Board of Supervisors Work Session
Minutes of October 19, 2009
Members present: Chairman Robert Ciervo, Vice Chairman Michael Gallagher. Secretary/Treasurer Matthew Benchener and Members Philip Calabro and Jerry Schenkman.
Also Present: Manager Joseph Czajkowski, Township Solicitor Jeffrey Garton and Township Engineer Michele Fountain.
Call to Order: Dr. Ciervo called the meeting to order at 7:30 PM.
Newtown 21st Century Voice – Survey Results: Resident Natalie Kaye explained that a group of residents of Newtown Borough and Township, concerned about the future development of the business district surrounding Sycamore and State Streets, had gotten together to formally meet on a regular basis, and as part of their mission, had conducted an on-line survey asking residents and non-residents alike, about what they envision going forward for Newtown. Of 330 respondents, 68% were Township residents, 23% were Borough residents and the remaining 9% were non-residents of the Newtowns. Six questions were asked about land use and development and two were demographic questions.
Mrs. Kaye reviewed the six questions, highlighting the most frequent responses. The number one concern reported was traffic and safety, with concern about retaining the historic character of the community and environmentally responsible development also major concerns. Respondents expressed interest in seeing an arts or community center in the downtown area. Many respondents urged the local governments to participate in long range planning for development. Most respondents favored retail/restaurant businesses in the Sycamore Street area, fewer supported residential and office use. A large percentage of respondents supported a maximum building height of 40 feet or less, with many favoring the currently permitted 30 feet. A large percentage of respondents supported a community center concept, with meeting rooms for teens and for park and recreation programming. In a space provided for written comments a number of respondents stressed preservation of open space, providing of some green space and a community center. The full results of the survey can be viewed at www.newtownsvoice.org
Resident Harriet Beckert said that respondents strongly favored preservation of the historic character of the community. Mrs. Beckert noted that both the Borough and Township already have programs in place toward that end, but she urged the Board to continue this effort.
Mr. Gallagher said that he had carefully read all of the responses to the survey and was concerned that the Township Board of Supervisors is not effectively communicating with residents, as so many of the responses did not recognize the Township’s ongoing efforts on planning, historic preservation, open space preservation, parks and traffic. The Township, as part of the only Jointure in the state, participates in ten-year comprehensive planning. The Plan was only recently revised and adopted by the three Jointure partners. It was discussed frequently at Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors meetings over the past two years, with the draft plan made available on the Township Web site, www.twp.newtown.pa.us in advance of adoption.
Regarding a community center, Mr. Gallagher noted that the Board is not opposed to such an undertaking, but the budget is very tight and funds are not available. Would the community support increased taxes to pay for a community center? Mr. Gallagher noted that state funding for senior centers is allocated by school district. Council Rock’s senior center is located in Northampton, to serve the entire Council Rock community.
Mr. Calabro noted that at one time efforts had been made to outsource the community center to the YMCA. Perhaps this idea could be revisited.
Dr. Ciervo echoed Mr. Gallagher’s concerns about communication between the Board and residents. He asked the 21 st Century Voice group to help circulate information about the Township’s long range plan, which addresses such issues as zoning and open space preservation.
Mrs. Kaye said that she would like to see a better relationship between the Borough and Township governments.
Dr. Ciervo said that at one time Newtown Borough had been part of the Jointure, and has been urged to attend both Joint Planning Commission and Newtown Township Planning Commission meetings.
Mr. Schenkman noted that the survey results would be kept in mind as the Township begins working with the Bucks County Planning Commission to address the future development of Sycamore Street.
Mr. Benchener noted that in the current economy, the Board must prioritize its spending. The survey results could help to guide the Board as planning for the future proceeds.
The Board members discussed their concerns about residents feeling they do not have a voice in the Township. Some ideas were discussed that might improve communication with residents, such as:
Mrs. Kaye suggested that rather than expecting residents to speak at a podium at a televised meeting, a less formal environment such as a town meeting might be a more welcoming environment.
Mr. Schenkman suggested that if the 21st Century Voice group were to host an informal meeting to discuss issues of concern to the residents, the Board members would make an effort to attend.
Dr. Ciervo agreed that the Board would be willing to attend a town meeting hosted by another group. He noted that in discussing long term planning, the Township must always consider the goals and opinions its the Jointure partners, Upper Makefield and Wrightstown.
Resident Pam Fitzpatrick said that the 21 st Century Voice group had been given support by Council Rock School District, which included a link to the survey in its e-Friday folders. She had spoken to a number of high school age residents asking them to participate in the survey. She said that some other municipalities have ongoing surveys on their Web sites to gauge the interests and concerns of residents.
Charles Bode of the Tri-State Citizens Council on Transportation said that the Department of Transportation holds information meetings at which different staff members are assigned specific topics to discuss with residents in small groups during public meetings. This concept could be adapted for a Township Supervisors informal town meeting.
Mrs. Beckert said that she sometimes feels that issues of great concern to residents are placed at the end of the agenda, after a lengthy meeting. This might discourage resident participation.
Dr. Ciervo said that while he agreed with Mrs. Beckert that sometimes topics of concern which do not require any immediate Board action are placed later on the agenda, it is necessary for the Board to address certain obligations in a timely manner. He said that perhaps the open “public comment” portion of the meeting is not completely addressing every resident’s concerns. The Board would continue to consider ways to improve communication with residents. He urged that the residents also consider ways to better communicate with the Board as well.
SEPTA R-8 Newtown Rail Line: Charles Bode, John Frey, Paul Iverson and Tom McHugh, all representing Pennsylvania Transit Expansion Coalition (PA-TEC), were in attendance to discuss the reactivation of the SEPTA R-8 line, abandoned in 1983. This line had run from Newtown at Lincoln Avenue to Fox Chase and then to Center City, Philadelphia. At this time no effort on the part of SEPTA or Bucks, Montgomery Philadelphia Counties is underway to restore this service. PA-TEC representatives have spoken to and gained support from other municipalities along this route, including Abington and Cheltenham. Although these municipalities are serviced by other rail lines, the lines are experiencing overcrowding. Reactivation of R-8 would address that concern.
Mr. Frey discussed the costs associated with reactivation. SEPTA still owns all of the land along the abandoned route. To reactivate it would cost between $100 million and $200 million, depending on whether the line were diesel, electric or light rail. It should be noted that SEPTA has allocated $100 million for two parking garages near the Jenkintown and Glenside stations, which would not be needed if riders could board the R-8 lines nearer their homes.
Mr. Frey noted that the population of commuters has grown 230% along the Newtown R-8 line since its abandonment. These commuters are driving to stations along the R-2 Warminster and R-3 West Trenton lines or to Cornwells Heights. The reactivation is not considered a priority by either SEPTA or the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission. Strong support from the municipal and county representatives would be needed to influence SEPTA to consider this proposal.
The Board asked Mr. Czajkowski to get additional information about the benefits to Newtown residents and the associated costs.
Mr. Calabro asked about funding for this project and the Township’s expected contribution.
Mr. Frey said that rail projects are funded 80% by the Federal government, 15% by the State and 5% by the County. This project would need the support of all of the municipalities on the line before the counties would support it.
In response to questions from the Board, Mr. Bode said that in order to be handicapped accessible, the stations would have to provide platforms to meet the car doors. Some parking would be needed. Shelters or other amenities would be at the discretion of the municipalities. He said that some municipalities provide incentives for businesses such as coffee shops or mini-marts to open at the stations for the commuters.
The Board members expressed great interest in this project and asked for additional information on ridership. The members asked Mr. Czajkowski to contact DVRPC for more information and to convey the Township’s interest in this project.
Mr. McHugh provided a sample resolution, recently endorsed by Cheltenham Township, which the Board could use to express its support of the project.
Woll Tract Update: Sharon Dotts and Robert Solarz of Gilmore & Associates were in attendance to discuss the progress on the Woll tract park. Ms. Dotts reviewed the current status, with playing fields fine graded and seeded, water and sewer installed, stormwater management in place, electric conduits and wiring for lighting in place, and storage building and trash enclosure complete. The pavilion is to be completed this week. Fencing is nearing completion, landscaping is to be done in the spring. Paving is being done for the entry, parking and walking trails.
Ms. Dotts explained that final grading and paving of the entrance cannot be completed until two utility poles are moved by PECO. The other utilities are ready to move their wires once the poles have been relocated. There are also some property lines issues to be resolved for fencing along the Leck property.
The Board reviewed change orders and additional expenses which have totaled $370,000. Mr. Solarz said that rock was hit during excavation for the utilities, costing additionally. There was also a problem with the pipes for the sewer line. Plans were submitted to the Sewer Authority for PVC pipes, and no response was given by the Sewer Authority. After many months of phone calls and letters, with no response, Gilmore & Associates had been given verbal assurance that the plans were acceptable and with the lack of a written review, Gilmore had assumed the plans were deemed approved. It was not until installation that the Sewer Authority notified Gilmore and its contractors that ductile iron pipes would be required. A decision was made that rather than delay the project, which would also have been expensive, a change order was made and the different pipes were ordered and installed.
Dr. Ciervo said that he was very dismayed with this result. He noted that the Sewer Authority is appointed by the Board of Supervisors, and perhaps the Board could have intervened to negotiate a better outcome. This was a substantial increase in costs, and the Board should have been informed of the change order.
Mr. Garton said that he would like to review any written or e-mail exchanges between Gilmore and the Sewer Authority.
The Board members agreed that they should be kept better informed of changes and additional unexpected expenses going forward.
Mr. Solarz said that every effort will be made going forward to keep the Board well informed.
Dr. Ciervo said that Little League and Rock Softball have been discussing a possible exchange of fields between Helen Randle Park and the Woll tract. He asked what costs would be involved if the Woll softball field were converted to a baseball field.
Ms. Dotts said she could provide an estimate to the Township manager tomorrow, but the softball field has been installed. To convert would require removal of the infield mix, laying of topsoil and seeding of the infield.
Mr. Schenkman asked that more documentation be provided on the test bores for the utilities. He was very concerned that hitting rock was a surprise to the engineers.
Amendment to the PBA Agreement: Police Chief Henry Pasqualini was in attendance to review an amendment to the PBA agreement which would provide for creation of a new position of corporal and for promotion of four officers to this position. The criteria had been revised to include a passing grade of 70% on a written test. Language had been added to clarify some confusion on the use of words “rank” and “ranking.” The police chief would also add up to 5 discretionary points to the scores of test takers.
The PBA is supportive of the change as it will be good for the Department. Chief Pasqualini explained that every shift must have a supervisor on duty. If a sergeant is not on duty, the most senior patrolman acts as supervisor. There is some concern about liability in this situation, as it could open the Department to claims of failure to supervise or failure to train. By promoting four to the rank of corporal and providing those corporals with supervisor training, the Department would be able to provide adequate supervision for every shift. Right now, because of vacations, sick leave, etc, there are not enough supervisory officers to cover at all times. In situations where a sergeant is not available the most senior officer acts as shift supervisor.
Chief Pasqualini said that the promotion of four corporals would increase the budget by $8,000. Currently sergeants are frequently paid overtime to cover shifts when needed.
Mr. Gallagher said that he is concerned that the Board would not be able to treat this as a test or pilot program to be eliminated if unsuccessful if it were to become an amendment to the contract. He would prefer that the terms of the amendment become a negotiation point when the contract is renegotiated next year.
The Board members discussed their concerns about an aspect of the amendment which would allow an officer who has had disciplinary action to be promoted during the first year of the amendment. This concern would be eliminated if the chief’s points are part of the promotion process. As it currently stands, the chief’s points are not to be used during the first year of the amendment.
The Board agreed that they would discuss this amendment with the new labor attorneys in an executive session. It might be a better idea to postpone action until the next negotiation of the PBA contract.
Police Building Renovations: Mr. Czajkowski explained that he submitted the concept plans for renovation of the Township Building for use by the Police Department to a number of architects for some ideas and estimates. Their responses were provided to the Board.
Mr. Schenkman said that he is not sure that the responses are comparable. He said he would want someone with some expertise to review them. He suggested that Mr. Czajkowski ask Boyle Construction, the construction managers for the new administration and public works buildings, to give some advice.
Chief Pasqualini said that he has reviewed the concept plans. He would like to work with plans that allow the department to eliminate the trailers.
Dr. Ciervo said that he would like to have better idea of the current finances. He asked for an estimate of what will be left of the bond after completion of the administration and public works buildings. He does not want the Police Department in a temporary facility too long and is eager to proceed.
Dr. Ciervo announced that the State Supreme Court has turned down Orleans’ request for an appeal of the 24 home development of Eagle Knoll on the Goodnoe tract.
Dr. Ciervo announced that he has scheduled a meeting with State Senator McIlhinney and PennDOT on Thursday at 2:00 PM at the intersection of Swamp Road and Twining Bridge Road, the scene of a recent fatal accident. It is his hope that PennDOT will agree to the installation of a three-way stop sign at this intersection.
The meeting adjourned at 10:30 PM.