Sunday, September 09, 2007

BoS Meeting 9/6/2007

This night's Board of Supervisors meeting was very lively and very interesting. Residents were there. They spoke up against the T-Mobile cell tower proposed for the Community Park. There was applause when the roll-call vote was finished and the cell tower was voted down in a 2:3 vote. Read more in newspaper articles by JD Malone (Express Times) and Madeleine Mathias (Morning Call). We will try to fill in the rest of the meeting.


Supervisor Howell said that the Board received an invitation from the Northampton County Association of Township Officials for a function and if any of them wish to attend, the Township Manager should be notified.

Supervisor Ackerman asked if the Comprehensive Plan Subcommittees had been given permission to contact outside contractors. He noted that in the past because of costs, only the Supervisors were allowed to do that. Chairman Hoff explained that the Board endorsed the Comp Plan work. Supervisor Nicholas said that she was worried about the back and forth emails as possible Sunshine Act violations. Solicitor Kline clarified that no public officials, either elected or appointed, may engage in making decisions nor in "deliberations that would lead to a decision, except at a public meeting." This insures transparency. Hoff asked that that message be passed on to the Planning Commission to remind them that email use is proper to set meetings, to create agendas, and to announce who is coming to a meeting, etc. Planner Dean Turner said that there are only two weeks left of the three months that the subcommittees were given and that the only emails going around now are the sharing of minutes and final details before the final reports are due.

Ackerman then said that a PennDot representative addressed the Comp Plan Traffic Subcommittee and said that PennDot had no record of the Township's application for a light at the Meco Rd./Sullivan Trail intersection. Engineer Hay said that the application was sent to Allentown and copies of the PennDot review letter (from their Traffic Division) were given to the Board at a previous meeting.

Supervisor Nicholas thanked Sue and Harry Bennett for all the Forks Days work that they have done. She said that the antique wagon will be delivered on Saturday the 15th at 11:00am (note: per the Historical Society, the actual time is 10:00am) and that all the Supervisors are invited to attend (and should notify the Historical Society if they plan to be there.) Senator Wonderling will be there. Nicholas added that other features/events/activities include food, games, rides, tethered balloon rides, plane rides at the airport, a battle of the bands, fireworks (Saturday at 9;00pm), a classic car show (Sunday),and more.

Nicholas also said that one of the Comp Plan subcommittees that she attends visited CAT (Coalition for Appropriate Transportation) where the committee learned of Emmaus' plan to slow traffic down on its main street to see that there are businesses there. The question posed was "Do you want people to drive through Forks or drive to Forks?" Nicholas added that bicycle patrol officer Steve Nicholson received bicycle training at CAT.

TREASURER'S REPORT - Secretary/Treasurer Howell detailed the debits (cash paid out) since the last Supervisors meeting. Nicholas asked if the HiTech bill for $755 was from the lightening strike damage and if was going to be an insurance claim. Township Manager Schnaedter said that the insurance company has been contacted but that he is not optimistic. Nicholas also asked about the traffic study bill for $8000+. Finance Manager Farley said that this is only a portion of the $12,000 total bill and that it was necessary to stay current with the Liquid Fuels requirements. Schnaedter said that the study was part of the Weis Market and the Kings Mill suits. Acceptance of the debits and transfers was approved 5:0.

Standing Committee Reports

  • Public Safety - Supervisor Nicholas - reported that the committee reviewed agenda items including public safety ordinances and lightening.
  • Public Works - Supervisor Ackerman - reported that there was a committee meeting on Tuesday morning in which projects being worked on, completed, and coming up were discussed.
  • Parks & Recreation - Supervisor Miller - said that he attended several Recreation Committee meetings over the last couple of weeks and that he also attended a couple of meetings of the Bushkill Conservancy.
  • Community Relations - Supervisor Howell reported that the committee met and discussed the upcoming Fall/Winter Quarterly and the upcoming community guide. The guide will contain a "sizable" map of the township and is expected to be distributed to all residents in January or February. It will be supported by advertising. The committee has sought to find the "best possible publisher" for it.
  • Finance & Administration - Chairman Hoff - reported that there have been no meetings since the last and that the committee will be meeting next Wednesday at 3:00pm.

TOWNSHIP MANAGER'S REPORT - Schnaedter said that the Board has his written report and he added that the 2008 budget preparation is upcoming. He asked the Board for input on capital projects. Hoff noted that the Finance Committee will be looking at the budget schedule at its meeting on Wednesday (September 12). Howell reminded all that the committee meetings are advertised and open to the public. Farley added that he has asked all department heads to submit a list of projects that they feel should be added to the budget.

As to the Forks map for the community guide, Schnaedter said that Municipal Publications has been used by a number of communities throughout PA and that it is a reputable company. Option #3 was selected in a 5:0 vote. The option includes 6500 publications, included postage, and ad selling. Company representatives will work for 2-3 weeks (from the Municipal Building) to sell ads. Nicholas asked that since it will not be out until 2008, which Supervisors' names would be on it? Schnaedter said that the names will be chosen after the election when the new Supervisors are known.

ENGINEER'S REPORT - Hay reported that the recycling of Mitman Road is complete and that paving will begin shortly. He added that the Arndt/Bushkill blinking lights pole is in and will be installed soon.

SOLICITOR'S REPORT - Kline reported that KMRD (Kings Mill) has "filed a procedural challenge to every zoning ordinance that the Township has adopted since 1983." KMRD alleges that the ordinances were possibly enacted incorrectly and should be voided. (Read the challenge HERE - caution very large file.) In addition, Kline said that KMRD has submitted a new plan for a "considerable amount of multiple occupancy residential dwellings" that conforms to the 1983 zoning ordinance. KMRD wants the Township to ignore all zoning ordinances back to, but not including, the 1983 ordinance. This will be discussed in Executive Session.


James Wideman (candidate for Supervisor and chairman of the PC subcommittee on Farmland and Historic Preservation) said that he recently learned of deficiencies in the SALDO (Subdivision and Land Ordinance) regarding undedicated Township roads and construction sites. He read the text of an amendment he prepared to remedy the deficiencies. Wideman said that it sets a clear protocol for developers to follow. The text of his amendment proposal deals with map layouts, road names, lot numbers, and ingress/egress. Wideman asked that the Board forward it to the Planning Commission for consideration and discussion. - Nicholas said that the Public Safety Committee is considering changes that will not involve the SALDO. Hoff said that it is easier not do it in an ordinance because ordinances are difficult to change. The committee is looking at changes to the developers' agreements as a solution. Wideman again asked that it be given to the PC so that they might consider the changes. Hoff stated that he felt the PC should be part of the decision - as should the solicitor. He added that the discussion should take place at all levels.

Harry and Susan Bennett addressed the Board to thank each of them for the "vast help" that they have been given in putting together Forks Community Days. Hoff and Nicholas returned the thanks for the time and effort the Bennetts have put into it. Mrs. Bennett urged the the Board attend the festival (Saturday the 15th and Sunday the 16th - of September) because "it's really nice to see the Supervisors be out there."


Police 5-year plan for review/Financial Analysis - Chief Dorney said that the Five Year Plan has been extensively reviewed. In it, staffing will increase by three additional officers. Farley said that he did an analysis of the plan and projected different (Township) growth rates. A 6% rate was used and he felt that there would be little, if any, increase in taxes. The major costs drivers are healthcare and salary. Hoff added that the current ratio of officers to population is 1:875 and that ratio is maintained in the plan. Hoff said, too, that police services include residential vacation checks, overnight business checks, a bicycle safety program, the summer youth police academy, child safety seat inspections and loan program, and many more. New programs are planned for the future including neighborhood watch and crimes against the retired and elderly (CARE). Recently the police department raised just under $1000 for bicycle helmets. The plan was approved in a 5:0 vote.

Chief Dorney announced that he (and other officers) assisted Forks EMS to deliver a baby boy at 6:40am (today) on Miracle Drive. He said that he and the officers really appreciated them (EMS) being there.

Cell Tower - Click here for the notes on the lengthy cell tower discussion.

RESOLUTION #070906-3/Support of Temporary Building Moratorium Legislation - Howell said that this came before the Board three meetings ago. He explained that the resolution simply endorses in principal only, Act 904 (introduced by Representatives Freeman and Grucela). Act 904 provides breathing room to municipalities undergoing re-writes of their zoning, SALDO, and comprehensive plans by allowing these municipalities to impose brief moratoriums on building. Howell said that it is endorsed by nearly every government lobbying agency, but not by developers. The moratorium would apply to new developments only and not to existing ones. Howell said, too, that this resolution would provide encouragement to the Representatives promoting Act 904.

Ackerman expressed concern that the Act would undergo hundreds of changes before it passes (if it passes) in Harrisburg. He said too, that it would be great to stop houses but not industry since Forks needs industry.

Erik Chuss (Planning Commission Chairman and candidate for Supervisor) said that he had an opportunity at a recent Comp Plan Economic Development Subcommittee meeting, to speak with Rep. Grucela about Act 904 and that he was told the municipalities can design the moratoriums any way they want. Chuss said that this Resolution will send a message to Harrisburg. He also said that "developers have run over the Township with bulldozers and steam rollers" and that Act 904 will help "level the playing field."

Planner Dean Turner agreed with Chuss and added that the PC does not have many tools and this is the first time that Harrisburg may provide a "little bit of a tool to take our community back." He added that "it would be ludicrous to not support that movement."

The resolution passed in a 5:0 vote.

Old River Road - Tree Removal/Strausser - Howell said that the Strausser "horrific tree cutting on Old River Road" has been reviewed by a certified arborist and that the report is not yet finished. A lawsuit is under consideration as are compensatory damages. Because the act was "willful and wanton," the Board may also consider punitive damages.

Turner suggested that the "perimeter" property owners also deserve compensation for the decrease in property values caused by the tree cutting. Kline said that it is the property owners' decision to pursue compensation and that the Township "needs to be careful" or it may have a hundred others who want the Township "to handle a case on the Township's dime." The agenda item was tabled 5:0 - pending receipt of the arborist's report. See JD Malone (Express Times) for more.


Presentation - Watershed Specialist Bushkill Stream and Forks Lions Park - Kate Brandes, the Watershed Specialist for the Northampton County Conservation District presented the Bushkill Conservancy's proposal for a reparation project for Lion's Park. Brandes explained that the purpose is to stabilize the stream bed and beautify the area. Funding has been secured for Phase I of a two phase project.

The Conservancy will begin by removing the invasive, noxious weeds via mechanical pulling and application of an ecologically approved herbicide treatment. The replacement plantings will include native vegetation, trees, and shrubs. The grass area will be planted with native meadow grasses and wildflowers. Meadows are expected to be tall and require mowing once a year.

The rocks will not be rearranged and the fishing paths will remain.

Phase II includes proposed fishing platforms that are handicap accessible. Phase II is years away and not yet funded.

The Bushkill Conservancy is ready to begin in 2-4 weeks. The Board granted approval in a 5:0 vote.

RESOLUTION #070906-1/Acceptance of Streets in Lambert Estates - Kline said that Hay inspected all of the Lambert Estates roads and that they are in good condition. This passed 5:0.

RESOLUTION #070906-2/Acceptance of Detention Basins in Lambert Estates - Kline explained that normally the Township does not take over detention basins but that the Lambert Estates developer agreed to cooperate and correct a problem created by another developer (Vista Estates) by extending the pond. Kline said that Strausser (the Vista Estates developer) "happens to be the same developer who built Riverview Estates and chopped down trees." The basins were inspected by Keystone Engineering and found to be in order. The Board voted 5:0 to accept the Lambert Estates basins (one entire basin and part of the other) and NOT the part in Vista Estates. Kline said, "Mr. Strausser is on his own."

Fire Chief - Reimbursable Expense Change - Hoff explained that the rate for (total annual) reimbursable expenses for the fire chief was set in 1996 (in the Fire Department Ordinance) at $800. It has remained unchanged. Fire Chief Bryan Weis has already spent $800 this year. Hoff asked the Board to raise the limit to $1600 for this year and to consider the amount in the budget discussions.

Ackerman asked why the amount suddenly doubled. Hoff said that in the last few years, the fire chief absorbed the difference between what was allowed and what he actually spent. Hoff said, too, that the call volume has increased from previous years and that Bryan Weis is tracking the numbers (mileage and fuel) for his vehicle use. Hoff said that this wasn't done in the past so the Board had no idea that expenses were increasing. Because all capital purchases ended when the Board decided to build the Municipal complex, the command vehicle that was included in the five year plan was dropped. Weis uses his own vehicle as a command vehicle. It is outfitted for a laptop computer.

Turner suggested that the Stockertown contract may contribute to additional expenses. Ackerman said that "Stockertown should be liable for the idle time, too." Nicholas said that she looked at three months (of Weis' records) and 1/3 of the "idle" time (truck idling while the computer is being used) is for Stockertown calls and she doesn't think Forks should have to pay for Stockertown's calls. Nicholas also said that because Weis accepted the position with an $800 limit, a new limit shouldn't go into effect until next year.

The reimbursable amount was increased to $1600 in a 4:1 vote with Nicholas voting "nay."

Vehicle Bids - Public Works Director - DPW Director Roberts reported that the PA Department of General Services COSTARS program will allow the Township to purchase two new pieces of equipment at pre-approved bid prices, a Diamond International dump truck and a John Deere mower. The mower price is $11,879 and the dump truck is $102,266. Both items are in the 2007 budget. The purchases were approved 5:0.

2008 Pension Projection/Minimum Municipal Obligation - Farley explained that the pension projections are done one year in advance. The pension was audited by the State and the obligation is $18,000 higher than was budgeted. The increase is due to the 4% non-uniformed employees' contract increase (the budget was done last year at 3%) and to the hiring of additional employees. The Board voted 5:0 to move ahead in the process.

EXECUTIVE SESSION - was called to discuss (per Hoff) "possible, current, and pending litigation" as well as the police department contract negotiations. The session ran into the wee hours and ended with no action taken by the Board.

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.

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