Forks Township's Supervisors were prepared for a lengthy discussion of the Forks EMS squad's financial reports. They were not prepared for discussion of the new recreation path installed just last week by Strausser Enterprises - along Winchester Drive and apparently going nowhere! Read JD Malone's coverage of both the EMS and the Strausser bikepath issues (Express Times) and Tom De Martini's (Morning Call) coverage of the EMS discussion.
Supervisor Ackerman reported that he attended the Two Rivers Council of Governments (TRCOG) meeting on Wednesday night and that there were two big issues. The first was the "multi-comprehensive plan." Ackerman said that two of the member municipalities are definitely in favor of the plan, two (Bethlehem Township and Glendon) are definitely opposed to it. Easton is doesn't think it will sign on but is waiting for the November election and its new mayor to decide. Freemansburg is a maybe and West Easton has not started talking about it yet. He reported, too that representatives from the Nazareth COG were there to explain how they went about forming their plan. As to the plan, Ackerman said that it is voluntary. Each TRCOG member does not have to sign the agreement. However, if a municipality does sign then its zoning will operate under different rules - the rules of the new plan. Ackerman added that he's not happy with what he heard because a lot of the (nine) municipalities have not yet considered it and are holding off until the final plan is completed in April or May before making a decision. The next meeting is in January and a new representative from Forks will attend (Ackerman's term is over at the end of December). Ackerman added that Bethlehem Township's definite "no" is because it is pretty well "developed out" and sees no benefit from it.
The second big issue is the Mutual Aid Agreement. Ackerman said that two municipalities have signed it and that Solicitor Kline has reviewed it and is satisfied with it. He said that the TRCOG wants a letter from Forks by the end of this month. (It is on the agenda.)
TREASURER'S REPORT - Secretary/Treasurer Howell detailed the debits (cash paid out) since the last Supervisors meeting. The debits and transfers were approved with a 5:0 vote.
Standing Committee Reports
- Public Safety - Supervisor Nicholas - said that the next meeting is scheduled for the first Tuesday of November at 5:00 pm. Nicholas reported that the Forks Fire Department, as of September 2007, has answered 360 calls in Forks, 42 in Stockertown, and 36 in other municipalities. Fire Chief Bryan Weis said that there is a township-wide burning ban in effect because of the drought - until further notice. Also, Weis presented the township with a $15,000 check from the Community Fire Company. It represents the payment due for year ten of their 10 year agreement with the Township.
- Public Works - Supervisor Ackerman - said that the TRCOG has requested $2,000 from Northampton County for a yard waste study - to try to figure out how to have a pick-up spot for yard waste. DPW Director Roberts reported that leaf pickup is just starting. Currently one truck is going out a day but in a few weeks, it will be "going strong." Nicholas asked if leaves for collection are to be left along the road edge or actually in the road. Roberts said that the leaves should be left near the curb edge (not in the road) and that leaves in the road cause drainage problems. Ackerman requested that this should be a notice on the township website. Nicholas said to add (to the website) that there are to be no basketball nets in the roads - winter is coming and the snow must be plowed. Roberts commended the Parks Department for the landscaping done around the new municipal sign. He said that they did a terrific job and that it looks great.
- Parks & Recreation - Supervisor Miller - no report.
- Community Relations - Supervisor Howell - said that he has received many positive comments about the new municipal electronic sign as well as many suggestions for what should be placed on it. He expressed his thanks to the public works department and to Township Manager Schnaedter for getting it done as quickly as they did.
- Finance & Administration - Chairman Hoff - reported that the committee discussed the budget as it pertains to finance and administration and presented it at this week's budget hearing. The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday at 3:00 pm.
TOWNSHIP MANAGER'S REPORT - Schnaedter - reported that he, Supervisor Miller, and Zoning Officer Tim Weis met with school administrators about a "number of issues" and in particular the school bus routes. The officials were unaware of the routes being used and thought it was because of the school construction. He and Weis then met with the transportation managers who assured them that 1/2 of the buses will come off the Mitman Road route. Nicholas said that the Board wanted all the buses off of Mitman Road because of the curves. Schnaedter said that they indicated that they are not able to do that.
Schnaedter reported, too, that bids are due October 22 for demolition of the house at the Richmond/Newlins intersection, and on November 13 for the interactive display system (smart board) for the meeting room and for the computer system (information support technologies). Nicholas asked that the smart board be tilt-able so that the meeting room audience can see it. Weis said that that can be looked at during installation but it was not in the original specs.
ENGINEER'S REPORT - Hay - agenda items only.
SOLICITOR'S REPORT - Kline - reported on two decisions from the "Court of Common Pleas of Northampton County in the Weis Market cases." The first was in the matter of Scott Gingold's challenge to the zoning ordinance 298 (which allows a grocery use in the Economic Center - EC.) Judge McFadden upheld the Forks Zoning Hearing Board's decision and "denied and dismissed the appeal." The appellant has 30 days to decide whether or not to appeal. If there is an appeal (to the substantive challenge to the ordinance), the case will go to the Commonwealth Court.
The second case, the appeal (by Gingold and others) of the conditional use approval by the Board of Supervisors (BoS) was sent back to the BoS for "more detailed opinion" on the reasons for its decision. The court will then decide if there was sufficient evidence to support the Board's decision.
Kline also reported that KMRD's (Kings Mill) subdivision challenge (the by-right plan rejected by the Board as taking too long) is on the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas argument list for December 4. No judge has been assigned yet. A decision should come in the early months of 2008.
Howell thanked Kline very much and said that the Township was "represented quite well."
COMMENTS FROM THE PUBLIC (NOT AGENDA ITEMS) - Sue Kocsis of Broadway Road told the BoS of issues she has with the new bikepath on Winchester Drive - currently being put in by Strausser Enterprises. She asked if the bikepath had been approved by the Board and if so, she asked for copy of the plans for it. She asked why she was not informed by the Township that it was going to be installed. To find out what was going on, she had to stop a bulldozer and ask the operator what he was doing digging up the lawn. It cuts through her yard (in the right of way) and edges her farmland. She also questioned the width of it. Hay said it was to be 8 ft wide. Kocsis said that parts of it are 12' wide.
Kocsis said that she wants the work stopped until she sees the "approval" of the bikepath. She said that the bulldozers cut into the tree row along her farm. She showed photos to the Board of one of Strausser's bulldozers carrying off cut tree roots and as well as photos of other tree and root damage. Kocsis said, "It's ironic that we are suing a developer for cutting down trees and this same developer was allowed to do this destruction to this treeline." She wants the corner restored (since the new path connects to nothing) and stated that she has tried to "keep some of the country in Forks Township" and part of that is the tree line down Winchester Drive. Kocsis added that some of the trees will die because of this "destruction." She asked for a written report (by the Solicitor) detailing the Township plans for the corner.
Hay said that Strausser had BoS approval to do the path from Danser Road to the Township (old railroad bed) right-of-way. Hay said that he thought that continuing the path through to Broadway was a good idea since it would keep people from walking in the road. He said with it through to Broadway, there will only be a one block gap (from Iron Run to Broadway) where people have to walk in the road. Nicholas remarked that "it doesn't go anywhere." Hay said that it gets people up to Broadway, a less heavily traveled road than Winchester. Weis noted it was probably a safety issue.
Kocsis asked who will maintain the bikepath. She said that with the leaves and the walnuts falling it's already covered. She said, too, that because of the trees, the path should not have been put on that side of the road.
Hoff said that he wants to see a plan at the next meeting and that public works should hold off from doing the macadam on it (the part from the nature trail to Broadway.)
This will be on the November 1 agenda.
Forks EMS - Financial Reports - Hoff said that the EMS May-September financial statements were received (as requested by Solicitor Kline by letter). Forks EMS president, William Keifer, apologized to the Board. He said that he misunderstood and thought that the financial reports were due quarterly and not monthly. He said that due to illness he missed the last Public Safety Committee meeting and had wanted to "sit down to create a relationship with the township and the squad." Keifer said, too, that talk of finances is a "sore subject" for emergency squads. He said that the squad is dragging the old debt with them.
Keifer praised the work being done by the squad's new billing company and said that so far $253,000 has been billed. Of that, $135,000 has already been collected. However, he added, the billing company only pays them once a month. The squad, he said, is in a "critical time" of its year - the subscription drive which just started in September.
Keifer said that the subscription drive monies cannot be spent immediately as they are to be used 1/12 per month. The fundraisers, in particular the Forksopoly game, have been successful. All of the slots on the Forksopoly board were sold to township businesses within two weeks and some of the businesses have offered to hold fundraisers for the squad. Forksopoly will be available for sale in a few weeks.
"I feel we're doing a great job... and we haven't asked for or received anything from the Township," Keifer said. He added that as a non-profit agency, the squad does not have to end the year with a profit.
Keifer asked for a private meeting in the next couple of days to discuss and document the squad's financial statements. He said that the employees and the current bills are being paid. He added that on November 9, Cory Dailey will be sentenced.
Hoff said that the dedication of the squad was not in question but expressed doubt about its financial future. Hoff said that the Board must be sure that the residents are served and that it is important that Suburban (the Advanced Life Support - ALS - provider) be paid. Hoff said that it is his opinion that Forks cannot support a stand alone EMS squad.
Keifer said that a check was sent to Suburban for $3600 and that they are still owed $8,000. He explained that money from calls does not come in right away. Keifer said that last year the squad raised $90,000 to $95,000 from the subscription drive and so far this year, $52,000 has come in as well as another $10,000 in donations. The squad, the Board was told, has handled 750 calls since April and has one truck on duty around the clock every day.
Ackerman said that he heard that the directors are not informed of the squad's financial situation. Keifer said that that was not true and that a financial report submitted by Mr. Kuhn is submitted and approved by the board at every meeting. They are told that they may have details of any budget item if they want them.
Nicholas asked what happens to the balance of the subscription money (only 1/12 is used per month) if the squad closes. She was told that it will be refunded to the residents.
John Kuhn, CPA for the squad came to the lectern and asked how the newspaper got copies of the private financial statements. He said that they were private documents - each page has "for internal use only" on it. Howell said that he gave them to the reporters. Hoff said that documents given to the Board of Supervisors are public documents. Kline cited the right-to-know law - that the documents are available to the public on request - and said that there is a "fine line" when the documents are from a non-profit. He added that it is the Township's responsibility to see that top quality ALS and BLS service is available to the citizens of Forks. If due to finances, these services cannot be provided, it is a concern of both the BoS and of the general public.
Hoff told Keifer that a private meeting is impossible and if it were possible, the discussion would still have to come back to the BoS in a public meeting for a decision.
Kuhn said that he can't answer some questions because of meetings with the IRS - the final meeting was this morning - and he objected to using the figures in public discussion. Kuhn said that the statements should not have been handed out the the general public. Howell told Kuhn to address his comment to him and not to the Board.
Howell said that Forks EMS has an open seat at the Public Safety Committee meetings and that a Public Safety Committee representative (Nicholas) has attended several of the EMS board meetings. The Public Safety Committee meetings are advertised (public) meetings. He said that the Township "bends over backwards to do its business in the sunshine." Howell said that he expected the EMS to come prepared to discuss the financial reports and asked, "When can we ask pertinent questions?"
Kuhn asked Morning Call reporter, Tom De Martini, to give back the financial statement. De Martini refused. Hoff then requested that they take their discussion out of the meeting room. Kuhn and De Martini complied and left the room.
Hoff said that it's a major concern that the ALS provider be paid. Ackerman asked the BoS why it was not demanding financial statements from Suburban EMS and Barry Alberston volunteered Suburban's audited statement.
Miller said that both Mr. Kuhn and the Forks finance manager be at the Public Safety Committee meeting. It is set for November 6 (Election Day) at 5:00 pm. Keifer asked that the Supervisors write/email/phone their questions to him. Keifer was asked to bring along a list of officers and board members.
Brian Pearson, owner of Mobile Repair Service in Easton and a Forks resident, told the Board he bent over backwards to take care of the re-formed squad's ambulance. He said it was in "rough" shape. Pearson said that he needs to pay his bills in 30 days and in June, the EMS checks stopped coming. He finally called an attorney after getting no response from Mr. Keifer or the EMS squad. He took them to court and no one from the squad came. He was granted a judgement for $3,000. He asked Keifer, "Why?" - Keifer said that a check for $1,000 went out last week. Pearson has not yet received it.
Amy Richard of Stockertown Borough Council asked that the statements be provided to Stockertown and she asked why no subscriptions have been sent to Stockertown residents. She was told that the statements will be given to the Council and that subscriptions to Stockertown residents were sent in September and that money was coming in from Stockertown residents. Richard said that she knows no one who got one.
Ordinance 304/Amendment to Chapter 159 - Dumping & Littering - This passed in a 5:0 vote. There was no discussion.
COG / Mutual Aid Agreement – Emergency Public Service Agreement - Nicholas said that she did not want to put her name to a document that wasn't in its final form. Ackerman said that he had a copy of the final document and thought that it had been distributed to the entire Board. Kline said that the document he had and that he reviewed had mark-ups showing all of the changes in it and that it is legible. The fact that there was no duration or method of termination detailed in the agreement did not trouble Kline who said that without one, one simply does not show up because one is "undermanned." Ackerman said that with this document, the Township will be paid from PEMA when it helps other municipalities during emergencies. It was not paid for any of the work done (for other municipalities) during the flood cleanups. This passed 4:1. (Nicholas voted nay because the document was not in its final form.)
Non-Uniform Pension Plan - Excess Interest Designation - Farley explained that the Board needs to decide what to do with the surplus interest earned by the plan. The Board voted 5:0 to reinvest it in the municipal account.
Fort James III - Major Subdivision - Final Plan - Ackerman recused himself because some of the land involved in the project was his. Steve Pany, engineer for JG Petrucci, reviewed the project. He said that Fort James III encompasses 120 acres. The main entrance is to be Braden Boulevard at Uhler Road. Braden will terminate in a cul-de-sac at lot 17. Flooding on Kesslersville will be relieved.
Nicholas asked about residential areas next to the property. Pany said that the Ackerman property will have a 50' buffer around it. Howell asked if the name of Braden will be changed since it no longer goes through to Kesslersville Road. Weis suggested naming it Braden East and the road connecting Kesslersville to Sullivan Trail, Braden West.
Howell asked about the trees on the stub road, Brennan Way and was told that the trees will remain. He also asked if trucks will be restricted on Glover Road. Weis said that there will be a "no left turn for trucks" sign. It's expected that only employees (and only 10% of them) will use the stub road.
Kline said that the Planning Commission (PC) discussed several things including having Braden dedicated to the Township all the way to Kesslersville. The road for lot one will be paved to Township specifications so that if Norfolk Southern (railroad) allows the rail crossing, the road will be ready. Lots 1, 17, and 18 will have maintenance responsibility for the roadway. Kline said that that he thinks these should be added conditions of approval.
The plan passed in a 5:0 vote subject to the PC conditions and to Hay's letter. The Weyerhauser development project will come before the Board next month.
Public Safety Communications Repeater - Fire Chief Bryan Weis said that space on the tower will be provided by the tower's owner, Industrial Communications (and the owner of Industrial Communications is a forks resident) at no cost to the Township. At Nicholas' request, Bryan Weis will get that promise in writing. The repeater will cost $5495. It is "tower specific" in that no other equipment can be used there. The repeater will expand emergency communications coverage to problem (coverage) areas of the Township, in particular, Route 611. The purchase was approved in a 5:0 vote.
There was no Executive Session and the meeting was adjourned.
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