Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Yes Virginia, there is a Sanity Clause

Lower Mount Bethel Township is out in front when it comes to solving traffic and school tax woes! They applied for and received a grant for a Park & Ride and at least one of their residents is asking that developers be charged impact fees to fund additional school construction costs. Kudos.

The Park & Ride may help Forks and College Hill residents by giving them a place to park and ride and thus cut down some of the traffic passing through to get to the bridges. This is good news indeed.

As to the school tax impact fee, Representative Grucela (also from LMBT) has drafted a bill that will allow local municipalities to determine the real effects of development on their school systems and charge appropriate impact fees to the developers - which will lessen needed new school construction costs now imposed on existing property owners. Read Grucela's bill, HB-102.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

BoS Meeting 12/15/05

The Board of Supervisors December 15, 2005 went on in spite of the ice storm. The bad weather did not prevent Joe Nixon, Morning Call, from attending. Please read his article for details on the budget discussion. The planned 6:30 PM workshop session to discuss Supervisor-elect David Howell’s proposal (for standing committees to replace the current liaison structure) was cancelled due to the scheduled absence of the two of the Supervisors. It will be rescheduled in January 2006. Supervisor Bonnie Nicholas noted that Mr. Howell will be present (as a Supervisor) then.

  • Supervisor Nicholas said that she had the Sewer Authority minutes available.
  • Supervisor Henning Holmgaard noted that the Police Department is now accredited. Holmgaard, Township Manager Kathy Kichline and Officer Jim Rowden attended the ceremony. Chief Greg Dorney was absent due to a family emergency. The Commission consisted of 16 members representing 1204 individual police departments in the State. Thirty-three are accredited – Forks Township is one of them. One department was decertified because of non-compliance. The Borough of Jenkinstown became 32 and Forks Township was 33 in the accreditation process. Greg Dorney and his department accomplished this feat in 18 months. Of the 125 standards, Forks met and passed 118 – the remaining 7 were non-applicable. All of the police peers sitting at the table voted yes for Forks to be accredited. If the department does not keep the standards up, they can be decertified. Dorney said that the department will be reassessed every three years by three assessors . Two proofs of compliance will be necessary for each standard. Holmgaard said that new seals will be placed on Township police cars. Rowden is our accreditation manager. He is eligible to be part of an assessment team in the future. Dorney is also eligible to become a member of the commission.
  • Holmgaard said that a blue spruce has been acquired from Wayne and Nancy Docker (Forks Elected Auditors) and Jennifer Long. It is 28 feet tall. The township will replace it with an 8-10 foot tree. The blue spruce tree ball will weigh 25-30 tons. John Ackerman asked how much it would cost to move it to its new home. Holmgaard said that the cost was unimportant.
  • Supervisor Don Miller presented his Parks Department report. The recreation season is in full progress. Wrestling matches have been scheduled and basketball/volleyball play will continue until March. There are 30 teams from Forks Township this winter.
  • Director of Public Works Gary Sandt said that they are still working on leaves, using the vacuum and/or a bucket to pick them up. Sandt mentioned that they were still working on the roads, both leaves and snow. They are picking up 18 loads per day. Some people were happy with their progress – some were not.
  • Township Manager Cathy Kichline noted that seven letters had been received for the Planning Commission vacancies. Also received were applications for the Vacancy Board and for the Recreation Board. Holmgaard said that the Board needs to appoint Planning Commission members as soon as possible – or January 3rd at the latest. Kichline mentioned that it was necessary to review the letters and interview the candidates. Copies of the letters of interest were already in the Board members packets (except for Ackerman’s which were handed to him directly.) Ackerman suggested that a workshop be scheduled to discuss and interview candidates. This is now scheduled for 5:30 PM on January 03, 2006.
  • Nicholas questioned Kichline regarding a web-site meeting. Holmgaard said that he had called the meeting, not Kichline. Bonnie said she had difficulty locating the members of Planning and Zoning on the web-site. Every time she clicked on them, she ended up with an entire listing of township staff.
  • Nicholas said that she would like to see a checklist of all maintenance schedules for each building. She wants to make sure that all buildings are checked on a regular basis so that "we don’t end up with any leaky roofs." She recommended establishing a maintenance schedule for each building and said she would like to see them.
  • Police Chief Dorney had nothing to report on other than the accreditation (see above).
  • Finance Manager Jim Farley said that he met with the (hired) auditors this week.
CORRESPONDENCE - Holmgaard noted that Supervisor David Hoff sent a letter with his comments on the new committee structure (proposal) and that he approves the concept.


PERMANENT STANDING COMMITTEES PROPOSAL - This item was tabled for further review in January. Nicholas suggested the continuation of the liaison relationships until a workshop could be re-scheduled.

GODDARD SCHOOL/LAND DEVELOPMENT PLAN - Plans were presented by Hanover Engineering for the 8,000 sq. ft. Goddard School (previously approved) as part of Sullivan Trail I. It is on the last parcel of land in the development. The Planning Commission gave conditional approval for 30 parking spaces, a reduction in the number required. Subject to Engineer Fred Hay’s letter, it is not necessary for it to go before the Zoning Hearing Board. Additional parking spaces can be provided if necessary at a later date. It was also noted that ingress and egress driveways were being provided per the Planning Commission’s recommendation. Hay said that it was a clean plan and recommended approval. The motion passed 4-0.

ELSIE BROWN/MINOR SUBDIVISION - This plan for a two-acre lot off Klein Road was presented by East Penn Engineering. John Daub, Elsie Louise Brown’s nephew and power-of-attorney, said that Elsie Louise Brown wishes to put the remaining farm in the "conservation district." He met with the Planning Commission last week. He has received an easement from Mrs. Brown for the septic system for the subdivision. Brown will turn the rest of the farm over to the County for "farmland preservation." Ackerman explained that the development rights were given to the County. Ackerman said that he helped to write the law, Act 515. Act 319 allows building of one house on two acres per year during 10 year period. One house is being presented now and one will come in next year in January. This needs to be done before the farm can be accepted into "farmland preservation." Ackerman said he had farmed this land for many years. Bonnie Nicholas thanked Daub (and his family) for their generosity.

KNOLLWOOD ESTATES SUBDIVISION - AMENDMENT TO PHASE I/IMPROVEMENT AGREEMENT - Ben Jon Road will be rebuilt by the developer, Nic Zawarski. An agreement has been signed and the Township will return the $28,000 deposit.

HOWARD HOMES LITIGATION SETTLEMENT - Two homeowners had a problem with storm water in their backyards and brought suit against the developer because they were not satisfied with developer’s response to their problem. Howard Homes then sued Forks Township. Solicitor Karl Kline recommended paying a $1,000 nuisance fee to settle the case, with the inclusion of a "no guilt" clause. The motion was approved.

FINAL ADOPTION OF THE 2006 OPERATING BUDGET GENERAL FUND AND UTILITY FUND - The proposed budget includes 4% raises and not the 3% as recommended at the last meeting. Since there is no (employee) review process in place, it was suggested that the Board go with the 4%. Supervisor Miller did not object to 4% raises and added that all managers were doing a good job and deserved 4%. He said it was just keeping up with inflation. The motion to accept the budget ended in tie vote, 2:2. Ackerman and Nicholas voted nay and Holmgaard and Miller voted for it.

Holmgaard said that a budget was needed before year-end and suggested meeting on December 29th to review it as well as agenda items 07, 08, and 09. At that time, the budget will be re-visited and all remaining issues will be dealt with.

There was no EXECUTIVE SESSION and the meeting was adjourned.

Our objective is to relate what is experienced at Forks Township meetings for those who cannot attend. We are attempting to be as factual as we can. If we make a mistake,
tell us via email or COMMENT here in the blog, and we will do our best to correct it. We are not perfect. We want to get it right.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

What do you think about... ? - F.A.C.'s Weekly Survey

F.A.C.'s 14th weekly survey question is up and waiting for you. CLICK HERE!

For previous weekly results, click on the links below:

Week #1 - Results

Q1. How long before the Board of Supervisors caves to developers' whims and changes Farmland Preservation requirements?
Week #2 - Results

Q2. Is Forks Township heading in the right direction?

Week #3 - Results

Q3. Will the fact that Board of Supervisors Candidate Leon (Lee) Fisher has thus far refused all public debate with his opponent affect your vote?
Week #4 - Results

Q4. Currently none of the township department heads live in Forks Township. Should there be a residency requirement for future hires of management personnel?

Week #5 - Results

Q5. If a developer builds a detention pond to a specification which later proves to be inadequately sized, should that developer be required to expand the detention ponds capacity?

Week #6 - Results

Q6. A - Did you know that an elected member of the Board of Supervisors serves a 6 year term?
B - Do you find yourself voting against a candidate rather than FOR a candidate in local elections?

Week #7 - Results

Q7. Forks is at a important crossroad in its growth. An election for Supervisor is just around the corner. How important is it to you to KNOW how a candidate thinks about Township issues before you cast your vote?

Week #8 - Results

Q8. The election is November 8, 2005. You are going to the polls. You feel fully informed of the issues facing the Township. You are confident in your choice because:
(select as many as apply)

Week #9 - Results

Q9. By now most of you know that some thief in the night has been stealing Howell For Forks Supervisor signs. This is your chance to rate the sign thieves.

Week #10 - Results

Q 10. David Howell is very aware of what is important to us, open space, open roads, open overnment, and sound financial planning. Let's help him to get started. Which is most important to you right now? Rate them 1-5 with 1 being the most important.

Week #11 - Results

Q 11. Our website visitors have spoken! The most important issue (of the most important issues that is) to them is Open Government! Here are some choices for how that can come about. Which do you think will be the most effective course of action in the short run? - And, which in the long run?

Week #12 - Results

Q12. We saw from last week's survey responses that both short term and long term suggestions for improving open government in Forks included a "citizens advisory committee." This is a great idea. We also saw that one individual suggested a "resident observer in meetings with developers." Another great idea for sure. Not on the list of things to select from however, was televised public meetings. This was an oversight. So what do you think... Should Forks Township meetings be televised?

Week #13 - Results
Q13. The Township is growing. Open fields are sprouting houses and offices and businesses. The CVS proposal and the developer of the business park are hoping to put in a drug store, a drive-thru fast food
restaurant and possibly a food store or strip mall near the Uhler Rd and Sullivan Trail intersection. To think about too are the proposed new interchange on Rt. 33 at Tatamy and RACINO, the proposed horse track/slot parlor in Palmer Township on the other side of Tatamy.

Rank some of these possible reasons for liking it on a scale of 1- 5 with 1 being your most important.

Rank some of these possible reasons for not liking it on a scale of 1-5 with 1 being your most important.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

A Farm Forever - Thank You Elsie Louise Brown!

At the PC meeting on 12/8/05, John Daub, nephew of Elsie Louise Brown, spoke to the ELSIE LOUISE BROWN MINOR SUBDIVISION agenda item. A 2 acre subdivision was requested for a family home. He said that another less-than-2-acre homesite will need a lot line adjustment early next year and that 4 acres (in Plainfield Township) of the farm will also be subdivided for another family home. And guess what else!

The rest of the 129.9 acre farm will go into farmland preservation forever! Yes, Ms. Brown's proposal to sell her land's development rights to Northampton County via the farmland preservation program has been accepted. This is the first for Forks.

The land is in the northern end of the Township off of Klein Road. It will remain in the family and can be farmed and even sold, but never developed.

Kudos and thank you to Elsie Louise Brown and her family.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Kudos to the BoS

As you know, the Board voted at their meeting on November 17th to tentatively accept the proposed budget so that it could be properly advertised and made available to the public for comment for 21 days. They will vote to accept it at their meeting on December 15, 2005.

For most of us, viewing the budget at the Municipal Building is not a possibility since we are working the very same hours that the building is open. The Board took care of that for us and the budget can be found on the Township website. Kudos to our forward thinking Board and thank you.

BoS Meeting 12/1/2005

The short agenda for the December 1, 2005 did not produce a short meeting at all. Read Sarah Mausolf’s (Express Times) and Joe Nixon’s (Morning Call) newspaper reports for a good idea of what happened at the meeting. We will try to fill in the blanks.

  • Supervisor Bonnie Nicholas asked if Hornstein’s Penn’s Ridge lighting is not standard. Zoning Officer Tim Weis replied that he is not aware of that and as far as he knows, it is standard. He said that the Township does not accept them if they are not and that Gary (Sandt) goes to check them to be sure they are right.
  • Weis reported that he attended a meeting yesterday between the Lehigh County and Northampton County emergency management agencies on their Hazard Mitigation Identification effort. He said that they appear to be the only two counties working together and they are taking the lead. They are asking municipalities to participate in the program and if they don’t, the municipalities could lose out on federal funds. The program is to deal with storms, hurricanes, floods and whatever else there is. Forks is going to participate.
  • DPW Director Gary Sandt reported that they are behind in leaf collection but that people shouldn’t worry, they will get there.
  • Finance Manager Jim Farley noted that the paid auditors are due in this week to look at the preliminary numbers in preparation for the year end close.

COMMENTS FROM THE FLOOR (NOT AGENDA ITEMS) - Supervisor Elect C. David Howell announced that the Northampton County Voter Registration Office certified the election today. He thanked all the members of the Board and Staff who he had spoken with during the campaign. He said that each of them had treated him with respect and courtesy and that it has helped him to understand Forks Township government better. He added that he looks forward to working with them.


STATUS UPDATE BY ALEX GALE/MUNICIPAL COMPLEX - There were no questions of Gale on the written financial status report that he submitted to the Board. He noted that this will be his last "presented" report to the Board unless he is requested to do so in writing. Some of the items he reported on include:

  • The Municipal Building is about 1 month away from completion and two of the big holdups have been the custom ceilings which set everything else back.
  • The wood ceiling, coming from Sweden, is still on the boat. The installation time for the wood ceiling is 4-5 days and it goes over the dias in the meeting room and two other places.
  • The arced Rulon ceiling is due in 1-2 weeks. It ran late.
  • The demolition, environmental cleanup, and underground tank removal will not be problems and will probably be done in February.

Nicholas asked about the storage for the chairs and Gale said that he doesn’t want to bring them on the site yet. He said he’d pay for any storage charges if there are any.

Holmgaard noted that a blue spruce has been donated. It will go in front of the Municipal Building on the east side of the main entrance. Gale replied that a 28' one has indeed been donated and that he has only a 10 day window in which to retrieve it. He said too that the donor’s lawn will have to be repaired after the heavy equipment is on it and that in exchange the donor wants an 8' blue spruce planted in a slightly different location in his yard.


AWARD BID/FIRE TRUCK - Supervisor Hoff noted that 6 bid packages were sent out and only one bid was received. It was reviewed by the truck committee and it meets all the specs. The monies will come from:

  1. The Replacement Fund (from capital improvement fees) as per the agreement between the fire company and the Township = $267,678
  2. A $100,000 low interest PEMA loan
  3. And, $45,000 in the fire company agreement

This totals $412K and is more than the $392,201 bid by Pierce Mfg. Inc. Chairman Ackerman asked why there was only one bid? Hoff said he didn’t know but for each of the 4 fire company truck purchases he’s been involved in over the years, only one bid has come back. Nicholas asked how the 30% of zoning fees going to the fund was arrived at and Hoff explained that it was done in 2001 as part of the Fire Department’s Five Year Plan. Holmgaard asked if they will keep or sell the old truck, and was told that they will likely sell it. The last time, they got $5K for one and put that money back into the fund. The bid was accepted in a 5:0 vote.

AWARD BID/LED OUTDOOR MARQUEE - Also accepted in a 5:0 vote was the low bid from JHM Communications of Phillipsburg, NJ for the new electronic sign at the Zucksville Road entrance to the Community Center. Supervisor Miller said that it took the Recreation Board 8 years to put the money aside for this big ticket item. He said that 3 bids were received and all were within $500 of each other. Nicholas asked how big the sign is and was told 2'9" X 12'. She was also told that its size complies with the Zoning Ordinance. It will cost $30,939. Miller said that future plans include putting in park lights like the ones for the Municipal Complex only not as high.

AWARD BID/INFRARED HEATERS - PARKS GARAGE - Ackerman said that he was surprised that only one bid was received for this. It was from KC Mechanical Services in the amount of $17,910. Township Manager Cathy Kichline said that the bid is lower than the two original proposals received by Sandt and Kleppinger. The contract was awarded in a 5:0 vote.

LIAISON STRUCTURE - Nicholas said that the reason she wants to redo the liaison structure is because there is no Sewer Department. Her list included: (1) The Secretary/Treasurer (who would be in charge of the office and zoning staff), (2) Public works liaison, (3) Police liaison, (4) Recreation liaison, and (5) Fire liaison. Ackerman said that it’s a good idea, giving everyone a department. Hoff asked Nicholas what she meant be giving the employees more direction. Nicholas said that new job descriptions are needed because the jobs in the office are changing and in order to do reviews, the descriptions should fit the jobs.

Holmgaard asked if she was dismissing Howell’s proposal (click here to read Howell’s proposal to the Board) out of hand. Nicholas said that she was simply introducing her plan. Holmgaard said that Howell’s plan makes sense since it includes two Supervisors on each committee with them rotating through every two years. He added that it is not the job of the Supervisors to get involved in the day to day operation of the Township but it was their job to set the policy and to make sure that it is carried out. Ackerman said that there is no difference between what Mr. Howell gave them than what they’ve been doing. Hoff said that he’s been "fire commissioner" for 10 years and couldn’t put out a fire any better now than when he started and that what has happened in the past is that you get in that position and just stay there. He said that rotating through has been talked about in the past and what’s a bit different about Mr. Howell’s plan is that someone will always be serving a second year when a new Supervisor comes on so that there is continuity.

Hoff then asked Ackerman if Mr. Howell could be allowed to speak to his plan. Ackerman asked Howell if he worked with Kichline to prepare this. Howell explained that Kichline did her own independent and different plan and that she could present hers as well.

Howell explained that the Township is faced with a decision to maintain a decades old liaison structure or move to permanent standing committees of the Board. He feels that his proposed organization structure is more able to address the more complex issues now facing the Township. He stated that this would better enable the Board to carry out its legislative, executive, policy making, and oversight functions. The committees will report directly to the Board and will be able to address tasks that are submitted directly to the them by the Board. What will result will be a flow of information and suggestions back and forth which will be a very effective tool for problem solving and policy making.

Howell described the composition and function of each of the six committees. (Please read his attached proposal for the fine points.) The committees he proposed are (1) Finance & Administration, (2) Public Safety, (3) Public Works & Facilities, (4) Parks & Recreation, (5) Economic Development, and (6) Community Relations. The new Economic Development Committee’s purpose would be to set policy and institute initiatives to increase the tax base. The other new one, the Community Relations Committee, would have only one Supervisor (appointed by the Board) on it and its mission would be to oversee the Township website, conduct surveys of residents, represent the Township at regional meetings and scope out other public meetings of interest to the Township. Howell said that we should look to our neighbors for solutions too - that we cannot solve all of our problems ourselves.

Howell said that the committee structure promotes transparency and thus, open government. He explained that the committees will deal with "macro" and not "micro" issues. He also explained that the committees are not designed by departments but by functions.

When questioned by Nicholas about the number of meetings required since in the Howell plan each Supervisor would serve on two committees, Howell replied that the committees would meet "as needed." Nicholas also remarked that there would be overtime involved if the employees must meet after hours to accommodate the Supervisors’ available hours. Again, Howell stressed that the meetings will be held as needed and that the committee work will be part of the employees' jobs. He added that with two Board members on a committee, both need not be at a meeting.

Hoff said that the success of the Fire Department plan was due to the committee structure. The other committee that he is on, the Emergency Management Committee, started out with meetings every two weeks and now they only need to met every two months because problems were solved and a five-year plan was developed. From his standpoint, he said, committees are very successful and he supports the committee idea.

Holmgaard noted that with committees there are no decisions made. Everything is brought back to the full Board for decisions.

Ackerman thought this all too complicated. Nicholas said that every department should have a 5-year plan. Hoff agreed with her and said that it was a committee that developed the Fire Department 5-year plan and that a committee is needed for long-term planning. Miller said that the Board needs to discuss the "wealth of information" before them and Nicholas then suggested that the Board meet in a 6:30 PM workshop session before their next meeting on the 15th. Hoff said that his job will have him out of town that night but that he will write his thoughts down for their consideration. He said that the if the Board does not vote on it that night, there can be a special meeting before the year end.

BUDGET REVIEW (OCTOBER) - The Board had no questions regarding the October budget figures and asked Farley if he had anything to add. He replied that "We are in good shape for the shape we’re in."

EXECUTIVE SESSION - After some discussion, the Board decided that since the election results were officially certified on December 1st and because the real estate acquisition under discussion would not take place until 2006, to include Supervisor Elect C. David Howell in this night’s Executive Session.

The purpose of the Executive Session was to discuss a real estate matter. No action was taken and the meeting was adjourned.

Our objective is to relate what is experienced at Forks Township meetings for those who cannot attend. We are attempting to be as factual as we can. If we make a mistake, tell us via email or COMMENT here in the blog, and we will do our best to correct it. We are not perfect. We want to get it right.