Newtown Township

Board of Supervisors

Minutes of December 8, 2010

 

The Newtown Township Board of Supervisors met on December 8, 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 Reverend Klein of Addisville Reformed Church. This was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.

Changes to the Agenda: Mr. Czajkowski said that a resolution authorizing signing of a PECO Green Region Grant had been added to the Manager’s Report.

Minutes, Bills Lists and Reports

Minutes: Mr. Gallagher moved to approve the minutes of the regular meeting of November 17, 2010. Mr. Benchener seconded and the motion passed 5-0.

Bills: Mr. Schenkman moved to approve payment of bills totaling $378,820.97. Dr. Ciervo seconded.

Discussion of motion: Mr. Gallagher noted that the bills list included an upgrade to DocStar in the amount of $4350. He has discussed this purchase with the Technology Committee and they agreed that the upgrade should be postponed while the Township investigates use of open source software.

Mr. Czajkowski said that this charge is for next year’s contract. The staff is still considering this.

Mr. Gallagher noted that the server used for DocStar is six years old and showing signs it will need to be replaced. He stressed the importance of keeping this hardware up to date as it stores the electronic copies of the Township’s documents. Even with the elimination of the upgraded program the hardware is needed so that the program continues to function.

Mr. Gallagher also questioned a bill in the amount of $525 to paint a police car with the Dare logo. He said that this has already been done, but it reminded him that the Board had spoken last year about reviewing purchase orders before authorizing the incurring of expenses. He said that he would like to establish some kind of policy for Board review and approval of purchases in advance.

Mr. Benchener suggested that the Board should have the opportunity to review discretionary capital purchases in amounts of $500 or more. This would not include regularly recurring expenses.

Mr. Czajkowski said that as manager, he routinely reviews all purchase orders. He noted as an example that the Dare car painting was reviewed; he discussed it with the Police Chief and learned that the Department had a grant to cover the expense.

Dr. Ciervo asked about an expense for secretarial services.

Mr. Czajkowski said this was a temporary worker to fill in for a vacationing employee.

Dr. Ciervo said that he would have preferred the remaining employees to help during the vacationing employee’s absence. This is an example of spending he would have wanted to have reviewed in advance.

Mr. Schenkman expressed some concern about micro-managing, noting that the Manager is already reviewing all purchase orders.

Mr. Gallagher said that the accounting software can provide a list of purchase orders over a certain amount.

Mr. Calabro said that he is concerned that this is redundant and will generate more work and more paper to provide the Board with the same information already included in the bills list.

Mr. Czajkowski said that he would speak to the Finance Director about providing the Board with information in advance of larger purchases electronically.

Dr. Ciervo asked about the expenses associated with Keystone Municipal Services.

Mr. Czajkowski said that the Township is monitoring this closely. Keystone provides support to the Codes Department on zoning matters and does building inspections. The Township has greatly reduced its reliance on Keystone this year.

Mr. Schenkman amended his motion, removing $4350, authorizing payment of bills totaling $374,470.97. Dr. Ciervo amended his second.

Discussion of motion: Mr. Gallagher said that he would be voting nay on this motion as he was not in agreement on the legal expense for Wisler Pearlstine, LLP. He had asked for legal input from a third party on the Sewer Authority discussion, which he did not feel had been provided to his satisfaction.

The motion passed 3-2, with Messrs. Benchener and Gallagher voting nay.

Mr. Schenkman moved to authorize interfund transfers totaling $180,000. Mr. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 5-0.

Mr. Czajkowski reported that the reserve fund balance, as of this morning, is $1,159,290.03.

Reports of Committees, Boards and Commissions

Chairman: Dr. Ciervo congratulated Council Rock North’s Lindsay Rieger on winning the State Championship for Cross Country.

Dr. Ciervo said that the Board will continue its budget discussion this evening. The Township has seen flat or decreasing revenues and increased expenses. The Board must consider the impact on the reserve, which the Township has a policy of keeping at 10%. This policy resolution might have to be revisited as the Board attempts to craft a balanced budget.

Other Board Members: Mr. Gallagher reported that he participated in the Holiday Parade through Newtown Borough and Township on Sunday. He read a letter from Parade Committee Chairman Tina Leck thanking the committee members, the participating organizations, the sponsors and the over 1200 participants for a wonderful day.

Historic Architectural Review Board

George M. Kudra, 247 N. Sycamore Street: George M. Kudra said that he is moving his business from Washington Crossing to Newtown and would like to repaint the signage to reflect his business’s name. The existing signs will remain.

Mr. Schenkman moved to authorize a certificate of appropriateness for signage at 247 N. Sycamore Street as described in a memo dated November 19, 2010. Mr. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 5-0.

Engineer’s Report

Goodnoe’s Corner Certificate of Completion #14 (final): Mr. Schenkman moved to authorize escrow release in the amount of $12,500, contingent on all invoices being paid. Mr. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 5-0.

Frost Lane Drainage and Road Improvement Project, Phase 2: Mr. Gallagher moved to authorize payment to A.H. Cornell in the amount of $174,619.50 for the Frost Lane Improvement Project. Mr. Schenkman seconded and the motion passed 5-0.

Mr. Schenkman said that he was very impressed with the quality and efficiency of the work done on this project.

Solicitor’s Report

Newtown Joint Municipal Authority: Mr. Garton explained that the Board had authorized advertisement of an ordinance extending the life of Newtown Joint Municipal Authority for fifty years from its present term of expiration in May of 2011. A public hearing is in order to adopt such ordinance.

Dr. Ciervo opened the hearing.

Mr. Gallagher said that he continues to have some concerns about this ordinance, in particular because it would continue for fifty years. He is aware that the Sewer Authority has been very well run and provides excellent service at good rates, especially when compared with authorities in surrounding municipalities. At the time the Authority was founded in 1961, Newtown Township and Newtown Borough had almost equal population. Each municipality was given 3 appointees to the Board of Directors. He would prefer to see Newtown Township’s representation based on its population, which has grown to about four times the Borough’s population. The Township’s representation on the Board of Directors should be proportionate to its population.

Mr. Benchener said that he agrees with Mr. Gallagher on both points. The only benefit of the 50 year length of the charter is to allow a better rate should the Authority wish to float a bond. He would like to see the Township better represented on the Board of Directors and the consideration of this ordinance would provide the Township leverage to negotiate for better representation. He discussed the tradition of representation by population in government.

Mr. Schenkman noted that the ordinance being considered only extends the charter but does not change the bylaws. While it might be beneficial to discuss the bylaws at some point it is not under consideration this evening.

Mr. Benchener said that he would want to table consideration of the ordinance until changes to the bylaws are made to provide the Township with representation based on its larger population.

Mr. Garton explained that to change the method of representation would require a separate amendment to the articles of incorporation. The Authority’s Board would have to request such a change.

Mr. Benchener and Mr. Gallagher each expressed unwillingness to continue consideration of the ordinance because once passed the Authority would not have a reason to consider a change to its method of representation. Each also expressed concern for the length of the extension, saying that this would “tie the hands” of future Boards of Supervisors.

Mr. Schenkman said that he did not think postponing was in the best interest of our residents. They are currently represented equally on the Board of Directors and there has never been a problem. He expressed some concern that further delay could result in dissolution of the Sewer Authority. What Messrs. Benchener and Gallagher are proposing could be difficult or impossible to resolve.

Mr. Calabro said that the benefit of passing the ordinance is providing a functioning sewer authority. When the Authority was founded, Borough and Township agreed to equal representation. He expressed some concern that “doing battle with the Borough” would not benefit our residents. As is, the Authority’s Board requires cooperation from each municipality to break any ties.

Mr. Garton again reminded the Board that any change to the bylaws would have to be initiated by the Sewer Authority Board.

Mr. Benchener said that now, with the ordinance still to be passed, the Township would have the necessary leverage to influence the Sewer Authority Board to consider a change in representation.

Dr. Ciervo said that he has been carefully considering every aspect of this ordinance and has had lengthy discussions with all of the Authority Board members, their Director, staff and accountant. He is satisfied that the Authority is working well. The representation on the Board also seems to be working well, as neither municipality can dominate the other. The Township’s appointees are not supportive of a change in representation. The proposed ordinance has been a topic of discussion for many months; it is time to move forward. He noted that the Township and Borough each have many old sewers; the liability is equal.

Mr. Calabro agreed with Dr. Ciervo, noting that having equal representation of three from each municipality forces the Board to come to a agreements and work together for the good of all of the ratepayers.

Mr. Schenkman agreed, noting that a joint venture such as this requires equality for all members. He noted the success of our Jointure, where each of the three member municipalities has equal representation.

Mr. Benchener again stressed that the current charter does not expire until May of 2011 and there is time to consider the matter further.

Mr. Gallagher moved to table consideration of an ordinance extending the Sewer Authority charter until the Board has further explored the matter of representation on the Sewer Authority Board by population. Mr. Benchener seconded.

Discussion of motion: Resident Ethel Hibbs said that she is a lifetime resident; she asked what would happen if the ordinance failed and the Authority charter were not extended. She stressed that the Township is adequately and fairly represented on the current Sewer Authority Board.

Mr. Benchener said that representation by population has been a tradition in this country and he favors it as the fairest way to represent Newtown Township’s residents.

Mr. Gallagher said that if the Authority were not extended, each municipality would be responsible for its own sewer system.

Mrs. Hibbs cautioned that this could be prohibitively expensive. She urged the Board to support the ordinance, noting that the Township’s three representatives have not come to the Board expressing any dissatisfaction.

Resident Allen Fidler said that he has represented the Township on the Sewer Authority Board for a number of years. At the founding in 1960, the Sewer Authority had been formed to work toward the common good. This continues to be the goal. At no time during his two terms on the Board has he ever felt “held hostage” by the Borough representatives. It is the responsibility of the Board of Supervisors to appoint responsible representatives to the Sewer Authority Board. He urged the Board to support the ordinance.

Resident Jay Sensibaugh urged the Board not to support tabling of the ordinance. The Sewer Authority has withstood the test of time and has functioned well for fifty years.

The motion failed with Dr. Ciervo, Mr. Calabro and Mr. Schenkman voting nay.

Mr. Calabro moved to adopt Ordinance 2010-O-7, extending the Newtown Joint Municipal Authority charter for an additional fifty years from the expiration of its present term in May 2011. Mr. Schenkman seconded.

Mr. Gallagher moved to table Mr. Calabro’s motion.

Mr. Gallagher said that there is an ongoing lawsuit involving the Sewer Authority. He had requested that the Township seek an independent opinion on the state of this lawsuit, which could conceivably deplete 2/3 of the Sewer Authority’s reserves. An attorney did attend an executive session at which this was discussed but Mr. Gallagher said that he has not been provided a legal opinion on the suit.

Mr. Benchener seconded Mr. Gallagher’s motion to table.

Discussion of Motion: Mr. Benchener agreed with Mr. Gallagher; he was not satisfied with the way the executive session meeting was handled. Because of the length of the extension he wants to be sure of his decision.

Eric Johnson, chairman of the Sewer Authority Board said that the Authority did participate in a meeting at which the Township was represented by counsel. At that time, the Authority asked if the Supervisors had any further questions. In two months there have been no further questions.

Mr. Benchener said that the attorney at the meeting gave an appearance of a conflict of interest and he was not comfortable.

Mr. Johnson said that he cannot discuss the lawsuit.

The motion to table failed 2-3, with Dr. Ciervo, Mr. Calabro and Mr. Schenkman voting nay.

Regarding Mr. Calabro’s motion to adopt the ordinance, Mr. Gallagher suggested that he would like to re-evaluate the charter more often than every fifty years. He would like to add some language for periodic review of the charter.

Mr. Schenkman said that he did not disagree with the concept of periodic reviews, but did not support holding up the ordinance while it is re-drafted. He would support a separate motion calling for periodic meetings with the Sewer Authority Board.

Mr. Gallagher said that this will be the only opportunity to address any concerns about the Sewer Authority.

Mr. Benchener expressed similar concern about the fifty year extension of the charter, saying he would also want some periodic review. He would like the ordinance to give the Township more flexibility.

After some further discussion, Mr. Calabro asked the Chairman to call the question.

The motion passed 3-2, with Messrs. Benchener and Gallagher voting nay.

LaStalla Conditional Use: Mr. Garton reminded the Board that at its October 27, 2010 meeting a conditional use application had been partially approved with certain conditions and partially denied. The Board had agreed to permit extended hours but to deny any modification to the restrictions on outdoor music. The written decision is before the Board for approval.

Mr. Schenkman moved to authorize signing of the LaStalla conditional use. Mr. Benchener seconded and the motion passed 3-2, with Dr. Ciervo and Mr. Gallagher voting nay.

Manager’s Report

PECO Green region Grant Application for the Comprehensive Park, Recreation and Open Space Plan: Mr. Czajkowski explained to the Board that the Park and Recreation Director is applying for a grant to complete the update to the recreation comprehensive plan. PECO requires that the Board adopt a resolution authorizing the application. The grant is for $10,000. If received, the Township would match the grant with in-kind services.

Mr. Gallagher asked whether the Township had already received a grant for this project.

Mr. Czajkowski said that the Township had been given a grant by DCNR in 2008, but it did not cover the complete costs and also required a match of in-kind service. This in-kind match would include time spent on the comprehensive plan by the staff.

Mr. Schenkman moved to adopt Resolution 2010-R-21, authorizing application to the 2010 PECO Green Region Open Space Program for the Comprehensive Park Recreation and Open Space Plan Update. Dr. Ciervo seconded and the motion passed 5-0.

Police Report: Police Chief Henry Pasqualini reported that the Department had answered 1,510 calls in the past month, including 5 burglaries, 12 thefts and 19 domestic violence calls. There were 24 struck deer. The Department participated in the Holiday Parade on Sunday, which went very well and was a big success.

Chief Pasqualini said that there have been a number of attempted burglaries with door bells being rung in the middle of the night. Patrols have been stepped up. He urged the public to report any suspicious activities in their neighborhoods. He also urged residents to lock their cars in the shopping center parking lots.

The Chief reported that one of the police officers is working to try to relocate the wild turkeys which have made a home at the busy intersection of Windy Bush and Durham Roads.

Dr. Ciervo asked about complaints about hunters.

Chief Pasqualini said that there have been some calls from residents concerned about gun shots. Officers have investigated and found that the hunters are complying with the law and are licensed and have the permission of the property owners to hunt.

Mr. Schenkman asked for an update on the oil spill into the Creek.

The Chief said that it was his understanding that the spill had been contained. He would investigate further and report back to the Board.

Mr. Calabro asked whether the Township has an anonymous tip line. He noted that Middletown posts that number on its patrol cars.

Chief Pasqualini said that there is an anonymous line. The number is posted on the Township Web site. In addition, many residents report tips via e-mail.

Mr. Sensibaugh asked whether the Department needed K-9 support or additional training for the increased number of burglaries.

Chief Pasqualini said that the Department is well trained in dealing with burglaries. When dogs are needed, they have been made available to the department. He confirmed that the increased burglaries do not appear to be related to gang activity in Trenton.

Budget Discussion: Mr. Czajkowski presented a revised budget to the Board, noting that this budget contains the changes discussed at the November 17, 2010 meeting. It is an $11,513,205 budget, with no increase in taxes.

Dr. Ciervo noted that the municipal contribution to the Police Pension Fund has grown significantly since 2007.

Mr. Czajkowski said that the State had contributed less in those years. There has been a change in the formula for calculating State contribution and the Township contribution should be less this year.

Dr. Ciervo said that the proposed budget, while not containing a tax increase, due to increased costs, will deplete the reserve fund to $365,000, far below the 10% the Township policy requires. The largest expense is for staff salaries and benefits, with 10% of that going to the pension funds. We need to examine our staffing levels and speak to the bargaining units to see if we can reduce some of the spending. The non-union employees took a pay freeze last year and it would be unfair to ask them to take a freeze again. We need to ask the union bargaining units for some concessions, pay freezes and contributions to benefits. The police contribute to the pension funds; the other unions should consider a similar contribution. The employees should also be asked to contribute to health care benefits. He asked Mr. Czajkowski to speak to the bargaining units and to request a response by December 22, 2010.

Mr. Schenkman expressed concern about the dramatic reduction in the reserve fund. He agreed that every avenue should be explored but at some point a tax increase may be unavoidable.

Mr. Benchener said that last year the Board reduced almost all discretionary spending from the budget. This year’s budget is similarly lean. The only area where additional reductions can be made is staffing, either through some concessions from the unions or through lay offs.

Mr. Gallagher said that he has similar concerns but is also concerned that some of the cuts made could have long term costs, for example not keeping up with the vehicle replacement program could end up costing more in maintenance.

Dr. Ciervo pointed out a deferred compensation program for employees. He would like to learn more about this and see if it could be eliminated. He does not want to consider a tax increase, especially when the school district increases taxes every year.

Mr. Calabro said that the Board should discuss a tax increase rather than see layoffs of employees. The residents have expectations of certain levels of service and to continue to provide those levels will cost about $1 more per household per week. This is $1 to maintain our quality of life.

Dr. Ciervo reminded Mr. Calabro that while the property tax is relatively low in Newtown Township, our residents also pay an earned income tax. To cover the reserve would require a larger tax increase, as much as 80%.

The Board reviewed other line items in the budget. Mr. Gallagher said that the DocStar server could probably be replaced for about $5-6000, not the $10,000 listed in the budget.

Dr. Ciervo asked about the large increase in costs for fire prevention materials from $500 in 2010 to over $5000 in 2011.

Mr. Czajkowski said that a large portion of this expense is for materials distributed to school children, an essential part of fire prevention education. The materials are ordered in bulk every few years.

Dr. Ciervo suggested looking into sponsorship for the fire prevention supplies or possibly looking for support from the Fire Association.

Mr. Schenkman agreed that the supplies are an important component of fire prevention education. He suggested possibly reducing the costs by ordering for one year at a time, or seeking contributions, but he did not want to see this expense eliminated from the budget.

Mr. Benchener asked about the line item for communication for emergency services.

Mr. Czajkowski said he would look into this but he thought that air cards for the fire vehicles were included in that amount.

Mr. Benchener said he would like to eliminate contributions to the libraries and he continues to disagree with the police car camera purchases.

Dr. Ciervo moved to hang the 2011 budget as presented with changes recommended this evening. Mr. Benchener seconded.

Discussion of motion: Mr. Benchener said that he would like this to be a unanimous vote to advertise the budget and start the time clock running. He did not fully support every aspect of the budget and feels there is still need for further reductions.

Mr. Gallagher said that he does not like every aspect of the budget but feels that much progress has been made and that further reductions can still be made.

Mr. Schenkman said that this vote is a procedural necessity; it is not the budget that anyone wants. It must be advertised in order to comply with State law and in order to pay our bills.

Mr. Sensibaugh asked whether the budget would now be made available on the Township Web site.

Mr. Czajkowski said that the budget would be posted on the Web site and made available to the public.

Resident Ian Franklin asked the Board to carefully consider the meaning of “essential” when reviewing the budget, and to differentiate between “essential” items and things we have grown accustomed to.

The motion passed 4-1, with Mr. Calabro voting nay.

New Business

Mr. Czajkowski said that the Tyler Park deer hunt began today. Eccologix is coordinating with the Tyler hunt at the Clark Nature Center. To date 18 deer have been culled by Eccologix bow hunters.

Old Business

Mr. Benchener asked for an update on the Penns Trail North traffic calming.

Mr. Czajkowski reported that plastic posts have been ordered; they are on back order and should arrive and be installed in the spring. They cannot be installed in cold weather.

Dr. Ciervo reported that the Board met in executive session before the start of this evening’s meeting and would meet again at the close of the meeting to discuss matters of personnel.

The meeting adjourned at 10:55 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