Board of Supervisors
Minutes of August 14, 2013
The Newtown Township Board of Supervisors met on August 14, 2013 in the Township meeting room at 7:30 PM. In attendance and voting were Supervisors: Chairman Michael Gallagher, Vice Chairman Matthew Benchener, Secretary Ryan W. Gallagher and Philip Calabro and Robert Ciervo, members. Also in attendance were: Kurt Ferguson, Township Manager, John Torrente, Township Solicitor and Michele Fountain, Township Engineer.
Call to Order : Chairman Gallagher called the meeting to order with a moment of silence followed by an invocation by Pastor Jay Button of Grace Point Church and the Pledge of Allegiance.
Changes to the Agenda: Mr. Ferguson announced that approval of a written conditional use agreement for Corner Bakery Café has been added to the Solicitor’s Report and payment of a bill to the Cohen Law Group has been added to the Bills List.
Discussion of Villas Clubhouse
Developer John McGrath presented a plan for a clubhouse for the Villas, a 55 and older community. He explained that his business had suffered some reversals during the recent economic recession, delaying the building of the clubhouse, but he is pleased to report that sales have improved so that 114 of the proposed 170 homes have been settled, with an additional 30 homes under contract. He has worked with the banks on financing and is now able to begin construction of the planned clubhouse with a completion date of May 2014. The plan has been altered slightly to include a larger ballroom and card room and indoor pool.
Mr. M. Gallagher said that many Villas residents are concerned about incomplete driveways and roadways.
Mr. McGrath said that driveways should be finished this week. He hopes to be able to dedicate the project to the Township by fall 2014. Sales have been very good and he is optimistic.
Mr. Calabro asked whether money has been set aside for the clubhouse of if construction is contingent on future sales.
Mr. McGrath said that money has been set aside with the banks for the clubhouse. The Township has escrowed funds for the street paving.
Dr. Ciervo asked whether there have been any changes to the clubhouse plan since 2007.
Mr. McGrath said that the plan shown in 2007 was a concept plan; it has been changed only slightly, based on resident experiences in his other developments. Certain rooms have been made a little larger, but the same amenities have remained.
Ms. Fountain said that she has received the foundation building plans for the clubhouse but has not yet reviewed them.
Dr. Ciervo asked whether Mr. McGrath would be willing to set a deadline for completion of the clubhouse. He noted that Toll Brothers had recently agreed to such a deadline for Delancey Court whereby if the clubhouse is not completed by a certain target date, no new building permits will be issued.
Mr. McGrath said that this would not be necessary. He wants to move as quickly as possible because the clubhouse is a good marketing tool. His target is May 2014, but he would be able to return to the Board shortly with a more definite date. His business has changed and now he and his family are on the site every day. All of the residents see him and speak to him directly. He has tried to keep all of the residents well informed of the progress on the development.
Mr. M. Gallagher asked Mr. McGrath to please keep the Township Manager up to date on progress with the clubhouse and the development. He thanked Mr. McGrath for coming to the meeting and working with the Board of Supervisors.
Reports of Committees, Boards and Commissions
Planning Commission: Chairman Allen Fidler reported that at its August 6, 2013 meeting the Commission reviewed the application of Dennis and Lucinda Burkett, 43 Copperleaf Drive, for a PRD variance to increase impervious surface to 33.9% where 25% is the maximum and to permit a rear yard setback of 14.84 feet where 30 feet is required to place a roof over a portion of an existing wooden deck. The Commission recommends that the Board of Supervisors grant the variances subject to the condition that the applicant comply with the CKS review letter dated July 16, 2013. The Commission noted that the application contains letters of support from the surrounding neighbors and the Kirkwood Homeowners Association. The property backs to open space and any additional run-off will be directed toward the rear of the property.
The Commission will continue its review of the sign ordinances on the second meetings of the month as time permits. Each member of the Commission has been provided a copy of all relevant zoning ordinances and we have asked Code Enforcement Officer Martin Vogt to compile a list of sign concerns brought to his attention in the commercial and business zoning districts.
Mr. Fidler urged residents to learn more about Newtown’s farming history by attending the Grange Fair from Wednesday to Sunday.
Board Members’ Reports
Mr. M. Gallagher reported that he attended yesterday’s meeting of the Newtown Sewer Authority. He wanted residents to understand that although many have been very concerned about the possibility of opening of a sewage treatment plant in Newtown, this is still very much in the exploratory phase. There are no plans before the Township to build or reactivate a sewage treatment plan at this time.
Silver Lake Dam Maintenance – Bid Opening: Ms. Fountain reported that last year the DEP had inspected the Silver Lake Dam and found a leak in the spillway abutment, which needs to be repaired. CKS received two bids, with Hale Built submitting the low bid of $33,984.07. CKS has reviewed the bid and is recommending that Hale Built be awarded the work.
Mr. Benchener moved to accept the bid of Hale Built in the amount of $33,984.07 for repair of the Silver Lake Dam spillway abutment. Dr. Ciervo seconded.
Discussion of motion: Dr. Ciervo asked why the only other bid received was so much higher.
Ms. Fountain said that although many firms asked for bid packets, only two submitted bids. Hale Built has the equipment and is ready to do the work whereas other firms are either too busy or the project is too small.
Mr. Ferguson reminded the Board that some months ago he became aware of a benefit obligation fund which was no longer needed; the Board had allocated $50,000 of that fund for the Silver Lake Dam repair and the remainder for the update of the Act 537 plan. This bid is less than the Township had anticipated.
Mr. R. Gallagher asked for an update of the Act 537 plan.
Mr. Ferguson said that he is waiting on information on an outstanding obligation from an agreement between Newtown Sewer Authority and Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority. He has asked for an accounting but it has not been received. Once that number is known, preliminary plan meetings can begin.
Mr. Benchener asked whether Newtown Sewer Authority can move forward with building a sewage treatment plan if it is not part of the Township’s Act 537 Plan.
Mr. Ferguson said that if the Board wants a new sewage treatment plan as part of the Act 537 Plan, the Board needs to be aware of the amount of the outstanding obligation to the Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority.
Mr. M. Gallagher said that the DEP has been pressuring the Township to update the Act 537 plan. He asked whether the plan could be updated without the new sewage treatment plant and then amended later to include it.
Ms. Fountain explained that the Act 537 plan must include alternatives. The plan needs to show how the Township will treat sewage, either by on-lot sewer systems, in a sewage treatment plant or by being conveyed by Bucks County Water and Sewer to be treated at the Philadelphia plant, as is done now or by conveying it to an adjacent municipality to its treatment plant. The plan must calculate anticipated flow for the next ten years.
Mr. M. Gallagher compared the decision to include a new sewage treatment plant to a homeowner contemplating building a windmill to power his home. He would not only need to consider the costs of building the windmill, but also whether he would still be obligated to the power company for payments under his existing contract.
Mr. Calabro asked whether there is a payout amount to end any obligation to the Bucks County Sewer Authority.
Mr. Ferguson said that he does not have any information on the amount of the obligation or of any payout number.
Mr. Benchener said that the Sewer Authority plan as it has been presented would have a 35 year break-even point. He questioned whether this would be wise at all as an investment.
Dr. Ciervo asked whether there is a down side to including the possible new sewage treatment plant as the alternative method in the Act 537 Plan.
Ms. Fountain said that if it is in the plan as an alternative, and an alternative becomes necessary, the DEP will require that the alternative be implemented unless the plan is amended.
Mr. Ferguson explained that an Act 537 plan is different from a comprehensive plan; it contains specific details, target dates and preliminary designs. The plan would cost $50,000 to $60,000. All relevant information should be available before beginning the plan. He has been asking Bucks County Water and Sewer for information about the amount of the outstanding obligation of Newtown Sewer Authority for some time and expects to hear shortly.
Mr. Benchener suggested that not including the sewage treatment plant in the Act 537 Plan could give the Township some leverage should it want to prevent the plant from being built. Once it is in the plan, it cannot be stopped but it could be added later if the Township feels it is the right alternative.
Mr. Calabro asked whether it is wise to not consider the sewage treatment plant as it could keep ratepayers costs down over the long term. It might be possible to offer treatment services to other municipalities, providing additional income.
Mr. M. Gallagher said that it is his understanding that a new plant could treat 2.5 million gallons per day, which is much more than the Township currently needs. It is possible that it could provide services to other municipalities. Right now Newtown Sewer Authority is relying on Bucks County Water and Sewer and Philadelphia Water Department; when they raise rates, those increases are passed on. We are also seeing problems with issuance of EDU’s for new projects and redevelopment projects. The Township has not been able to issue new building permits.
Dr. Ciervo asked whether the Sewer Authority has formally asked to include the sewage treatment plant in the Act 537 Plan.
Mr. M. Gallagher said it has been discussed but there has not been a formal or written request. He said that he wanted some discussion about the sewage treatment plant because it has been in the news lately and many residents have questions and concerns.
Ms. Fountain reminded the Board that it had not voted on the motion to accept the Hale Built bid for the Silver Lake Dam.
Mr. Gallagher called the question and the motion passed 5-0.
Corner Bakery Café – Approval of Written Decision: Mr. Torrente explained that its September 13, 2012 meeting the Board had approved an amended conditional use for the Corner Bakery Café, removing the requirements to install raised crosswalks and additional parking. The formal decision had not been signed.
Mr. Benchener moved to approve the written decision amending the Conditional Use for Corner Bakery Café, 3 West Road. Mr. R. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
KVK Tech – Approval of Written Decision: Mr. Benchener moved to approve the written decision of KVK Tech, 114 Pheasant Run, Conditional Use. Dr. Ciervo seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
JMZO Amendment, Authorization to Advertise – Fence Ordinance: Mr. Torrente said that this ordinance has been reviewed and recommended for adoption by the Planning Commission.
Mr. M. Gallagher said that the change is necessary because the current ordinance allows for fences of three to four feet and commercially available fences are five and six feet.
Mr. Benchener moved to authorize advertisement of an amendment to the JMZO adjusting permitted fence height. Dr. Ciervo seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Resolution appointing Board of Supervisors to the Board of Directors of the Joint Downtown Newtown Corporation: Mr. M. Gallagher explained that as Newtown Borough has withdrawn from the JDNC, it is impossible to gather a quorum to conduct any outstanding business such as bill paying. The Board has 11 seats, and by appointing the Supervisors, there is still not a quorum.
Mr. Torrente said that the Bank is requiring five voting members to pay bills.
Mr. Benchener suggested that Mr. Ferguson be appointed as the sixth member to make a quorum.
Mr. R. Gallagher moved to adopt Resolution 2013-R-07, appointing the Board of Supervisors and amending to also appoint Township Manager Kurt Ferguson to the Board of Directors of the Joint Downtown Newtown Corporation. Mr. Benchener seconded.
Discussion of motion: Dr. Ciervo asked why the organization is not being dissolved, since there has not been a long term plan presented for its continued existence.
Mr. R. Gallagher said that he intends to present a long term plan to the Board shortly to use this entity as an economic development group. Since a great deal of effort and expense went into obtaining JDNC’s 501(C)(3) tax exempt status, it is prudent to keep the entity alive and change its mission to serve the Township, rather than dissolve it and form a new entity at a later time.
Dr. Ciervo said that without the presentation he has concerns about continuing the group, as it had become only an event planning entity, not an economic development group.
Mr. Calabro asked how this new Board of Directors would conduct any business, as being a sitting Board of Supervisors, its activities are governed by sunshine laws.
The members agreed that any business would be added to a Supervisors agenda and conducted in public. The Board would authorize Mr. Ferguson to pay any bills. Mr. Gallagher noted that there is still some outstanding debt to Verizon and some paperwork regarding the former part time worker’s 1099.
Dr. Ciervo said that he is eager to see all of the JDNC’s financial information.
Resident John D’Aprile asked what other outstanding bills the Township is responsible for, noting that the organization had been supported by annual contributions from the Township.
Mr. Ferguson noted that the treasury has about $2000, more than enough to cover the bills that remain outstanding.
Mr. M. Gallagher reminded the Board that it had been many years since the Township had contributed to the JDNC. This resolution will allow the Township to clean up any outstanding activity with JDNC and then to either dissolve it or alter its mission. He agrees that it is sensible to not dissolve it at this time since so much effort went into its obtaining tax exempt status. This will allow the Supervisors to determine the direction the organization will take going forward.
Mr. D’Aprile expressed some concern about appointing the Supervisors, as it is not known what actions future boards might take regarding economic development.
The motion passed 5-0.
Wide Format Printer: Mr. Ferguson explained that the new wide format printer recently leased had many difficulties and will be returned; no payments have been made. He would like to enter a new five-year lease agreement with Ricoh for a wide screen scanner/printer at a cost of $320 per month.
Mr. R. Gallagher moved to authorize the Manager to enter a five year lease agreement with Ricoh for a wide format scanner/printer. Dr. Ciervo seconded.
Discussion of motion: Mr. Calabro asked what the purchase price is compared to the lease.
Mr. Ferguson said that the lease would be about $15,000 and purchase would be considerably more. The scanner becomes antiquated and has a limited lifespan, similar to a purchased machine.
The motion passed 5-0.
Resolution designating an agent to Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA): Mr. Ferguson explained that he has submitted an application to PEMA for reimbursement for costs associated with Hurricane Sandy, including overtime. To receive the funds, he suggested that Chief Forsyth be designated as the agent.
Mr. Benchener moved to adopt Resolution 2013-R-08, designating Chief Forsyth as agent to obtain financial assistance from FEMA. Mr. M. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Treasurer’s Report: Mr. Ferguson reported that the current cash balance is $3,385,922. He has completed the initial review of the 2012 auditor’s report and expects to have the auditors at the September 11, 2013 meeting.
Swim Club Discussion: Mr. Ferguson said that after the last meeting he conducted some preliminary research on the costs of purchasing the Newtown Swim Club and operating it as a public facility. He learned that the expected purchase price is about $10 million. He then spoke to Lower Makefield’s Township Manager about its public pool, which has 1055 family memberships, a decline of 8% over the last few years. Lower Makefield’s pool is self-sufficient. Using the numbers he got from Lower Makefield on operating costs, membership dues, and assuming a debt service of 4%, he estimated that, if the Township charged similar dues to Lower Makefield and had similar enrollments, the Township would see a shortfall of over $827,000 per year. This does not take into account any capital expenditures to improve or repair the facility and only considers the pool, not the other year-round amenities. He noted that it might be possible to work different numbers, selling more memberships or collecting higher dues, but he estimated that it would still show a shortfall.
Mr. M. Gallagher said that he had reviewed Mr. Ferguson’s report and to break even, two out of every three residents would have to join the pool.
Mr. Ferguson said that the pool is 50 years old and might be in need of capital expenditures.
Mr. M. Gallagher said that he attended a meeting in Newtown Borough to discuss this. Mrs. Platt, the current owner, was in attendance and she indicated that she expected the pool to need major repairs. Someone from the Doylestown Y was also in attendance and he indicated that to build a Y facility, the community would need to raise about $15 million. He thought that if the Township is interested in building a new community pool, a discussion could begin, but he was not sure purchase of this pool by the Township would be possible.
Resident Peggy Kennedy said that she had also been at the Borough meeting. The man from the Y indicated that he may know of some possible investors to bring a Y similar to the one in Doylestown to Newtown. The Doylestown facility has a year round pool. A facility would serve the entire Newtown area, Township, Borough and Upper Makefield. She asked Mr. Ferguson why he did not review the benefits of year round use of the Swim Club’s other facilities.
Mr. Ferguson said that this would have a negative impact because the Township would need to expand its recreation staff and increase its program offerings. At best it would break even when compared with the current Park and Rec revenues.
Mr. Benchener said that the costs to the Township for the purchase and debt service would be significant and would require some strong private sector investment.
Mr. R. Gallagher said that he had used some different numbers, estimating the cost to purchase at $5 million, but membership would have to cost about $2000 to break even on the annual costs. This was not considering any capital investments. The numbers do not make sense for a Township purchase.
Dr. Ciervo asked whether Mr. Ferguson had information on Lower Makefield’s single enrollments.
Mr. Ferguson said he was only provided with Lower Makefield’s family membership numbers and the annual income/expenses. He estimated the number and cost of single and couple memberships based on family information.
Dr. Ciervo said that Lower Makefield has 40,000 residents; he estimated that Newtown is half that size and could expect half the enrollments. He was disheartened that this discussion might have gotten some residents’ hopes up, but he believed that the price quoted is unrealistic. In 2003, Mr. Platt sold a portion of his property, some 50 acres, for $3 million.
All agreed that the costs involved make considering the purchase of the Swim Club unfeasible. Mr. R. Gallagher said that he had spoken to the owner of the Richboro Swim Club who reminded him of the considerable expense of maintaining old pools such as this.
Newtown Yardley Road PennDOT Project: Mr. Ferguson provided the Board with information on a PennDOT project which has been on the TIP for twelve years and is scheduled for funding this year. The project involves improvements to Newtown Yardley Road and the intersection of Terry Drive/Lower Dolington Road. Included in the project are: widening, addition of turning lanes, a traffic signal at Friends Lane, and closed loop interconnection of traffic signals. The project is to be funded 80% by PennDOT and 20% by the Township. The Township portion would be $216,000, with PennDOT’s commitment at $825,000. There is currently $938,000 in the TSA fund for this area.
Mr. Ferguson said that the Township had been considering the TSA funds for the Terry Drive extension through to the Bypass, but the fund is $1 million short for this project.
Mr. Gallagher asked Mr. Ferguson about a timeline for the Newtown Yardley Road project.
Mr. Ferguson said that the Township would need to act by the end of September. If the project is turned down, the funds go back into PennDOT’s pot for other projects elsewhere, not for other Newtown projects. If the Board chooses to move forward, the plans would need to be updated, then it would go to bid, with a probable construction start in 2015.
Dr. Ciervo asked whether the Terry Drive extension is on the TIP.
Mr. Ferguson said that Terry Drive is not on the TIP at all; it is to be funded entirely by TSA funds. If the Newtown Yardley Road project is accepted, the Terry Drive funding shortfall will increase.
Other Business: Mr. Ferguson read a letter from Richard Conrad, an architect who has frequent construction projects in Newtown, who wrote to praise Doreen Holmstrom of the Codes Department for her cheerful, pleasant and efficient work. Mr. Ferguson said that Doreen is usually the first contact applicants and residents have when they come to the Township to apply for permits. He agreed with Mr. Conrad and was very proud of the work the Codes Department does and the impression it makes on the public.
Mr. M. Gallagher thanked Mr. Ferguson for sharing this letter. He agreed that our Codes Department does an excellent and efficient job and sets the tone for conducting business in Newtown.
Minutes, Bills Lists and Reports
Minutes: Mr. Benchener moved to accept the minutes of July 24, 2013. Dr. Ciervo seconded and the motion passed 4-0-1, with Mr. M. Gallagher abstaining.
Bills: Mr. M. Gallagher moved to approve payment of bills totaling $215,324.52. Mr. Benchener seconded.
Discussion of motion: Mr. Calabro asked about a $9,000 bill for diesel fuel.
Mr. Ferguson said that the fuel is purchased through the consortium; delivery costs are locked in. The fuel is used by our Police, Fire and Public Works Departments. Newtown Ambulance, the Sewer Authority and Fire Association use the fuel and reimburse the Township. The cost of fuel is less for municipalities than for the general public because of certain taxes.
The motion passed 5-0.
Mr. R. Gallagher moved to approve payment of a bill to the Cohen Law Group for work on a cell tower ordinance in the amount of $844.08. Dr. Ciervo seconded.
Discussion of motion: Mr. Ferguson noted that this is the second of three payments.
Dr. Ciervo said that the Jointure is sharing the cost of drafting this ordinance which will regulate placement of cell towers in residential neighborhoods. All three municipalities will share one ordinance.
The motion passed 5-0.
Mr. M. Gallagher moved to approve interfund transfers totaling $203,148.75. Mr. Calabro seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Resident John D’Aprile urged residents to boycott the upcoming movie, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” because actress Jane Fonda plays the part of First Lady Nancy Reagan. Vietnam veterans are urging the boycott because of Jane Fonda’s position on the Vietnam War.
Mr. M. Gallagher announced that the Board would remain for a brief executive session.
The meeting adjourned at 9:45PM.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary