Board of Supervisors
Minutes of March 26, 2014
The Newtown Township Board of Supervisors met on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 in the Township meeting room at 7:30 PM. In attendance and voting were Supervisors: Chairman Michael Gallagher, Vice Chairman Ryan Gallagher and Philip Calabro, Kyle Davis and Jennifer Dix, members. Also in attendance were: Kurt Ferguson, Township Manager, Jeffrey Garton, Township Solicitor and Michele Fountain, Township Engineer.
Call to Order : Chairman Gallagher called the meeting to order with a moment of silence and an invocation by Father Martin Brown of St. Mark’s Orthodox Church, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.
Changes to the Agenda: Mr. Ferguson said that approval of the minutes of the Vacancy Board has been removed from the agenda. The unapproved minutes will be posted on the Township Web site, but cannot be approved unless or until the Vacancy Board reconvenes.
A proposed sketch plan for Meglio’s Restaurant, 1-5 North Sycamore Street, has been removed from the agenda.
Approval of the PBA contract has been added to the Manager’s Report.
Resident Robert Gallagher, a resident of the Heather Wood section of Newtown Grant, said that he was concerned that there was not curb to curb plowing of his section of Newtown Grant this winter. During the first snowstorm, a number of cars remained parked on the street and the plows had to go around these cars, creating narrowed paths through the center of the street. Subsequent storms left the piles of snow along the curbs where the plows could not get close, making the streets even narrower. Residents continued to park on the streets after the emergencies were lifted, making for dangerously narrow roads where two-way traffic could not pass. He said that signs were not placed at the entrances to the development warning of snow emergency parking regulations and not all violators were ticketed. He also felt that some of the contracted plow services’ equipment was inadequate for the tasks and some plowmen were not adequately trained.
Mr. M. Gallagher said that this has been a difficult winter for all and ticketing of cars parked during snow emergencies has been a frequent topic of discussion among the Supervisors. He knows that the police have been more aggressive in enforcing the parking laws than in past years, although they do not want to be forced to ticket residents and have gone so far as to knock on doors to ask residents to move their cars.
Mr. Ferguson said that he and the Public Works Director are planning to meet with contracted snow plow operators to discuss their routes and practices and make adjustments to better serve residents. This year, in some instances the snow was very heavy and came down very quickly and the contractors struggled to keep up. He will leave consideration of equipment condition to the Public Works Director. In addition, the Police Chief has asked the officers to be more aggressive in enforcement to keep the streets clear. We have posted signs throughout the Township and placed articles in newspapers and on the television station and Township Web site and newsletter. It is difficult to enforce sidewalk clearing; this frequently falls to the homeowners’ associations. The Township has worked closely with Council Rock School District to make sure that at least school bus stops remain clear and that children are not forced to stand in the street waiting for buses.
Reports of Committees, Boards and Commissions
Board of Supervisors: Mrs. Dix said that she had read in the Bucks County Courier Times that the Newtown Bypass will have a new timing system installed on its traffic lights. She asked Mr. Ferguson for further information.
Mr. Ferguson explained that Traffic Engineer Amy Kaminski has received a grant to install an adaptive timing system to the lights on the Bypass. This system will react to the traffic and adjust as needed. It is expected to save our commuting public a few minutes every day.
Mrs. Dix reported that the Township has been the recipient of 100,000 daffodil bulbs, planted by Dale’s Nursery, through a grant from Bucks Beautiful. We should begin seeing the flowers blooming along the roadways in front of our parks shortly. In addition, residents and businesses can purchase bulbs through our Park and Recreation Department. Visit newtownfun.com to order 50 bulbs for $26, delivered in time for fall planting.
Mr. R. Gallagher announced that the Park and Recreation Department has a number of programs and classes starting shortly, including Family Star Gazing at Roberts Ridge Park on April 5 at 7:00 PM. The deadline for discounted camp registration is approaching. For more information visit newtownfun.com
Mr. M. Gallagher announced that Congressman Fitzpatrick’s job fair, held this past Saturday at Bucks County Community College was very successful. Many people attended and many local employers were hiring.
Mr. M. Gallagher reported that he, Mrs. Dix, Ms. Fountain, Mr. Garton and Mr. Ferguson attended an information meeting at Bucks County Community College at which the DEP and Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority reviewed the lifting of the sewer moratorium and the release of sewer capacity to Bucks County. All requested 2014 EDU’s were granted and we expect to have all requested EDU’s through 2018 released subject to the condition that the municipalities submit estimates of needs. Looking at the list provided at the meeting, it appears that Newtown Township accounts for 30% of the released sewer capacity. Newtown is growing, with many projects, both residential and commercial, in the works. He is very glad to see this roadblock lifted.
Mr. Ferguson commented that the municipalities must meet certain deadlines for submitting updated Act 537 plans. Our plan is well under way and will meet any deadline set by the DEP.
Mr. M. Gallagher asked Mr. Ferguson to schedule a meeting with the Newtown Joint Sewer Authority for one of the two televised Board meetings in April.
Reports of Officials
Roadway Improvement Program: Ms. Fountain explained that she had created a list of roadway improvements based on a budget of $550,000. The list of nine roads to be repaired/repaved has only three sections of curb to curb repaving. Due to the severity of this winter, the list of locations in need of repair has expanded. She reviewed the nine locations, which include portions of:
Fountain Farm Lane
Lower Dolington Road
North Skyview, Skyview and Parkview Ways
North & South Ascot and Davis Lane
Newtown Yardley Road
Only the last three portions of roadway listed will be curb to curb. The other six portions involve pavement repair and some inlet and drain repair. In response to Mrs. Dix’s comment, Ms. Fountain said that the Terry Drive, Lower Dolington and Newtown Yardley Road work will not conflict with the proposed Newtown Yardley Road TIP project, which only addresses the intersection areas and a small portion of Newtown Yardley Road. The Township’s repaving will be from Upper Silver Lake Road to the Bypass.
Mr. Ferguson reminded the Board that the 2014 budget had originally involved $500,000 for roadway improvements, but had been supplemented when we received additional liquid fuels allocations. Because the project involves only three portions of curb-to-curb repaving, it is difficult to give an estimate of total repaving mileage. He urged to Board to consider approving the project so that it can be put out to bid quickly.
Ms. Fountain said that her firm’s estimate of $550,000 is based on prior years’ experiences in Newtown and elsewhere as well as submission of an early bid package. She estimated that the three full paving roadways will equal about ½ mile at a cost of $150,000. She would estimate that if all of the budget were spent on curb-to-curb repaving it would equal about 1.5 miles.
Mr. R. Gallagher asked what the cost of inlet replacement for Marigold and Ascot would be.
Ms. Fountain said she estimated that Marigold would be about $10,000 for inlet replacement and Ascot would be about $5000.
Mr. Davis moved to approve the CKS roadway improvement package to be put to bid. Mrs. Dix seconded.
Discussion of Motion: Resident Tina Cameron, a resident of Tyler Walk, asked to see the map to ascertain the portions of Skyview and Parkview Ways to be repaired and asked what the terms “milling” and “inlet” meant.
Ms. Fountain explained that the inlets are the drains for stormwater; milling is removal of old paving before new pavement is laid.
Ms. Cameron said that the roads in Tyler Walk, especially the through streets, are in need of complete repaving. The Public Works Department has already been patching the road.
Mr. Ferguson said that the proposed repairs would be different from the cold patch currently being used by public works. The areas in need of repair will be excavated and completely repaved. This procedure will allow the Township to extend the life of the roads. The cold patch merely fills holes. Ms. Fountain, along with the Public Works Director, has reviewed all of the roads and created a list of the roads in most need of repair. The proposed repairs will extend the life of the roads a few additional years, whereas using cold patch to fill pot holes will not help ay all. After the repairs are complete, the road will be fully repaved within a few years.
Mr. M. Gallagher explained that the Township had been at the point of expanding the roadway improvement program because of the increase in liquid fuels allocations, however, Lockheed Martin announced its closing just as we were about the approve the annual budget. The Board decided to wait to see the full impact of losing this major source of earned income tax.
Mrs. Dix noted that the budget presented shows $541,000 from liquid fuels and $9,000from our general fund. Is it possible that the bids might come in lower than projected.
Ms. Fountain said that this is a possibility. The bid package will include some add alternates to be used in the case of low bids.
The motion passed 5-0.
Treasury Report: Mr. Ferguson reported that the treasury has a cash balance of $2,588,686. The auditors have been in the office this week and will have a DCED repot completed by March 31. The auditors are also completing the Fire Association’s audit at the same time. A breakdown of taxes collected this year has been included in the Board’s packet.
Road Materials Bid: Mr. Ferguson said that the Board’s packets contained the list of low bidders for road materials for the Bucks County consortium. When he Board votes to approve a bid it is for the packet presented to the Consortium.
Mr. R. Gallagher moved to accept the road materials bids of the Bucks County Consortium. Mr. M. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Police Contract: Mr. Ferguson reported that the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association approved a contract this morning and it is being presented to the Board for approval this evening. The contract will run retroactively to from January 1, 2014 through December 31, 2016 and include annual raises of 3.5% per year and contain a longer step process for new hires and random drug testing. The “no lay-off” clause has been lifted. The new contract contains language to allow some flexibility for costs of medical insurance.
Mr. Calabro asked for some details on the steps for new hires.
Mr. Ferguson said that the police are divided into six categories for new hires from trainee through to the top step. It had taken five years for a new hire to move through the steps from trainee but now will take seven years. He pointed out that not all new hires are trainees; sometimes more experienced officers are hired. The top salary is currently $90,316. In 2016 that salary will be $96,748. The Police Chief and Lieutenant are not part of the PBA bargaining unit. Of the officers included, he believed that 16 are at the top officer salary. There are also corporals and sergeants on the force. A number of the people on force are nearing retirement.
Mr. Davis said that he would be abstaining from this vote, as a newly appointed supervisor he had not been involved in the negotiation process.
Mr. R. Gallagher moved to approve the PBA contract. Mr. M. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 3-1-1, with Mr. M. Gallagher voting nay and Mr. Davis abstaining.
Minutes, Bills Lists and Reports
Minutes: Mr. R. Gallagher moved to accept the minutes of the regular meeting of March 12, 2014. Mr. Davis seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
(Mr. Ferguson noted that a printing error had occurred in the copies provided to those in the audience this evening, with only the recto side being copied.)
Bills: Mr. M. Gallagher moved to approve bills totaling $395,454.18. Mr. R. Gallagher seconded.
Discussion of motion: Mr. Calabro noted that this bills list includes a disbursement to the Rescue Squad of $126,000. He had asked earlier whether other municipalities contribute this much to their ambulance squads. He feels that the Township is overly generous in this contribution, as the Rescue Squad collects fees for their services and has the ability to conduct fundraising activities.
Mr. Ferguson said that he had done some preliminary research and learned that Doylestown, Northampton, Buckingham and Plumstead each have dedicated millage for ambulance service. The contributions vary but are in the $95,000 range.
Mr. M. Gallagher reminded Mr. Calabro that the Board had agreed to raise the local services tax from $10 to $52 per year in order to collect from those who work in the Township and might have need of ambulance and other services while at work, rather than only charge property owners for local services. The Board had then voted to give 25% of the collected LST to the Rescue Squad and to eliminate the dedicated millage. The dollar amount to the Squad has increased as the number of employees in the Township has increased. He would be willing to consider a reduction in the percentage, but had rejected the idea during budget discussions because he favored further investigation and allowing some time for the Squad to make adjustments for the reduced contribution. He had expected Mr. Calabro to research this further and present some numbers to the Board.
Mr. Calabro said that eliminating the dedicated millage had been politically motivated. The donation to the Rescue Squad came at a time when other non-profit contributions, including library and senior center were cut from our budget. Over the years since the change to 25% of the LST, the Township has contributed over $700,000 to the Squad. He would like to re-evaluate this payment and investigate what other municipalities are contributing. He learned, for example, that Upper Makefield has a dedicated ambulance from a nearby hospital at no cost to the municipality.
Mrs. Dix said that she agreed with Mr. Calabro that this contribution should be re-evaluated. She favors reviewing the Squad’s budget to see if the large contribution is needed or if our money could be put to better use.
Mr. M. Gallagher said that he would be against an immediate reduction but would be open to a review of the Squad’s budget and the Township’s contribution to it. He noted that there had been a mistaken belief that the Squad had a large income based on the transfer of real estate title for the ambulance building from the American Legion to the Squad at a cost of $1. It appeared as $2 million in income on the Squad’s tax return.
Mr. Calabro said that the Squad has a large endowment. The Township has eliminated contributions to other organizations and has asked for give-backs from the three bargaining units but has never asked the Rescue Squad to accept a reduction in contribution.
Mr. M. Gallagher agreed to discuss this further at an upcoming meeting.
Mr. Calabro asked for information of a CKS bill in the amount of $4328 for the Act 537 plan.
Ms. Fountain said that this is for gathering data to begin the plan; included in the data are mapping reports, hydrology and geology reports. She expects to have a draft Act 537 by the end of the summer.
The motion passed 4-1`, with Mr. Calabro voting nay.
Mr. M. Gallagher moved to authorize interfund transfers totaling $180,000. Mr. R. Gallagher seconded and the motion passed 5-0.
Mr. R. Gallagher reported that he has collected letters of interest from a number of residents interested in serving on a new Economic Development Committee. He asked the Board to meet in executive session before the next regular meeting to discuss appointments. There are fifteen letters of interest. The Committee was originally planned for seven members but could have up to nine if the Board agreed.
Mr. M. Gallagher moved to appoint John Lenihan to the Zoning Hearing Board to complete the unexpired term of Karen Doorley. Mr. R. Gallagher seconded.
Discussion of motion: Mr. Calabro asked whether the Board would consider other nominations. He would like to consider some other applicants.
Mr. Garton explained that this is not a nominating process. A motion has been made to appoint someone and that is the only name being considered in this motion. If the motion fails, other names can be offered for appointment.
Mr. Calabro said that he is very unhappy with this nominee. He feels it is a contradiction of the Board’s position at the time of appointing a new supervisor. The Board had discussed wanting “new blood” at that time, but has now offered someone who has already served twelve years on the Zoning Hearing Board. Other applicants have excellent qualifications, whereas this nominee is a political crony of the Board majority. He also expressed some concern about the proposed appointee, personally.
Mr. Calabro left the meeting at this point.
Mrs. Dix agreed with Mr. Calabro. She noted that there had been three applicants, including Robert Ciervo, a past supervisor with extensive knowledge of zoning matters and Paul Cohen, a member of the Planning Commission who has also served as Newtown Borough solicitor. Both have excellent qualifications and would bring new perspective to the Zoning Hearing Board. She would be supportive of either of them. She noted also that the current Zoning Hearing Board has four Republican members. This Township is 40% registered Democrats and should have some representation on the Zoning Hearing Board. She does not support Mr. Lenihan’s appointment. She has concerns about him, personally, and also has concerns about some of his past decisions on the Zoning Hearing Board. He has shown himself to be “developer friendly” in his decisions, sometimes to the detriment of the residents.
Mr. Calabro returned to the dais.
Mr. R. Gallagher objected to statements against Mr. Lenihan’s character and noted that the zoning decisions Mrs. Dix referenced were for projects in her “own back yard”.
Mr. Calabro and Mrs. Dix continued to express their concerns about Mr. Lenihan’s personal ethics. Mrs. Dix also noted that Mr. Lenihan’s vote on a project in her immediate neighborhood could have had a negative impact on the entire Township, as it involved taking dedication of a bridge. She urged the Board to appoint someone capable, knowledgeable and honest.
Mr. M. Gallagher agreed with Mr. R. Gallagher that he was unhappy with the personal nature of Mr. Calabro’s and Mrs. Dix’s objections to the proposed appointee.
Mr. Davis pointed out that the zoning decision Mrs. Dix has mentioned involved variances for an office park on land zoned Office Research.
Resident John D’Aprile said that he had attended the Zoning Hearing Board meetings Mrs. Dix had referenced. Her disagreement with the decision is her opinion, but that does not make the decision wrong. There were not large protests at the hearings, only some residents expressing some disagreement. There were also some in support of the project. He did, however, agree that Dr. Ciervo would be a better choice as appointee.
The motion passed 3-2, with Mr. Calabro and Mrs. Dix voting nay.
Ms. Cameron said that this is her first Supervisors meeting and she is shocked at the intensity of discussion and the one of the disagreement among Board members. She said that she will now become a regular attendee and urged residents to begin paying attention to local government.
Mr. M. Gallagher said that the Board would not be remaining for executive session.
The meeting adjourned at 9:10 PM.
Mary Donaldson, Recording Secretary