions with other methods outlined that do not need voter support.
Resident Jeffrey Marshall said that as a member of the County Open Space Task Force and a speaker on open space preservation for the Heritage Conservancy, he supports the ordinance. Open space has benefits for all and is good for both body and soul. He urged the Board to present the community with an opportunity to make an informed decision on open space preservation. He said that as the Township updates its open space comprehensive plan there must be public input. The Board should learn from the community what types of land they would want to preserve. The comprehensive plan process should be open and transparent. The residents should be involved in the planning, as preservation enhances the value of the property throughout the community, it saves on costs for infrastructure and community services, and while it would be a short term expense would be of long term benefit.
Mr. Calabro said that his concerns are that this is not a good time to ask for voter support of a tax increase and that there is not enough information being presented on which parcels are earmarked for preservation and what other financing methods are available.
Mr. Marshall said that by the November election, the Open Space Committee will have information available to the voters.
The Board discussed the advantages and disadvantages of moving forward with the referendum, with Dr. Ciervo noting that for resident input a presidential election would have the largest possible turnout. The results would give a very clear picture of the residents’ feelings about an earned income tax specifically for preservation of open space. It is not necessary to name specific parcels; it is easy to see which parcels of land have not been developed. If the Township waits, Dr. Ciervo said that he is concerned that the currently undeveloped parcels will be developed.
Mr. Schenkman again stated that he would rather provide factual information to the public from the Financial Planning Committee, along with an open space inventory, before placing the question on the ballot. He again referred to the current economy as reason to postpone a referendum.
Mr. Petrucci said that he supports the preservation of open space and the use of a referendum to ascertain whether the residents would support an income tax for open space preservation. He said that the necessary facts would be available to residents before the election in November, but a vote by the Board is necessary to move forward.
Resident Will Sterling said that he is concerned about the Board’s executive session conversations about acquisition of certain parcels. He said that he objects to the use of public money without disclosing which parcels are being considered.
Mr. Jirele said that the Board has discussed two parcels in executive session, which is something that the Board is permitted to do.
Mr. Petrucci said that executive session discussion is necessary as public discussion of real estate could affect the price.
The Board briefly discussed the practice of closed negotiations for real estate acquisition.
Resident Glenn Beasley said that he supports open space preservation but would prefer that a referendum be postponed until the 2009 primary. He supports the earned income tax, which protects those on fixed incomes, but fears that a referendum could fail in the current economic climate. He also asked about the number of open space parcels still available and the possible costs for purchase.
Dr. Ciervo said that the 2008 presidential election will have a very large voter turnout, and votes cast will give a better indication of the residents’ opinions on the open space question that an off-year primary.
Mrs. Beasley said that to her recollection, the last open space referendum was on the 2000 primary ballot, which was a presidential primary.
The motion passed 3-2, with Messrs. Schenkman and Calabro voting nay.
Mr. Garton advised the Board that a vote on the resolution for the referendum could be postponed until August.
Other Business: Mr. Gallagher expressed some concern about an easement agreement with Council Rock School District for Wrights Road access to the Woll tract.
Mr. Garton said that the School District would have the right to close access ten times per year, for events during the school day and special events like back to school night.Dr. Ciervo said that this should not be a problem as use needs should not overlap and there would still be access to the park through the Durham Road entrance.
Award of 2008 Roadway Improvement Project: Mr. Czajkowski presented the Board with responses to bids for the 2008 roadway improvement project, with Bray Brothers, Inc., of Fallsington, PA., as the lowest bidder at a cost of $384,644.90. Mr. Czajkowski said that he has worked with Bray Brothers before and has found their work satisfactory. The bid is under budget.
Mr. Calabro moved to award the 2008 roadway improvement project to Bray Brothers, Inc. Mr. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Escrow Release for Villas of Newtown: Mr. Calabro moved to authorize escrow release for Villas of Newtown in the amount of $243,267.07. Mr. Schenkman seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Escrow Release for Delancey Court: Mr. Calabro moved to authorize escrow release to Delancey Court in the amount of $147,402.60. Mr. Schenkman seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Escrow Release for Hidden Valley: Mr. Calabro moved to authorize escrow release to Hidden Valley in the amount of $9,467.36. Mr. Schenkman seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
In response to questions from Dr. Ciervo, Engineer Joe Nolan said that Ms. Fountain has been researching questions regarding residential uses permitted in the OR Office Research Zoning District. She will have a report at the next Board of Supervisors meeting.
Traffic Engineer's Report
Traffic Engineer Andrew Brown presented a written report of ongoing traffic issues within the Township. In response to questions and comments from the Board, Mr. Brown said that PennDOT is satisfied that the lights on the Bypass are correctly timed for vehicles traveling at the posted speed limit of 55 miles per hour. The lights can continue to be adjusted as needed, but other traffic considerations, such as the traffic at cross streets and the time of day must be considered. Certain delays might occur during rush hours.
Mr. Brown said that the Swamp Road Improvement Project has been deferred on the TIP to 2012. To remove this project from the TIP would require Board action.
Mr. Jirele suggested that this should be a public discussion.
Mr. Brown said that construction of a south bound right turn lane on the Bypass to Buck Road should be completed very soon. The Township may begin installing Jake Brake signs. A traffic count is being conducted to seek a highway occupancy permit for a right in/right out entrance to the Bypass from Terry Drive. Once installed it will alleviate traffic back-ups in the residential neighborhood on Fountain Farm Lane. Stoopville Road traffic calming is awaiting Federal funding.Mr. Jirele asked that the Traffic Engineer begin exploring timing on Newtown Yardley Road at the Headley/Friends Lane intersection. A new traffic study might be needed.
Mr. Gallagher asked whether the recently formed Open Space Comprehensive Plan Subcommittee is a formal Township committee with advertised meetings and published agendas.
Mr. Garton suggested that if this committee will give reports and recommendations to the Board of Supervisors, it should be treated the same way other advisory committees are treated.
Mr. Czajkowski said that he would arrange an advertisement and post the agenda on the Web site. The next meeting is on Monday, July 14, 2008 at 7:30 PM.
Mr. Gallagher said that a resident had suggested naming the Woll tract park or fields after residents killed in the Vietnam War. He asked the Board to consider names for the park.
Dr. Ciervo said that he had correspondence from a resident inquiring about the Township using a single trash hauler for all residents, which would result in some savings and would eliminate the noise of many pick-ups on multiple days of the week.
Mr. Calabro said that in some neighborhoods, residents contract together, but he would hesitate to recommend anything other than working with neighbors to negotiate a better deal by banding together.
Mr. Garton pointed out that when the Township assumes responsibility for contracting with trash haulers, it becomes the recipient of residents’ complaints.
After further discussion, it was agreed that this is not an issue the Township should take on. Mr. Czajkowski agreed to respond to the resident, explaining the Township’s position.
In response to Dr. Ciervo’s questions, Mr. Czajkowski said that the Park and Recreation Department has received a grant of $10,000 from DCED to be used toward replacement of the damaged playground that had been removed from Helen Randle Park. The Park and Recreation Board would handle selection of equipment and arrange for installation.
The meeting adjourned at 10:30 PM.