Board of Supervisors
Minutes of February 23, 2011
The Newtown Township Board of Supervisors met on February 23, 2011 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 Ciervo called the regular meeting to order at 7:35 PM with a moment of silence and an invocation by Reverend Gail Moore of Macedonia Baptist Church. This was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.
Changes to the Agenda: Mr. Czajkowski reported that approval of Grainhouse Developers’ agreement had been added to the Solicitor’s report.
Public Comment: Resident Judith Norkin, representing Cliveden Estates Homeowners Association, said that the Association, representing 139 homes, has many concerns about the building of a McDonald’s Restaurant at Village at Newtown East. Among the residents’ concerns are increased traffic, noise, light, litter and the proposed hours of operation from very early in the morning until after midnight. The proposed restaurant will greatly impact both the nearby residential neighbors and all in the community who use the shopping center. The plans are not pedestrian friendly. The concerned residents have developed a Facebook page, “say no to McDonald’s at village at Newtown East” and will be circulating petitions. To get a petition or for additional information, residents can e-mail the organizers at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr. Gallagher explained that the Township does not solicit tenants for the shopping centers. The property owners seek tenants and the Board cannot hold back approval for properly zoned uses without sufficient legal grounds. While Board members may personally agree with some residents’ concerns, this is a legal matter.
Mr. Benchener echoed Mr. Gallagher’s statements, adding that the Board must have legitimate reasons to deny any approval. He urged the residents to continue to be involved as this application is proceeds through land development.
Resident Kathleen McAndrews said that she had attended the recent Planning Commission meeting at which McDonald’s presented a series of sketch plans of different layouts for the restaurant. It was apparent that this is a very tight fit and the plan might best be suited for a different location. She thought that the plan as shown would require zoning relief. She urged the Board not to allow the demolition of the existing building as it could set a precedent for other demolitions of existing buildings to bring in uses not appropriate for the available lots.
Resident Shannon Escalante said that she has been trying to learn more about the budget and asked about the reserve fund balance at the end of 2010, the 2010 revenues and expenses and the current reserve fund balance. She noted that she was able to find information on 2009 and it appeared that the expenses were $784,000 more than revenues that year.
Mr. Czajkowski said that the general fund balance for 2010 was $1,283,162. This is an estimate until the audit is complete. Exact amounts will be posted on the Township Web site after the audit.
Mr. Benchener said that he had been reviewing the finances today and that the estimated revenues for 2010 were $10,017,991 and expenses were $10,765,508.
Mr. Schenkman said that the reserve fund balance changes every day throughout the year, as revenues come in and bills are paid, but the balance today is $305,000.
Ms. Escalante said that if the difference between revenues and expenses was so great last year, she did not understand how the laying off of two clerical staff could have helped with balancing the budget.
Dr. Ciervo explained that two of the three bargaining units made some concessions on raises and health insurance, saving some money for the Township. In addition to the laying off of two clerical staff, one professional staff member was laid off. These personnel changes resulted in savings of about $400,000. The Township has worked hard to keep the same levels of spending for the past three years, during which time earned income tax has been flat and transfer taxes have decreased.
Mr. Schenkman noted that the budget is still not in line, even with the concessions, layoffs and other budget savings. The Township does not know when revenues will arrive and when money will have to be spent; the reserve fluctuates every day.
Mr. Benchener reviewed the history of the Township’s budget since 2002, noting that the reserve had been at 43% that year, but has declined in recent years. The Township hopes to keep with a policy of a reserve of 10%; recent years have been very difficult with a flat earned income and reductions in discretionary spending.
Minutes, Bills Lists and Reports
Minutes: Mr. Benchener moved to approve the minutes of the regular meeting of February 9, 2011. Mr. Schenkman seconded and the motion passed 4-0-1, with Mr. Gallagher abstaining.
Bills: Mr. Schenkman moved to approve payment of bills totaling $94,676.35. Benchener seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Mr. Schenkman moved to authorize interfund transfers totaling $209,006.16. Mr. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 4-0.
Reports of Committees, Boards and Commissions
Chairman: Dr. Ciervo said that the Township has received a proposal from ICMA for a comprehensive review of fire services. The Township manager had requested similar proposals from some other consulting firms. The Board would like to conduct a review to be sure that our combined paid fire department and volunteer fire company are working efficiently to provide fire protection. Since the other requested proposals have not arrived for Board review Dr. Ciervo suggested that the discussion be tabled until the next regular meeting. The Township might also consider a study of a regional police force at some point in the future.
Other Board Members: Mr. Gallagher reported that he had attended the Newtown Business Commons Association quarterly luncheon this afternoon, at which attorney Don Marshall gave a presentation on the land use process in the Township. He was pleased that Mr. Marshall had characterized Newtown as a “business friendly” community. He also reported that he and Mr. Benchener had visited Baylinks Golf in the Business Commons and enjoyed the facility very much.
Park and Recreation Board: Chairman Andrew Levine commented that some years ago he participated in a committee which reviewed and updated the zoning for the Business Commons. The changes made have helped the Township to attract professional businesses making a change from an industrial park to a business park.
Mr. Levine reported that at its February 1, 2011 meeting, the members discussed creative ways to adapt to the reduction in the program brochure budget. One idea being considered is a promotion to raffle a prize for entries to the Recreation master e-mail list and to offer other incentives to use on-line registration to programs. Many parents are now adapting to the School District’s e-Friday folder, which contains program promotional fliers, but the Department still needs to develop other effective ways to send residents to the on-line brochure and to expand the e-mail mailing list for recreation program promotions. The Board has researched and found that a contest or raffle can be a very effective marketing tool.
The Members have also been discussing possible fundraising for a Life Trail park at Carl Sedia Park. Life Trail is a system of outdoor exercise equipment meant for use by adults and active senior citizens. Carl Sedia Park already has an appropriate trail with stations already graded for pads for the Life Trail. The total cost would be about $60,000, installed. The Board is considering, in addition to seeking donations for the Life Trail, sponsoring a fundraising event such as a Las Vegas Night.
The members have been investigating recent complaints about noise from the skate park. Park and Recreation Director Kathy Pawlenko has visited the homes of the complaining residents and confirmed that the sound travels and is quite loud. Mrs. Pawlenko is investigating foam insulation for the ramps as well as buffer plantings both next to the park and on the other side of the Bypass.
Dr. Ciervo said that he has spoken to the ramp company about the skate park noise and he thanked the Park and Rec Board for its efforts to resolve the problem before spring.
The Board and Park and Recreation Department are looking into possible sponsorships and advertising for the camps and brochures and trying to develop a standard for donations for commemorative and memorial gifts. The Board has had requests for commemorative tree planting and benches in the parks and is attempting to standardize the procedure for selecting such donations and gifts.
The Board has begun planning for a dedication of Veterans Park. Eagle Scout Ryan Varian has undertaken a project of a commemorative wall and service flags for each field. The members are hoping to postpone any dedication until this project is completed.
Mr. Schenkman asked whether the Township has been permitted to distribute electronic fliers in the schools.
Mr. Levine said that the program fliers are placed in the e-Friday folders each week. He again asked whether the Supervisors would be supportive of the Park and Recreation Board’s raffle idea for collecting e-mail addresses to expand the lists of contacts for e-fliers.
Mr. Garton said that he has heard about purchasing e-mailing lists by zip code.
Mr. Levine explained that the Board has explored this idea as well. The Board favors the raffle because the e-addresses will be verified as belonging to residents.
The Supervisors did not object to the concept and were supportive of efforts to work with the reduced advertising budget.
Mr. Gallagher asked whether the Veterans Park fields would be available for spring use.
Mr. Czajkowski said that there are still some outstanding punch list items but that he believed the baseball fields might be ready but the all-purpose rectangular fields would not be ready until fall.
Mr. Levine said that it is his understanding that only t-ball would be played on the infields by very small children for the first season to give the outfield grass additional time.
Planning Commission: Vice-Chairman Robert Whartenby reported that at its last meeting, the Planning Commission reviewed a PowerPoint presentation for a McDonald’s Restaurant at Village at Newtown Phase II. Attorney Ed Murphy represented the applicants for the plan, which calls for demolition of the existing 6900 square foot doctors’ office building and construction of a 3900 square foot restaurant building with drive through service and additional parking. At the Commission’s October meeting, the applicant had presented a plan which posed a number of concerns to the Commission, particularly regarding the location of the new building on the site. The applicant reviewed its attempts to address the Commission’s concerns, showing a series of alternate plans with the building re-oriented and re-aligned with Durham Road. In each of the alternate scenarios, the applicant had issues of concern with parking, traffic flow and drive through aisle stacking. The applicant’s engineer felt that the original sketch, shown in October, functioned best for the site, providing stacking for 10 vehicles in the drive through aisle, all required parking and a clear path from the parking areas to the building entrance.
The Commission members felt the traffic patterns within the shopping center, particularly at the proposed entrance/exit nearest the Ice Cream Alley (east) side of the building, would be problematic. Members also had concerns about the additional traffic causing back-ups at the interior intersection near Wells Fargo Bank and Eagle Road.
McDonald’s Traffic Engineer Phil Wursta reviewed the traffic study his firm had conducted. He noted that McDonald’s peak hours did not coincide with the rest of the shopping center’s peak traffic times. He did suggest that a four way stop sign at the Wells Fargo intersection and some additional striping and curbing could address the traffic flow concerns.
The Commission felt strongly that this section of the shopping center is very busy with mealtime, particularly lunchtime, traffic. A few members suggested alternate sites in Newtown and within the Village at Newtown, which might be better suited for a drive-through fast food restaurant.
A number of residents of Cliveden Estates were in attendance at the Planning Commission meeting and spoke about their concerns, particularly odor, light, noise, increased traffic, trash and loitering of young people.
The McDonald’s representatives attempted to assure residents that McDonald’s would be flexible and cooperative with lighting, signage and buffering. They explained that the speakers for placing orders have been improved and would be no louder than the nearby bank drive up window. Mr. Whartenby said that his own opinion is that the site will pose difficult traffic problems both during construction and after the restaurant is open.
Mr. Gallagher asked if any of the other business owners in the shopping center had participated in the review.
Mr. Whartenby said that none had been in attendance. He also noted that former Commission member Jay Sensibaugh had discussed the traffic difficulties at the October 2010 meeting and had suggested alternate sites in the shopping center.
Dr. Ciervo asked whether McDonald’s is a permitted use in the shopping center.
Mr. Whartenby and Ms. Fountain confirmed that the restaurant would be a use E-5 and E-6, restaurant and take-out/drive-in. These are uses permitted by conditional use approval.
Dr. Ciervo explained to the residents in attendance that conditional use approval would require a public hearing. Residents who are opposed could seek standing in the hearing. He did point out that the existing building is 6900 square feet. This could be a very large restaurant without take-out or drive through, but a more intense use.
Ms. Fountain noted that use E-6 requires access to a highway, but the Planning Commission members did not favor a direct access to Durham Road.
Mr. Gallagher noted that at one time his neighbors had concerns about a proposed plan near Newtown Crossing and the homeowners association became a party in opposition to the plan during the hearing.
Traffic Committee: Committee members Joanne Bintliffe Ritchie and Tim Swedo explained that the Joint Traffic Committee is asking the Supervisors and Borough Council to sign a letter of support to partner with Council Rock School District in “International Walk to School Day.” Five million students will participate in this day worldwide. The program features pedestrian and driver safety education as well as information on the health benefits of walking to school. In some communities, children take their school buses to a central location where they walk to school in supervised groups. For additional information on the program, interested residents can visit www.internationalwalktoschool.com.
Dr. Ciervo agreed to sign the letter of support drafted by the committee.
Mr. Gallagher suggested that the letter be signed by the entire Board.
Mr. Gallagher moved to send a letter seeking partnership with Council Rock School District in support of International Walk to School Day. Mr. Benchener seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Ms. Bintliffe Ritchie asked interested residents to consider joining the Joint Traffic Committee or the Township Traffic Committee. She asked that the traffic committee be kept informed as McDonald’s application proceeds through the review process.
Extension of Sandwich Board Sign Ordinance: Mr. Garton explained that the sandwich board ordinance was originally adopted on a one year basis. If the Ordinance is to continue it must be extended.
Mr. Schenkman asked the Manager whether the Ordinance has been successful.
Mr. Czajkowski said that all of the signs have one year permits which are due for renewal. There have not been any violations. Vendors must re-apply each year; notices will be mailed to those with expiring permits.
Mr. Gallagher noted that the Sycamore Street Community Association has been following up with the vendors in the TC and PC zoning districts.
Mr. Benchener asked whether it would be beneficial to extend the Ordinance for a longer time period.
Mr. Garton explained that the Ordinance treats the permits as licenses which must be renewed, not as vested rights.
Mr. Schenkman said that he sees a benefit to re-examining the Ordinance on an annual basis.
Mr. Schenkman moved to extend Ordinance 2008-O-10, authorizing the issuance of licenses for the placement of moveable sidewalk signs within the TC and PC zoning districts on Sycamore Street for a period of one year. Mr. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Mr. Gallagher said that he would also like the Township to aggressively pursue the temporary signs placed on the Bypass every spring.
Mr. Czajkowski said that the staff has been removing the signs, but fining can be very laborious.
Mr. Garton explained that it is worth the effort going after regular offenders if they can be located.
Mr. Czajkowski said that last year signs were removed and offenders were contacted and told of violations. The signs are not returned, so it does become costly for the offenders to continue to place the signs.
Mr. Schenkman suggested that the Township make it clear that the practice of placing temporary signs on the Bypass is prohibited; perhaps placing notification on the Township Web site and articles in the newspapers would be helpful in discouraging the practice.
Grainhouse Developers: Mr. Garton reminded the Board that at its last meeting it had agreed to retain $10,000 of Grainhouse Developers’ escrow in cash until completion of some minor items remaining in the maintenance period. He asked the Board to sign an addendum to the development agreement acknowledging this.
Mr. Gallagher moved to sign an addendum to the development agreement of Grainhouse Developers. Mr. Schenkman seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Collective Bargaining Agreement: Mr. Czajkowski asked the Board to sign letter of agreement with the Communications Workers of America, which represents the firefighters union. This letter outlines changes negotiated during recent discussions with union representatives, including that no full time firefighter would be laid off while the agreement is in effect, that a new health plan will be implemented as soon as possible, that the Township’s obligation to match employee contributions to the 457 Deferred Compensation Plan is suspended for 2011 and that employee raises will be 3%.
Mr. Gallagher moved to sign the collective bargaining agreement with CWA local 13000 representing the firefighters. Mr. Schenkman seconded.
Discussion of motion: Mr. Benchener said that this compromise will benefit the long term fiscal health of the Township.
The members agreed that the compromise will help save some money and is a reasonable compromise.
The motion passed 5-0.
Mr. Czajkowski said that the PBA and the Township’s labor attorneys are still finalizing language in their agreement. It should be ready for approval for the March 9, 2011 meeting.
Pension Recommendations: Mr. Czajkowski reminded the Board that with the recent change in pension consultants, the Pension Committee and the new consultant, Grant Kalson of Dahab Associates, discussed some changes and made the following recommendations:
To move the funds from the investments held by Merrill Lynch to the structure of investments recommended by Dahab,
To hold the liquidated funds in cash until re-invested in the funds recommended by Dahab,
To contract with M&T Bank to act as custodian for the three pension funds,
To move funds currently invested in Vanguard to a similar exchange traded fund of Amalgamated Bank.
Mr. Gallagher moved to appoint M&T Bank as custodian bank for the three pension funds, pending review of the custodian agreement by the Township solicitor. Mr. Schenkman seconded.
Discussion of motion: Mr. Schenkman said that he had attended the Pension Committee meeting and had confirmed that M&T was the least expensive of the banks offering this service.
The motion passed 4-0-1, with Mr. Benchener abstaining.
Dr. Ciervo moved to approve the recommendation of the Pension Committee to hold the liquidated pension funds in cash until re-invested as recommended by Dahab. Mr. Schenkman seconded and the motion passed 3-1-1, with Mr. Gallagher voting nay and Mr. Benchener abstaining.
Mr. Schenkman moved to re-invest funds currently in a Vanguard exchange traded fund in Amalgamated Bank exchange traded fund. Dr. Ciervo seconded.
Discussion of motion: Mr. Garton reminded the Board that at a recent work session this had been discussed. It is a temporary measure until the investment policy statement has been revised.
Mr. Schenkman amended his motion to re-invest the exchange traded funds pending the review of documentation by the Township Solicitor. Dr. Ciervo seconded the amended motion.
Discussion of motion: Mr. Schenkman noted that this investment is very similar to the Vanguard fund currently holding the investments, although it is slightly more expensive. It is important to move the funds from Vanguard to avoid any appearance of impropriety.
Mr. Benchener supported the move and agreed that the Amalgamated Bank fund is similar to the Vanguard fund.
The motion passed 5-0.
Police Report: Police Chief Henry Pasqualini reported that the Department had responded to 1502 calls in the past month, including four burglary investigations. Fifteen fraud investigations and 37 traffic accidents.
The Chief reported that the Department would sponsor another drug take back day in partnership with the DEA on April 30, 2011 at the Township building. The annual Police Memorial service will be held on May 16, 2011 at St. Andrew’s Church.
Chief Pasqualini briefly discussed two identity theft scams currently being reported in the area; someone will phone claiming to be with the IRS asking to confirm information or someone will phone claiming to have an arrest warrant for failing to appear for jury duty. Under no circumstances should residents give personal information, especially social security number or credit card number, over the telephone. People tend to become frightened with calls about arrests or tax problems and blurt out personal information in their nervousness.
Open Records Officer: Mr. Gallagher moved to appoint Jean Tanner as the Township’s open records officer. Mr. Schenkman seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Old Business: Mr. Benchener asked when the Board could expect additional proposals on the fire protection review.
Mr. Czajkowski said that other proposals are expected shortly and would be on the next agenda for the Board’s consideration.
Dr. Ciervo reported that the maze area in Tyler Park might be saved but the slide and pole in the barn are not able to be preserved. A campaign is under way to raise the necessary $20-30,000 needed for the preservation of the play area.
Dr. Ciervo said that the Board will remain for an executive session to discuss matters of litigation and personnel.
The meeting adjourned at 9:35 PM.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary