Newtown Township

Board of Supervisors

Minutes of November 17, 2010

 

The Newtown Township Board of Supervisors met on November 17, 2010 in the Township meeting room at 7:30 PM. In attendance and voting were Supervisors: Chairman Robert Ciervo, Vice Chairman Matthew Benchener, Secretary/Treasurer Jerry Schenkman and Philip Calabro and Michael Gallagher, members. Also present were: Joseph Czajkowski, Township Manager, Jeffrey Garton, Township Solicitor and Michele Fountain, Township Engineer.

Call to Order: Chairman Robert Ciervo called the regular meeting to order at 7:30 PM with a moment of silence and an invocation by Pastor Norman Leve of New Life Christian Church. This was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance. He welcomed Boy Scouts from Troop 99, in attendance to observe the meeting for a merit badge.

Special Actions

State Valor Award Presentation: Lingohocken Fire Chief Greg Jakubowski thanked Newtown Township for its help and support, including the help of its Supervisors, Fire Fighters and Police during the recent memorial for Lingohocken’s Deputy chief Fran Gorski, who had been a member of the department for fifty-one years. He also thanked Newtown Township for its help in welcoming home Fire Fighter Nathan Hume, who returned today from his tour of duty in Afganistan.

Chief Jakubowski announced that Lingohocken, along with Newtown and Northampton’s EMS teams, has been awarded the State Valor Award for its rescue last July of a man trapped under a truck in the Hansen Aggregates Quarry. After more than two hours of hard work in extreme heat conditions, the teams were able to extract the pinned man, who has since recovered from his injuries. Awards were presented to all of the members of the participating Lingohocken, Northampton and Newtown Teams.

Eagle Scout Proclamation: Dr. Ciervo presented Eagle Scout Adam Robert LePine with a proclamation honoring his attainment of the rank of Eagle Scout. Mr. LePine, a member of Newtown’s Troop 29, repaired a trail, installed a drain pipe and helped with the planting of twelve trees for his Eagle project.

Mr. LePine thanked the Board for this recognition and thanked his parents, scout leaders and troop members for their help and support.

Cantor Elson Recognition: Dr. Ciervo read a proclamation recognizing Cantor Mark Elson’s twenty-five years of service to Shir Ami of Newtown as a cantor, instructor and music teacher. December 3, 2010 will be Cantor Elson Day.

Minutes, Bills Lists and Reports

Minutes: Mr. Gallagher moved to approve the minutes of the work session meeting of October 18, 2010. Mr. Schenkman seconded and the motion passed 4-0-1, with Mr. Benchener abstaining.

Mr. Schenkman moved to approve the minutes of November 8, 2010. Mr. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 5-0.

Bills: Mr. Schenkman moved to approve payment of bills totaling $88,496.68. Mr. Gallagher seconded.

Discussion of motion: Resident Jay Sensibaugh asked what would remain in the general fund after payment of these bills.

Mr. Czajkowski said that $1.188 million would remain in the reserve.

The motion passed 5-0.

Reports of Committees, Boards and Commissions

Chairman: Dr. Ciervo said that he has been monitoring the use of the new skate park and is very pleased to see that so many people are enjoying it daily. He urged cooperation from nearby residents and businesses. The Park and Recreation Board is investigating ways to address some of the noise from the ramps.

Mr. Gallagher suggested that some additional trash cans might be needed. Users of the park are using the recycle bins but they are filling up quickly.

Planning Commission: Chairman Allen Fidler reported that at its November 16, 2010 meeting the Commission reviewed three Zoning Hearing Board applications. Joseph Jenci was in attendance to review his application for a setback variance for relief of 5.8 feet to enclose an existing elevated deck as a three-season room, and add some decking and a stairway to his yard at 63 Harmony Way. The room is similar to rooms added by his neighbors and his property backs to open space, and the rear stairway will provide emergency access for a home with only a front door and garage entrance. The Commission suggested that Dr. Jenci bring letters of support from his neighbors and homeowners association to the Zoning Hearing Board, but forwarded this application to the Supervisors without comment. Julianna Merback Burdo was in attendance to review her application for a setback variance of 22.69 feet to build a deck and patio at the rear of her home at 3 Ainsley Court. The project also includes widening and lengthening of the driveway, for which Zoning Hearing Board relief is not needed. The property backs to open space. Without a variance, the homeowner would have only 5 additional feet beyond the rear of the house for outdoor amenities. The Commission suggested that the applicant provide the Zoning Hearing Board with letters of support from the adjacent neighbors and the homeowners association but forwarded the application without comment. While reviewing this application, the Commission discussed the large number of setback variances requested for this development. It is unfortunate that the developer built to almost the full building envelope, leaving little or no space for decks and patios. Ms. Fountain did point out to the Commission that this type of development, B-12 cluster, is no longer available in the CM zoning district. Louis Gomes of Infinity Building Group was in attendance to review an application for setback relief to build a single family home at the intersection of Cloverlee and Durham Road. Because it is a corner lot, the property has two front yards. Durham Road, an arterial collector road, has a setback requirement of 60 feet from the legal right-of-way. The building will be located 73 feet from the curb. The proposed house is similar in size to the surrounding neighbors and the setback is in line with the other buildings on both Cloverlee and Durham. The building will be an enhancement to its surrounding neighborhood. The Commission forwarded this application to the Board without comment.

Mr. Fidler, Mr. Iapalucci and Mr. Fisher have agreed to help as Planning Commission liaisons for the Recreation Comprehensive Plan update committee, as needed. The Commission is offering three volunteers to allow more flexibility in accommodating the schedule.

Land Development

Weglos Sketch Plan, 780 Newtown Yardley Road: Attorney Ed Murphy, Engineer Heath Dumack and Dr. Weglos were in attendance to review a sketch plan to build a dental office at this location, which is zoned R-2, medium density residential. Mr. Murphy explained that this property has an abandoned single family house on it. The lot is between the Headley development’s open space and the entrance to Newtown Swim Club. Dr. Weglos would demolish the house and build an office building and associated parking. Office hours would be limited to three and a half days each week, with no weekend hours. These hours would not conflict with Newtown Swim Club’s busiest times. The sketch plans have been reviewed by the Planning Commission, who were supportive of the use, which will require a variance. The Planning Commission had some concerns about the additional curb cut required, and had been supportive of the applicant acquiring an access easement to take access from the Newtown Swim Club entrance. The applicant has been unsuccessful in reaching an agreement with the Swim Club for an access easement. The project would need, in addition to the use variance, a variance for impervious surface and for parking. The applicant has not yet sought Zoning relief.

Mr. Benchener asked about the access easement difficulties.

Mr. Murphy said that the applicant could not reach a satisfactory financial agreement with the swim club.

Dr. Ciervo asked about the increased impervious surface.

Mr. Dumack said that the amount permitted for residential use is 13%. The property is 13,000 square feet to the ultimate right-of-way and has 6% impervious surface. The original driveway has become overgrown and is no longer impervious. The sketch plan shows an impervious surface of 65.3% and provides 12 parking spaces where 14 are required.

Dr. Ciervo asked whether the practice would have multiple dentists.

Dr. Weglos said that he is a single practitioner with offices in Summit Square. He has office hours on Monday 9:00 AM – 8:00 PM, Tuesday 9:00 AM to 12:30 PM., Wednesday 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM and Thursdays 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM. He teaches dentistry in Philadelphia, and except for an occasional emergency, is closed on weekends. He does not intend to expand the business. He has a total of four on staff, including a hygienist, and sees about 3 patients per hour. He does not require more than 10 parking spaces. He currently has 800 square feet of space; the new facility would be 2,000 square feet, to include waiting areas, treatment rooms, offices, restroom and labs.

Mr. Schenkman asked about access with an additional curb cut.

Mr. Murphy said that the entrance would be on the other side of the building from the swim club. The building will be one story with a basement. A stormwater management system will address the increased impervious surface.

Mr. Calabro asked if there would be any residential use.

Mr. Murphy said this would be an office building with no residential apartment.

Mr. Benchener asked Mr. Fidler to discuss the Planning Commission’s concerns with traffic patterns.

Mr. Fidler explained that Dr. Weglos had not been in attendance to explain his office practice to the Commission. The members were concerned about competing traffic patterns on two commercial driveways so close together. He suggested that hours be addressed at conditional use. The Commission was in agreement that an easement to take access through the Swim Club driveway would be preferable to another curb cut. The members had commented that the Swim Club has been expanding its uses and the Township might be helpful in negotiating some kind of cooperation with the dental offices. Mr. Fidler said that every property owner is entitled to access to his property, and the business described this evening does seem to be low impact. He thought the Commission would be supportive of the plan without an easement in this case.

Mr. Calabro asked how the Township could insure that the use would not intensify later.

Mr. Garton said that a use variance is required. The Zoning Hearing Board can make the variance subject to certain conditions.

The Board discussed the access easement through the Swim Club.

Mr. Murphy said that the Board had recently initiated a condemnation proceeding for another business. He did not think this instance is the same, as the Township has not made any financial investment in this location.

The Board members agreed that they would be supportive of the plan and the use variance subject to conditions keeping the use from becoming too intense.

Mr. Schenkman and Mr. Gallagher suggested that the Manager and Solicitor speak to the owner of Newtown Swim Club to see if an access easement could be agreed to before proceeding to land development.

Reports of Officials

Engineer: Ms. Fountain informed the Board that Penns Trail Storage has requested a certificate of completion.

Solicitor: Mr. Garton explained to the Board that the State requires that a budget be “hung” or advertised and made available for public review for at least twenty days prior to adoption. During the time between advertisement and adoption, the draft budget can be changed to go down. The budget cannot go up more than 10% per line item or 25% per category. A budget must be adopted by December 31, 2010.

At this point, the Engineer and Solicitor departed the meeting.

Budget Discussion

For the benefit of the Boy Scouts in attendance, Mr. Gallagher explained the procedure for reviewing of the draft budget presented by the Township Manager. After the Board has come to some agreement on the budget it is advertised. Before it is adopted, the Board and interested residents will continue to discuss and review it. The final budget must be adopted by year’s end.

Mr. Czajkowski said that he has reviewed the discussion of the last meeting and a list of suggestions from Board members and has made some of the suggested changes, as follows:

General Fund

Revenue Changes: Real estate tax increase removed, non-resident EIT increased $200,000, real estate transfer tax increased $50,000.

Expenditure Changes: $5,000 animal control removed, police overtime reduced to $105,000, transfer to debt service added $98,000, transfers to Capital Projects Fund and Recreation Capital Fund removed.

This year’s end balance is projected at $1,188,157. The fund balance projected for next year is $353,201.

Debt Service Fund

Revenue Changes: Real Estate tax increase removed. Transfer of $98,000 from General Fund has been added.

Capital Projects Fund

Revenue Changes: Transfer from General Fund of $84,000 has been removed.

Expenditure Changes: EMS vehicle, $30,000 has been removed, Public Works radios, $13,000, have been removed, police vehicle cameras have been reduced by half to $26,000. Total expenditures are now $34,871.

Recreation Capital Fund

Revenue Changes: Transfer from General Fund of $240,000 has been removed. Impact fee revenue has been adjusted downward, removing fees from the Melsky project. A CDBG grant in the amount of $8,000 has been added for a septic system upgrade at Clark Nature Center.

Expenditure Changes: All park requests have been removed except the septic system for Clark, which will be funded by a CDBG grant.

Mr. Czajkowski provided the Board with copies of memos from the department heads regarding the budget requests. He urged the Board to reconsider the police overtime budget. He stated that these revisions, provided the Township meets all revenue projections, will be adequate for 2011, but without considerable increases in revenue streams, the Township will not be able to continue to provide the same level of services or to rebuild the fund balance levels previously deemed adequate. The only way to maintain the budget in the future will be through dramatic cuts to the work force, including the police force.

Mr. Benchener asked whether these changes would provide a budget without a tax increase.

Mr. Czajkowski confirmed that these revisions to do not include any new taxes or tax increases.

Mr. Benchener said that the reduction of the budget for vehicle cameras for the police would make for a very small pilot program. He asked whether it might not be better to postpone the entire purchase for a year.

Dr. Ciervo said that $26,000 would provide five cameras. He advocated purchasing them and evaluating their success.

Mr. Gallagher said that technology is constantly improving. These cameras might be obsolete in a short time. The Police Chief made a case for installing the cameras as a tool in liability matters, less so as a crime prevention tool.

Mr. Schenkman said that the cameras are permanently installed in vehicles, not placed into cars at the start of a shift and removed. He expressed some concern that the presence of the cameras could disrupt the vehicle maintenance program as cars with cameras would be overused.

The Board reviewed the inventory of police vehicles and agreed that a pilot program of 5 cameras should remain in the budget for the newer marked police cars.

Dr. Ciervo said that he was not sure, after reviewing the inventory, whether the Township should purchase three new police cars. He noted that the addition of three motorcycles to the fleet should have helped extend the life of the patrol cars.

Mr. Calabro said that he has some concern about the cost of maintenance for older patrol cars. If the Township does not keep up with its replacement policy, cars might become more expensive to maintain. He favored replacement of vehicles and placing cameras in the newly purchased vehicles, stating that the police and public are put in danger if the cars are not reliable and well maintained.

Mr. Gallagher said that the Board had already scaled back the replacement program for police vehicles to three one year, two the next. If no vehicles are purchased this year, the fleet will continue to age. The Township will pay more in the long run if it falls behind on its replacement program.

Mr. Benchener questioned the program, saying that the Board should not follow a program just because it is the program. The members should be sure that this program is the right fit for the Township.

After some further discussion the members compromised to replace two vehicles.

Mr. Gallagher asked the members to consider the annual contributions to Newtown Library Company and Wrightstown Village Library, a total of $10,000. He said that with the budget so tight he was not sure that contributions to private entities should be made.

Mr. Benchener said that he did not thing that government should support libraries, noting that Newtown Library Company has a very large endowment.

Dr. Ciervo said that the Board has already made significant cuts to its contributions and has reduced the library contributions from $15,000 to $5,000 already. He would favor continuing the contribution for another year, but giving the institutions time to plan for no longer receiving contributions in the future.

Mr. Schenkman said that the libraries are a valuable public asset and should be left in the budget. He asked to continue the practice of inviting representatives of these institutions to provide information on their budgets to the Township.

Mr. Calabro said that he would not support reducing the contributions to libraries unless contributions to the rescue squad were also reduced. He noted that the Board has not scrutinized the rescue squad’s financials.

Dr. Ciervo noted that there is an ordinance in place requiring contribution of 25% of the local services tax to the rescue squad. Representatives have come to a Board meeting and have provided the manager with financial information. The contribution to the rescue squad was reduced when the Township stopped providing free gas for the vehicles.

Mr. Schenkman said that the Board has carefully scrutinized the police and fire budgets but has not scrutinized the rescue squad budget. He would like the Board to have some input going forward.

After some further discussion, the majority, Dr. Ciervo, Mr. Calabro and Mr. Schenkman, favored continued contributions of $10,000 to the libraries.

The Board briefly discussed the importance of training for Board members. The line item has been reduced in recent years. Mr. Benchener said that he would pay his own way should he find time to attend training.

The members agreed to leave $200 in the budget for training of Supervisors.

Mr. Gallagher pointed out that there was a reduction of $28,000 for tax collection with the change from Berkheimer to Keystone.

Mr. Czajkowski explained that $40,000 had been added to the budget for an update of the Township’s Act 537 plan. This is the sewer facilities plan, which should be updated every ten years. The Township last updated its plan in 1992. The Sewer Authority will provide all of the necessary information, but it is the responsibility of the municipality to update the plan. Mr. Czajkowski has asked for proposals from CKS and Boucher and James.

Mr. Gallagher said that he had asked to add this to the budget after seeing neighboring municipalities struggle with sewer issues.

Mr. Czajkowski indicated that there are grants available from the State to pay half the cost of an Act 537 update. The Township can also make some in-kind contributions. At this time there is not a lot of development in the Township, so there is less pressure to update right now.

After some further discussion the members agreed to postpone the expenditure this year but to prioritize it next year.

Mr. Czajkowski explained “contracted services” as alarm maintenance, trash pick-up, pest control and elevator maintenance. He will attempt to reduce this line further.

Mr. Czajkowski said that the revision to the budget reduced police overtime to $105,000, based on the 2010 estimate of $90,000, which was the estimate at the end of October. That amount has been adjusted to $115,000 to account for re-imbursement of comp time as required by the contract. He urged the Board to reconsider and budget at least the same amount or $120,000.

The Board noted that the Police Chief has made dramatic reductions in the amount of overtime in recent years. He should be encouraged to continue to reduce the amount. The members agreed to increase police overtime to $115, 000.

Mr. Gallagher pointed to a reduction to the capital projects for technology. He said that he did not think the upgrade to the Docstar program was necessary, so has requested the reduction to $10,000. The Township has also moved to open source software, effective today. The members agreed to the reduction of the technology capital budget to $10,000.

Mr. Benchener said that he would like to remove the purchase of rifles and mounts from the budget. These rifles are only used in very rare instances such as hostage situations. He did not want to spend money on equipment that would rarely, or even never, be needed.

Mr. Calabro noted that while the Township is not a high crime location, it is a short distance from some areas, such as Trenton, where gang activity is an ongoing problem. Some of that crime has been seen in Newtown recently, including a carjacking from a driveway in the Borough.

After some further discussion, the members agreed that the request was not a large amount to adequately arm our police. The rifles remained in the budget.

The Board discussed Park and Recreation capital projects. Mr. Czajkowski said that the remaining Woll tract payments would be paid from impact fees, once collected.

Mr. Schenkman said that he has concerns about relying on projected revenues to pay this. The Township has seen some delays in projects expected to be started this year.

Dr. Ciervo said that the fund is at $0 right now, although about $15,000 is expected by year’s end.

Mr. Czajkowski said that a number of projects have been approved but have not yet begun construction; no permits have been issued. That is why he had recommended that the Woll tract be funded by a transfer, with re-imbursement to the general fund when fees are collected.

Mr. Schenkman suggested that Mr. Czajkowski provide the Board with more information on these projects, and that he attempt to learn whether the Township can expect any activity on the projects in the coming year. He suggested postponing a decision on whether to transfer funds for the Woll tract until additional information has been provided.

Mr. Calabro said that he would like to be conservative in the projection of real estate transfer tax revenue and would like to budget at $650,000. Recent reports show a decrease in mortgage applications and in home values nationally of as much as 30%.

Mr. Gallagher said that the current year to date amount is $725,000. The budget is only 3% above this year’s actual collections.

Dr. Ciervo said that the real estate market is making a comeback in Bucks County and he would be comfortable budgeting close to this year’s revenues.

Mr. Benchener said that he would prefer to budget flat.

Mr. Schenkman said that home sales might have been helped in part by tax incentives which will end in 2010. It is difficult to predict the revenue but agreed that he would prefer to budget flat, also. The members agreed to budget $725,000 for real estate transfer tax revenue.

Mr. Schenkman said that he would suggest also budgeting flat for both resident and non-resident earned income tax.

Mr. Gallagher said that he has been following the monthly collections of earned income tax and the numbers proposed are close to what will have been collected this year. The members agreed to resident ($3,500,000) and non-resident ($2,600,000) income tax revenues as proposed.

Mr. Czajkowski said that lease revenues listed includes the Clark house.

Mr. Czajkowski said that the Park and Recreation advertising budget has been reduced to $8,500, but the Department is not ready to eliminate printed promotion of programs yet. Contracted services for Park and Recreation include the restroom rentals, pest control, fertilizer and tree maintenance.

Mr. Czajkowski reminded the Board that if the amended budget is advertised, adjustments can still be made during the coming weeks.

Dr. Ciervo moved to advertise the budget as amended per this evening’s discussions. The motion failed to be seconded.

Mr. Schenkman said that there are matters to be discussed in executive session which could impact the budget.

Public Comment

Mr. Sensibaugh said that the Township has a policy to keep the reserve fund at 10%. If this budget is adopted, ending in a reserve below 10%, will a changed policy be advertised?

Mr. Czajkowski said that this was a policy adopted by resolution. Should the Board wish to change the policy, it would also be done by resolution, which would not have to be advertised.

Dr. Ciervo said that the Board will continue to refine the budget. If it appears that the reserve will be below 10% the Board will have to re-evaluate the resolution. He said that the next regular meeting is scheduled for December 8, 2010. Hopefully, the budget will be hung at that meeting.

Old Business

Mr. Czajkowski said that the wind generator base is to be installed shortly and the wind generator will be in place after the new year.

New Business

Dr. Ciervo said that the Park and Recreation Comprehensive Plan Update Committee should have two Board members. He offered to serve on this committee, as he is already the Park and Recreation liaison.

Dr. Ciervo asked the Board to consider allowing some parking on the grass at Helen Randle Park.

Mr. Schenkman said that he would not want to pay for any additional paving and he thought that the Township should be notified when the grass areas will be needed for overflow parking.

Mr. Czajkowski said that the staff has been discussing this issue at length. Currently grass parking is not permitted. The Rock Softball league has held some very large tournaments, requiring off site parking at Bucks County Community College. The Township has attempted to place temporary fences to keep people from crossing Swamp Road except at designated locations, but this has been unsuccessful. The leagues have attempted to use shuttle services, but that has not been a successful solution. Using the grass will help, but for some of the large tournaments, off site parking will still be needed for overflow. The tournaments run all weekend, making the use of police crossing guards prohibitively expensive. The Township has been working with the leagues to treat these tournaments the same as other large events, with pre-event meetings to review safety procedures.

Dr. Ciervo said that his concern is that the park is not usable to residents during these large tournaments because of the parking.

After some further discussion, the Board agreed that grass parking would be permitted, but only with the supervision of the Township. A written safety policy would be developed to address the use of off-site parking, shuttles and crossing of Swamp Road.

Dr. Ciervo announced that the Board had met in executive session before this evening’s meeting and would meet again after the meeting to discuss matters of personnel.

The meeting adjourned at 11:20 PM.

 

Respectfully Submitted:
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary

 

Attest:

Joseph S. Czajkowski, Township Manager


Robert Ciervo, Chairman

Matthew Benchener, Vice-Chairman

Jerry Schenkman, Secretary/Treasurer

Philip Calabro, Member

Michael Gallagher, Member