Sunday, December 21, 2008

BoS Meeting Notes - 12/18/2008

Regular Meeting (agenda)

Forks Supervisors began this evening at 6:30 with a Conditional Use Hearing for The Brake Shop of the Lehigh Valley, Inc. (dba The Brake Shop & Auto Repair.)  See the New Business agenda item below for more. 

The 2009 10% tax increase and budget were approved, the reasons for Mr. Rob Leiser not signing on the PennDOTTED line were detailed, and a movement may be in motion for a Farmland Preservation ballot referendum. 

Please read Tony Nauroth (Express Times) for more on the 2009 budget.  (Note:  There is an error in Mr. Nauroth's article.  The 2009 millage rate is in fact increasing to 5.6 from 5.1.)  

The biggest news of the night though, was learning that Klein Farms has been accepted as a preserved farm by Northampton County!  Only three applications are accepted into the program each year and this year Klein Farms made the cut in the #2 position.

Public Comments (non-agenda)

  • Rob Leiser - Leiser's Rental Barn - explained that he was not holding the Meco/Sullivan traffic light project hostage as was stated in a recent Morning Call article (see Christopher Baxter, December 11, 2008).  He said that in fact, he is the hostage.  He said that he was left out of the loop until mid-July when PennDOT "brought him in." 

Mr. Leiser said that the plan he has seen does not address his entrance (on Sullivan Trail).  Fred Hay (Township Engineer) said that spending money to prepare a plan when he (Leiser) has not agreed is fruitless.  Mr. Leiser maintains that someone should have known that PennDOT wanted his entrance moved. 

Mr. Leiser said, too, that if the driveways are created on his property, there must be easy access into and out of his business.  He said that one of his competitors in Wind Gap lost business and eventually went out of business during the roadwork on 115 in Wind Gap because the roadwork made it very difficult for customers to get to his business.

Solicitor Karl Kline noted that it is interesting that something (Leiser’s Sullivan Trail driveway) PennDOT approved 20 years ago is now not suitable.  Kline said that Leiser's Rental Barn did not move and that Meco Road did not move.  Mr. Leiser said that 20 years ago the land around his shop was open fields with two houses and that Meco Road did indeed move.  Hay said that he recommended to the Board that the Leiser driveways be part of the project.

Kline asked Leiser directly what he wants and Mr. Leiser answered that he wants:

    • The entrance moved.
    • The entrance approved by Planning Commission in 2002.
    • Everything paid for because he does not have the money do it.
    • At least the Meco Road entrance cut.

Mr. Leiser said that he knows that a light needs to be put there (Meco/Sullivan) but not at his cost.  He added that his project was held hostage (years before) when a Supervisor asked that he be removed from a meeting and when he received a letter from Kline detailing eight items discussed at a meeting with him (Leiser) that were never discussed.

Mr. Leiser said that he estimates the cost of moving his entrance to be $50,000 to $80,000 and he wants to be certain that all the cost will be covered by the Township.  Hay said that an estimate has not yet been prepared and he does not believe the cost to be that much.

Mr. Leiser said that the "whole point" is that the Supervisors should be talking to him.  Hay said that he came to him with a plan of what PennDOT allowed. 

Mr. Leiser concluded by stating that he wants to see some plans and that he needs to be "engaged with the plans, the ideas, and the promises."

Supervisor Remarks:

  • Chairman Howell listed some "house keeping" items particularly that the BoS Re-organization meeting is scheduled for January 5th at 7:00 PM.  Howell said that the meeting schedules for all other boards/commission/committees will be set by the Supervisors at the re-org meeting.

The elected auditors will set the pay rates of Supervisors employed by the Township at their meeting on January 6th at 7 PM.

Howell said too, that the Supervisor's packets contain a flyer for the upcoming Lehigh Valley Planning Commission "Smart Transportation Workshop" (click on Commission Staff and then click on Workshop) scheduled for January 16th from 8:30-noon. 

Howell noted that he and Supervisor Egolf attended an open space workshop in Easton.  They were invited by the Two Rivers Council of Governments (TRCOG) and the Lehigh Valley League of Women Voters (LVLWV).  Howell said that presentations were made by six of Forks' neighboring townships that have successfully passed referenda and either used bond issues or EIT (earned income tax) increases to raise funds to purchase development rights and open space - in order to preserve farmland.  He said that he will approach the Board in 2009 to get a workshop together - with all Township boards - in order to start thinking about open space and helping Forks' farmers.

  • Supervisor Nicholas said that she had a letter about the Palmer bikepath that is to go through Forks.  She is concerned whether Forks is to mark the road crossings or if Palmer is to do it.  She said that the crossings in Palmer are not well marked and she asked that the Township work with Palmer about how the path will be marked to insure safety in crossing Forks' roads.  She said that she will visit the crossings and send her findings/recommendations to Township Manager Schnaedter.  Kline offered that signage is being considered and that Palmer plans to begin the path construction in the spring.  Palmer needs signs indicating that vehicles must stop for pedestrians.  Forks recreation paths have such signs. 
  • Supervisor Chuss said that the Planning Commission (draft) minutes (from its December 11th meeting) indicate that Dan Fazekas will not seek reappointment in 2010.  He asked that Schnaedter draft a letter of appreciation for his service.

Treasurer's Report - Egolf detailed the debits (cash paid out) since the last Supervisors' meeting.  The debits and transfers were approved with a 5:0 vote.  The Township's current outstanding debt is $7,382,099.

Standing Committee Reports (meetings are open to the public - see the official Township calendar for dates and times)

  • Public Safety - Supervisor Chuss - said that there had been no meeting since the last BoS meeting.  Fire Chief Bryan Weis updated the progress on the new emergency services training tower:
    • The construction is complete.
    • The interior concrete and the Padgenite lining are installed.
    • The garage door installation is scheduled for Monday.
    • A concrete apron will be installed in the spring. 
    • Conditioning burns are scheduled for this weekend.

Nicholas complimented Chief Weis for the photo morph of the tower construction on the website.

Chuss extended thanks to the committee members and especially Police Chief Dorney, Fire Chief Weis, Schnaedter, and Suburban EMS for their hard work and accomplishments in 2008.

  • Public Works - Supervisor Miller - said that the committee met last week and that the road crew has been very busy this fall.  There were three crews collecting leaves.  Leaf collection is done for this year.  The DPW is now cleaning catch basins, trimming trees, and repairing street lights.  The park restrooms have been cleaned and winterized and the playing fields have been shut down for the winter. 

DPW Director Mark Roberts said that in preparation for weekend snow plowing, 123 notices were placed on vehicles parked in the streets.  The tagged vehicles included trailers, boats, etc.  The notices state that the vehicles are to be removed from streets as soon as possible.  Nicholas asked if there are on-street parking restrictions for trailers and boats and Zoning Officer Weis said that there are none as long as the vehicles are licensed.  He added that there are parking restrictions for tractor trailers.

  • Parks & Recreation - Supervisor Howell - said that the committee had its last meeting of the year and wrapped up some loose ends including:
    • The Community Park carousel is ordered and delivery is expected sometime before spring. 
    • The selection and purchase of fitness stations for the Community Park is in progress.
    • The Penn's Ridge's neighborhood park has been given priority.  The committee has been working with the Recreation Board and Miller on a 3/4 size basketball court and a tot lot. Recommendations will be made to the BoS early in 2009.
    • Miller and Roberts have finished their inspection of the basketball and tennis courts.  An estimate on resurfacing both will be presented to the BoS when it is completed - with a hope for an early 2009 approval.
    • Miller is preparing an estimate for an additional pavilion in the park.

Howell thanked Miller and Farley for all their work in 2008.  He noted that it is the first complete year that the new software (to track youth sports participation) has been used and it showed that the Community Center brought in a record $261,000 (year to date) in 2008.  The Township subsidy to the Recreation Board is low.

The committee accomplished the first major purchase of new play equipment and gym #1 users now have heat and air conditioning as do the users of gyms #2 and #3.

Howell said that all of this was done at no cost to the taxpayers.  Funds from the developer recreation impact fees were used and "spent wisely."  He extended thanks to Miller, Farley and Schnaedter.

  • Community Relations - Supervisor Nicholas - said that there was no meeting since the last BoS meeting.  She thanked Schnaedter for all his work on the Forks Quarterly and said that Supervisor Miller will chair the committee next year.  He will be joined by Supervisor Chuss.
  • Finance and Administration - Supervisor Egolf - reported that the committee met twice a month over the year.  At the last meeting, the managers' goals were reviewed and he was pleased with the work and that all goals were met.  Next year the committee plans a Saturday goal setting workshop with department managers and the BoS.

Egolf said that "tons and tons" of documents were organized, sorted, and shelved.  He thank Finance Manager Farley for that successful effort.  He thanked Schnaedter for the successful breakfast with Forks business leaders.  It was held in the meeting room and will lead to future discussions.  He said the year was very rewarding.

Township Manager's Report - Schnaedter thanked the Kiwanis organization for its annual sponsorship of the Township Christmas tree lighting.  He said that well over 100 people participated including the choir from EAHS.  He thanked Pitchfork Nursery and Karl Miller for the lobby decorations and he thanked Ed Kleppinger (Parks Department Crew Chief) for all his efforts.

Chuss thanked Schnaedter for all his work helping to coordinate the event.  Howell noted that it's the first one he's missed but that it is quite a sight to see the antique fire truck roaring down the road with Santa on board.

Schnaedter also welcomed Dr. Yuri Shevtziv to the Township.

Engineer's Report - Hay - agenda items only.

Solicitor's Report - Kline - agenda items only.


Real Estate Tax Millage Change (Jim Farley, Finance Manager) - Farley explained that the budget process began in October with an analysis of expenses for the current year versus the end of the previous year.  Trends were considered.  Meetings were held with department managers to analyze costs and a proposed budget was developed for presentation to the BoS in November.  Tentative approval was granted by the BoS at its November 18 meeting. 

Farley said that the proposed budget was available to the public both on the Township website and at the front counter in the Municipal Building. 

The motion to approve the millage increase from 5.1 to 5.6 was approved with a 5:0 vote. 

2009 Budget - Final Approval (Jim Farley, Finance Manager) - The vote to approve the proposed budget was 5:0.  Egolf noted that this budget has gone through "major surgery" and was trimmed as much as it could be trimmed.  He said that there were quite a few meetings with department managers who were asked to justify their proposals.  Adjustments were made.  The final budget is "frugal and holds the line on everything."  In particular, capital requests are on indefinite hold. 

An audience member asked about the $70,000 in capital purchases (listed under Police Department expenses).  Farley explained that capital purchases are listed but are on hold until at least mid-year.  Some of them may be considered at that time if housing starts improve and revenues exceed the budgeted amounts.  

The carryover amount is needed to keep the Township running during the first quarter until tax payments begin to arrive.


Farmland Preservation (Erik Chuss, Supervisor) - Chuss said that he received a request from Layne and Beth Klein (Klein Farms) to preserve their 44 acre farm. 

Mr. Klein addressed the BoS and said that at this time his is the only dairy farm left in Forks Township.  He added that there are four grain farmers (a couple of them are part time), and a couple of vegetable farms.  He owns 51 acres, his mother has 30 acres, and he rents an additional 100 acres. 

At this time, Klein Farms, number two on the Northampton County Farmland Preservation list, has been accepted into the program.  Forks' other preserved farm, the Elsie Brown Farm, is adjacent to the Klein Farm. 

Mr. Klein said that part of the application process included an appraisal by the county at a cost of $1,000 (to be reimbursed) and a second, independent appraisal that cost him $3,200.  In both, the land is appraised as farmland and again as developable land.  The county pays farmers the difference between the two appraisals (as a farm and as developable land) using the average between the county appraisals and the independent one. 

Mr. Klein said that he wants a little more help.  Williams Township, for example, pays farmers (of preserved farms) the difference between the amount approved by the county and the amount of the independent appraisal. 

Preserved farms become deed restricted and can never be developed.  They must always be farmed.  Mr. Klein said that it is in the Township's interest to preserve farms.  He also wants to "preserve" his mother's farm. 

Klein Farms draws customers from the area and even from as far away as New York City.

Mr. Klein noted too, that Victaulic is "at the back door" and has approached him about buying his land.  He thought the best case would be that Forks do something like Williams Township has done (to help farmers.)  And, he reminded the Supervisors that they all ran on farmland preservation platforms. 

Howell said that he (Klein) was right, that there has been "a lot of talk and no action."  Lower Mount Bethel, Upper Mount Bethel, Bushkill, Lower Saucon, and Williams have all "joined the club."  Williams has money from Chrin as well as a fund for farmland preservation. 

Howell assured Mr. Klein that the BoS is intent on doing something and will begin the referendum process.  He asked Mr. Klein to write a letter to the Township Manager detailing what he would like to see happen. 

Klein noted that Northampton County has just celebrated preserving 10,000 acres of farmland and that Forks has only 100 acres preserved - or 1% of the total.  He said that Township help would be appreciated and that "farmland is worthless without the farmer - it has to be farmed." 

Nicholas asked (Solicitor) Kline what the process is for preparing a referendum for voting in 2009.  Kline suggested that if the BoS wants it to be successful that it should look at what other municipalities have done.  He said that in the case of Upper Saucon, both the Supervisors and an active citizen committee got the referendum on the ballot.  It missed being passed by only a few votes.  The process can take a year and probably would have passed in Upper Saucon had the economy not collapsed.  Convincing people that it is appropriate to raise taxes is difficult.  Kline said that he has information on the process and will make it available to the BoS.  Also, the conservancies have booklets for guidance.

Howell said that he and Egolf can arrange to have a forum like the one they attended on open space.  He said that it "takes an army with strategies to reverse the DNA for no more taxes."  Howell asked Mr. Klein if he would like to play a role and Mr. Klein said "yes."   

Chuss offered that he has been involved in the Township for 15 years (eight of them on the Planning Commission) and during that time farmland has been a hot issue in the Comprehensive Plan - yet nothing has been done.  He went on to say that "here we have a farmer stepping up and asking for help..."  Chuss said there's been enough talk.  He doesn't see the need for more committees and more discussions and would like the BoS to look at the Klein request in January.  And, he added that residential development puts a lot more burden on townships than businesses do.

Nicholas said that the Finance and Administration committee is going to be working on a three year plan.

Open Records Policy (Rick Schnaedter, Township Manager) - Schnaedter explained that this is a revised "right-to-know" policy.  He said that PSATS provided a sample ordinance and he filled in the blanks.  The copy cost will remain at $.25 per page.  Costs for copy orders of 100 pages or more can be collected in advance of copying.  The rules will be posted on the website and in the municipal building.  The ordinance designates Schnaedter as the Township Open Records Officer.  Egolf said that the typos should be fixed.  The vote to approve the open records policy was was 5:0.

Estate of Elsie Brown Preliminary/Final Major Subdivision Plan (Tim Weis, Zoning Officer) - Lou Ferrone, project engineer, explained that this is a simple lot line adjustment to add 1.5 acres to the Daub residence on Kline Road.  The septic system on the 1.5 acres serves the Daub residence and the land is exempt from the conservation easement.  The plan is to add the land to accommodate the septic easement. 

The plan was approved 5:0, with waivers (for plan scale) and based on Keystone Engineering's letter.

Ordinance No. 311 - Adoption of EASJSA resolutions (Karl Kline, Solicitor) - Kline said that the EAJSA (Easton Area Joint Sewer Authority) is required by the Environmental Protection Agency to adopt new streamlined rules.  The rules add a new section (150-62).  Ordinance No. 311 is an ordinance to ratify the ordinance/resolution.  Howell asked if Forks is the first (member municipality) to do this and Kline said that Forks is in fact, the last.  Kline said that it took a year to get a response to his request for a list and that response was that there is no list yet - that it is being prepared.  He remarked that it is a "good idea to know what we are enforcing so that we can all sleep better at night."

The vote to approve advertising the ordinance was 5:0.

Brake Shop of Lehigh Valley - Conditional Use (Karl Kline, Solicitor) - Kline summarized and said that Bradley Fleming, President of The Brake Shop of the Lehigh Valley, Inc. (dba the Brake Shop & Auto Repair) proposes leasing space in the former Baurkot beer distributor building on Sullivan Trail.  Kline said that car repairs, per the zoning ordinance, is a conditional use in the EC (Employment Center).  A conditional use means that the use is acceptable but is subject to further review.  The hearing was held at 6:30 PM.

The Board reviewed and voted 5:0 on the first eight requirements (to be met).  At requirement #9 (does the Township want it?), the vote was again 5:0 with the conditions cited by the Planning Commission (buffering of lights, cars under repair stored inside, and attention paid to the required needs of other future tenants) and Keystone Engineering's letter.

Comment from Georgeann Wambold, Planning Commission member - re. Kline Farm issue - Ms. Wambold said that she believed it imperative that the Township do something quickly.  She added that recently the Township gave quickly to others and that Farmland Preservation is important in the new (still in draft) Comprehensive Plan.  Ms. Wambold served on the 2008 Comprehensive Plan Farmland Preservation subcommittee.

Executive Session - There was an executive session to discuss a personnel issue.  No action was taken after the 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.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Upcoming vacancies. You are needed! Apply by Dec. 29th

According to the roster of appointed boards and commissions posted on the Forks Township website, terms are expiring December 31st on the following:

  • Planning Commission
  • Zoning Hearing Board
  • Recreation Board

Each has one upcoming vacancy.  These are appointed positions and not elected ones so you must let the Township know that you are interested and want to serve.  The Board of Supervisors reviews letters of interest and conducts interviews before making appointments. 

The application deadline is December 29th.  So... get your application letter polished and send it to Township Manager Rick Schnaedter.  Be sure to include your background and what you hope to bring to the Planning Commission, Zoning Hearing Board, or the Recreation Board. 

Send your letter by regular mail, email, or hand deliver it yourself.  Don't dawdle.  Be part of the solution. 

2009 is just around the corner!

BoS Meeting Notes - 12/4/2008 - updated

Regular Meeting (agenda)

Note:  These notes were updated on 12/13/08.  The updates are labeled Update and are in this same color blue.

On this night, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to donate the balance of the 2007 EMS set-aside money to Suburban EMS.  In exchange, all Forks residents who paid 2009 subscription money to Forks EMS (and not to Suburban EMS), will be covered by Suburban.  The Board acknowledged that Suburban has worked hard for Forks residents over the last 2-1/2 years and has not always been paid.  (see Suburban EMS Forks squad)

The BoS also voted 4:1 to donate a portion of the money earmarked for an employee Christmas party to Safe Harbor of Easton.  This is to be a one time donation $2,000 on behalf of the Board of Supervisors and the employees of Forks Township.  The 2008 employee Christmas party has been cancelled.

Please read Sarah Wojcik's two Express Times articles - one on the EMS donation  and one on the Safe Harbor donation - and Christopher Baxter's Morning Call piece for more on both donation decisions.  

Public Comments (non-agenda) - None

Supervisor Remarks:

  • Supervisor Nicholas suggested that the Board "go green" and use the new smart-board to show the agenda instead of printing so many copies.  Zoning Officer Weis said that if the Board is to be used for a presentation, the agenda will have to come down.
  • Supervisor Howell said that he sent an email to Township Manager Schnaedter about the upcoming vacancies on the appointed boards.  There is one on the Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB), one on the Planning Commission (PC), and one on the Recreation Board (Rec Board).  All are four year terms. 

December 29th was set as the deadline for applicants to submit their intentions and qualifications.  A legal notice will be published and interviews will be conducted - possibly at the first (or second) BoS meeting in January.  All boards have quorums and can hold their first meetings in January.

Howell noted that Lou Moyer (ZHB) has already asked (via email to the BoS) to be reconsidered.  Applications may be sent via email or via the US postal service. 

The vacancy on the Vacancy Board was also discussed.  It is a one year term.  Currently the position is held by former Supervisor Henning Holmgaard.  Howell asked Kline if that position must also be advertised and Kline said that since the Vacancy Board doesn't do anything unless "the Board fails to act in a particular situation" he does not see the need to advertise it - if that person is willing to do it.   Schnaedter will call Mr. Holmgaard to ask his intentions.

  • Supervisor Chuss asked if there is to be a Conditional Use Hearing before the next BoS meeting.  Weis confirmed and said it is scheduled for 6:30 PM. 

Treasurer's Report - Egolf detailed the debits (cash paid out) since the last Supervisors' meeting.  The debits and transfers were approved with a 5:0 vote.  The Township's current outstanding debt is $7,400,223.

Standing Committee Reports (meetings are open to the public - see the official Township calendar for dates and times)

  • Public Safety - Supervisor Chuss - said that the committee met last Tuesday in its final meeting of 2008.  He reported the following:
    • The Police Department (PD) is receiving its re-accreditation award this week in Carlisle. 
    • The PD is going to investigate what will be needed for national accreditation and if the requirements seem doable, may try for it next year.  
    • The modular furniture/evidence locker is to be installed on December 10th. 
    • The emergency services tower should be completed by the end of the month and available for training early next year.  The Fire Department is developing standard operating procedures, guidelines, and a suggested fee schedule (by other municipalities or organizations) before use.
    • In Fire Company voting, Bryan Weis was re-elected as Chief and Charles Chapman was elected Deputy Chief.

Chuss also congratulated the police for the apprehension of the Washington Township burglary suspects on Route 611.  He said they did a very nice job.

  • Public Works - Supervisor Miller - said that there was no meeting since the last BoS meeting.  No report.
  • Parks & Recreation - Supervisor Howell - said that there was no meeting since the last BoS meeting.  No report. 
  • Community Relations - Supervisor Nicholas - said that she will be out of town and the upcoming Monday meeting is cancelled.  No report. 
  • Finance and Administration - Supervisor Egolf - reported that the 2009 proposed budget is online (click the Finance tab).  Finance Manager Farley noted that the budget is scheduled for approval at the December 18 BoS meeting.  The Township Manager's current year goals will be reviewed at the next committee meeting (December 10th at 5 PM).  There will be no committee meeting on December 24th. 

Township Manager's Report - Schnaedter reminded all present that the Kiwanis annual tree lighting at the Municipal Building will be on December 7th at 7 PM.  Attendees are asked to bring non-perishable goods to be given to local food banks. 

Engineer's Report - Hay - updated the Board on PennDOT and the Meco/Sullivan traffic light.  He said that he met with PennDOT and that PennDOT will allow a right-in/right-out driveway at Leiser's Rental Barn - further from the intersection than the current driveway - as well as a new full size driveway on Meco Road.  Hay said that Mr. Leiser has had this information for three weeks and that he (Hay) does not think that he (Leiser) will sign - which will kill the project. 

Chuss asked if Mr. Leiser has provided any insight into his concerns.  Hay replied that he (Leiser) is upset with the Township for what happened three to five years ago when he applied for land development. 

Howell said that PennDOT is approving ingress and egress far beyond what he originally asked for...  Hay offered that this driveway arrangement will increase the value of the Leiser property.  He said that if he (Leiser) were just beginning to develop the property, PennDOT would make him put in the signal.  In this arrangement, he gets the signal for free.

PennDOT will not issue the permit for the light with the driveway in its existing location.

Nicholas said that the Township traffic study rated that intersection a "F" (one of the worst) and because Mr. Leiser does not want a new driveway, the Township is unable to improve a very bad intersection.

Howell said that the intersection is clogged at rush hour with cars trying to get onto Sullivan Trail.  The improvements included turn lanes, sight lines... and the Township has probably already spent - in traffic studies and other things - in excess of $70,000 (on this project.)  The landowner is "withholding approval without explanation" and would rather keep his "grandfathered" driveway.  

Kline said that this is so unfortunate because this traffic light is to be on a state highway.  PennDOT has said that  it doesn't have the money to do the improvements.  The Township recognizes this and is willing to spend the money to design the improvements and to pay the costs of putting in the light.  PennDOT says that unless this one individual cooperates, "it's dead."  PennDOT is willing to give Mr. Leiser a larger driveway and an additional one on Meco.  Kline said, "It is so unfortunate that this one individual like this is really standing in the way of substantial improvement of the safety for this community."  Howell noted that the Township has no means to force it upon him.

Resident Thomas Humcheck (sic) asked who would be paying for the driveways, him or the Township?  Hay answered, "The Township."

Egolf asked if there is a time limit on the project.  Hay said that there is none on the application and that the Township has met all the requirements except "this."  Egolf asked, "So next year, he could say yes and it would be a go?"  Hay noted that the only danger is that PennDOT could change the requirements and make them more stringent.

Kline offered that PennDOT could say that it is not going to let one person "hold this whole project hostage" and proceed with the improvements.

Hay noted that in 1986 Mr. Leiser got a permit from PennDOT for the current driveway.  Kline noted that it is ironic that PennDOT thought it safe enough in 1986 but is now willing to hold up the project over it.  He offered that PennDOT does not have to impose that requirement.

Hay said that the driveway is an alternative to Mr. Leiser signing the indemnification agreement which was originally requested.  PennDOT does not want to be sued.  Kline said that PennDOT was perfectly willing to allow the light if Mr. Leiser would sign a paper holding PennDOT harmless.

Update:  On December 10th Christopher Baxter (Morning Call) followed up with a more indepth article on this issue and its history. 

Solicitor's Report - Kline - said that in view of the fact that the real estate market is terrible and because banks are tightening credit standards, it is more important than ever that the Township keep a close watch on letters of credit.  Letters of credit provide the security that developers will provide municipal improvements as part of their projects.   If the improvements are not done and the developer "walks or goes belly up," the letters of credit provide the money to complete the improvements. 

Kline warned that banks' tightened credit standards may mean that some letters of credit will not be renewed.  He asked that the BoS authorize him to notify all the developers that unless their letter of credit is renewed no less than two weeks before expiration, the Township "is going to draw on the letter of credit."  

Kline said that Strausser's Riverview letter of credit is the next to expire - on January 7th.  Kline said that he contacted the issuing bank and that the bank is in the process of renewing all Strausser's letters of credit.  Also, the language is being changed so that the letters will automatically renew unless informed that the developer does not want them renewed.

Chuss made the motion that the Township notify developers that unless their letters of credit are renewed at least two weeks prior to expiration, the Township will draw on the letters to complete improvements.  Nicholas seconded.

In discussion, Howell asked about Strausser's letters of credit.  Kline said that he has one in January and two in March.  He said that he bank assured him that everything would be in place by the end of the year. 

Howell asked if there is an adequate tickler system in place and was told "yes."

The motion passed 5:0.


Suburban EMS Agreement (Erik Chuss, Supervisor) -  Kline explained that he met with Barry Albertson and Jeff Young from Suburban EMS (SEMS) and circulated a draft of the proposed agreement to the BoS and to the attorney for SEMS. 

The agreement includes some of the background of this EMS situation.  Kline recounted that on July 11, 2006, when Forks EMS (FEMS) abruptly ceased operation, SEMS agreed to pick up both ALS (advanced life support) and BLS (basic life support) coverage for Forks.

On August 28, 2006, after FEMS restructured, the Township gave it the opportunity to provide BLS service to Forks.  Suburban continued to provide ALS.

FEMS restarted and "things didn't go very well."  On July 17, 2008, the BoS adopted a change and made FEMS the only squad to go on BLS calls and SEMS the only one to go on ALS calls.  This change allowed SEMS to bill separately for its services. 

On October 16, 2008 the BoS appointed SEMS as the sole ALS and BLS provider.  Meanwhile an unknown number of residents sent subscription money to FEMS and not to SEMS, so they were then without coverage. 

Kline said that the BoS desires to recognize the services that SEMS has provided in difficult circumstances over the past 2-1/2 years and also to protect Forks residents who paid (FEMS) in good faith.  He said that the BoS "wishes to provide efficient and fiscally sound" EMS services to all Forks residents.

The terms stipulate that SEMS will honor all subscriptions from residents made to FEMS from the beginning of the current 2008-2009 subscription drive to the date of the agreement. 

The Township agrees to make a one time contribution of $17,322 to SEMS.  There will be no money set aside for EMS in 2009.  This money is in addition to the $2,678 approved by the BoS at its November 6th meeting.  There are no oral agreements and any changes must be agreed to by both the Township and SEMS.

Chuss made the motion to approve the contribution.  Egolf seconded. 

Howell asked how residents will know that they are covered - assuming the Township sends all the information it has on hand to SEMS on residents who paid FEMS?  Albertson said that SEMS gives a small card and can also provide a whole packet of information (to the people who have given Schnaedter their cancelled checks) to acknowledge that they are now covered by SEMS.

The vote to approve the donation was 5:0.


Contribution to Safe Harbor (Robert Egolf, Supervisor) - Egolf said that Tyson Sprandell of Safe Harbor spoke at the November 6th BoS meeting.  The Board learned that 11 Forks residents sought help from Safe Harbor last year.  Egolf said that at the Finance & Administration committee meeting the holiday party for employees and spouses was discussed and the thought was that it would be appropriate, because of "dire straights," to not have the party.  Instead some of the money could be used to make a one time contribution to Safe Harbor.  Egolf said that this is not to set a precedent.  He noted, too, that area food banks are empty.

Egolf said that he thought that it was very important and he read the second paragraph from a "very friendly" letter sent to employees by Schnaedter regarding the holiday party. In it Schnaedter acknowledges that the Township truly appreciates their "diligence, performance and dedication."  He said these qualities help to make the Township what it is. 

Egolf made a motion for a 2008 contribution at the amount that the Finance & Administration committee recommended, $2,000.  Howell seconded.

In discussion, Chuss, the first to speak, said that the initial intent of the cancelled holiday party was to relieve the tax burden on residents and "to take money from the Township and give it to a charitable organization - although Safe Harbor is a fine charitable organization - is an injustice to the employees and more so an injustice to the residents of the Township."  He added, "If we do this for Safe Harbor who's to say that the Salvation Army or the American Heart Association, Cancer Society, or whatever won't come next month?"  He said that he is opposed to the motion.

Egolf said that he understood what Chuss had to say but wanted to remind everyone that only ten minutes ago, the Board voted to give $17,000 to Suburban EMS without them even submitting a bill.  It was given in a "goodwill effort."  Egolf said, "$17,000 contrasted to $2,000 is hardly a significant amount."  He offered that this money has nothing to do with the 2009 budget and is money that is in the Township coffers right now.  Egolf said too, that if the Township is inundated with funding requests, it will deal with them then.  He pointed out that some of Forks citizens have used Safe Harbor. 

Nicholas asked that since the money is not in the budget, where will it come from?   Farley said that it usually comes from the BoS "discretionary fund."  Howell asked if that's what would have paid for the party and Farley said, "Yes." 

Howell said that he was embarrassed two years ago when the BoS stopped supporting non-profits that have served our community.  He noted that the Township used to support Forks EMS ($5,000 then $10, 000 and on), Safe Harbor ($5,000), the SPCA... "Now the Township has a contract with SPCA... and to say that we will ignore Safe Harbor but we will take care of the SPCA contractually, the other non-for-profit, and not Safe Harbor..."  Howell said that he's been coming to BoS meetings for five years and never seen any "national" non-profits there.  He noted that this is a local non-profit that provides a benefit to the Township.  He said that if the Supervisor don't give money to them tonight that that each write a check for $100 and give it to Safe Harbor or if going by in the summer time bring coffee and donuts and sit down and talk with the "folks" there.

Resident Larry Kitson also said that he understood what Chuss said about residents objecting to the donation but that there are residents of Forks who have lost their jobs and may need Safe Harbor.  He thought the donation a good idea.

Chuss replied that he knows people in dire straights right now.  He said that the tax increase is going to have a serious impact on them.  He also said that there are many other local charities.  He said that he talked to several people who are very angry and upset that the BoS is considering this (donation.)

Resident Thomas Humcheck (sic) asked if the contribution would be less than the cost of the party?  Egolf said that last year the party cost $2,500.  Mr. Humcheck (sic) said that if they are giving up something that the Township is willing to give up and shifting it to help people who need it, and spending even less is okay. 
Howell said that he spoke with some employees and they very pleased to to give this gift on behalf of the Supervisors and the employees of the Township.  He said it's a "token" and probably just a small amount of Safe Harbor's budget.  Howell added that municipalities are ignoring some moral obligations.  He added that it's "not going to break bank" and that limits have been placed on expenses. 

Chuss argued that if the money is not spent this year, it would be carried over to next year.  He said that anything that reduces expenses for next year, should be taken.

Nicholas commented that she was on the fence on this issue because in her five years on the BoS, the policy was not to give to charities because everyone would be "knocking on our doors."  She said that Mr. Kitson made a very good point, that there are a lot of people in Forks who may be losing their jobs and need to use Safe Harbor.  She said that she has been there with her son and the Scouts - they have help prepare food and serve it.  Nicholas added that she knows that it is a very good cause.  

Miller commented that the motion is just for this year and next year may be different.

The $2,000 one time donation to Safe Harbor was approved in a 4:1 vote.  Chuss cast the "nay" vote.

Update:  On December 13, the Express Times published an editorial on Lehigh Valley municipal contributions to area homeless shelters.  Turkeys were awarded to both Bethlehem Township and to Supervisor Chuss.

Executive Session - There was no executive session.

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, November 23, 2008

BoS Meeting Notes - 11/20/2008

Regular Meeting (agenda)

Some of this night's meeting was once again devoted to discussion of the Forks EMS (FEMS) situation - whether FEMS will actually reimburse those residents who sent 2009 subscription dollars - in a timely fashion or whether it will be a very long, cold day... before FEMS sells its property and has the funds to make the promised restitution.   Please read Tony Nauroth (Express Times) for more on the complexities involved.    

Public Comments (non-agenda) -

  • Resident Sandy Hanks asked if the Township is paid for advertisements on its Zucksville Road electronic sign board.  She was told that "happy birthdays" are paid for but notices about scheduled Community Center activities (like massage services - since rent is collected for use of the Community Center) are not.
  • Bill Petterson, Director of Mad Science of the Lehigh Valley, complimented the Township for helping to make the summer Mad Science Camp a wonderful experience for all involved.  He said that he's done many workshops in a lot of townships and his observation is that Forks' Community Center is a true community center, existing for the community.  He especially thanked Don Miller, Rick Schnaedter, and the Community Center staff and said that "the kids had an absolutely wonderful time and learned a lot about science..."  Petterson said, "And who knows, maybe the next Einstein will come out of the Forks Township Mad Science Camp."  He also promised to do it again.
  • Resident Mark Phillips told the BoS that it was his understanding that the Township has no ordinance about tractor trailers parked on residential streets.  Zoning Officer Tim Weis told him that there is an ordinance and trucks are prohibited in residential areas and that he should call the Township and ask for the zoning office and the problem will be taken care of.  Mr. Phillips said that he called the police and officer Dressler told him that there was no law against it.  Weis explained that it is in the zoning ordinance and that his office will address it.   Mr. Phillips asked what to do "after hours" and Weis said that he should call the police department and that they will take the information and he (Weis) will deal with it during business hours.  Chief Dorney said that he will follow up on making sure officers are informed. 

Supervisor Remarks - None

Treasurer's Report - Supervisor Egolf was out of town and Finance Manager Farley detailed the debits (cash paid out) since the last Supervisors' meeting. The debits and transfers were approved with a 4:0 vote.  The Township's current outstanding debt is $7,400,223.

Standing Committee Reports (meetings are open to the public - see the official Township calendar for dates and times)

  • Public Safety - Supervisor Chuss - reported that the next meeting will be held on December 2nd at 5 PM in the Municipal Building.  There has been no meeting since the last BoS meeting.  Chuss said that the emergency service tower is being built and that the hope is that the concrete flooring will be done next week so that it can cure over the holiday.

As to the "EMS situation," Chuss said that the EMS board member he spoke with (who told him that subscriptions would not be refunded) "spoke out of turn."  Chuss said "it has come to light" (ref. Tony Nauroth - Express Times, 11/8/08) that FEMS will repay the subscriptions and said the BoS needs to "go back" and look at the motion made at the last BoS meeting.  He asked Kline how the BoS should address it.

Kline said that the BoS operated with the information it had at the time - that Chuss reported that FEMS was not going to return subscription monies to residents - and acted on a motion to provide protection to Forks citizens who paid FEMS and not Suburban EMS (SEMS).  Kline said that since the original information now appears to have been in error, it is appropriate that the Supervisors take a step back and re-look at the situation.  He thought it a good idea that Public Safety take it up and make a recommendation to the BoS at the next meeting.  Kline also said that it would be appropriate for the BoS to consider revoking the motion to reimburse (via subscriptions to SEMS) residents for their FEMS subscriptions. 

Chuss made that motion and Miller seconded. 

In discussion of the motion, Howell said that he would rather wait and hear from the Public Safety Committee and that he would like to have had it as an agenda item or to have had some prior notice.  He said that it does no harm to continue receiving information from the public as to subscriptions paid to FEMS.  The BoS can act upon the information (or not) after the Public Safety review. 

Chuss said that in fact, he thought this (decision to revoke) was what came out of the meeting with SEMS on Tuesday.  Howell said that he was at that meeting and that is not what came out of it.  Kline said that he, too, was there and that it was his understanding that this issue was to be taken back to the Public Safety Committee with a recommendation.

Kline offered that there is no alternative motion being put forward tonight.  He added that right now, with the resolution from the last meeting, SEMS can anticipate receiving subscription money from the Township.

Howell asked if anyone believes that FEMS will pay these (subscription refunds) with available cash?  He said that FEMS' offer, "although well intended can't be well effectuated" and that he doesn't think that FEMS has the wherewithal to pay back the 120 to 150 subscription checks at this time.  Howell said that taking the offer off the table now, would put the BoS back where they were before.

Nicholas asked Kline for clarification and asked if SEMS was assuming that Forks would pay for subscriptions?  Kline said that right now, SEMS is assuming that the Township will pay for subscriptions whether or not the citizens get their money back.  The BoS must decide if it is going to rescind the resolution now or wait to make a decision until after the Public Safety meeting.

Howell said that he remembers the BoS saw a need to reimburse Forks citizens who paid FEMS - with a "credit."  He said that if they "believe in their heart" that FEMS will repay residents...  He said he doesn't see that happening and he would rather have the solution with SEMS that takes care of the entire arrangement.  He thought that the offer should be left open for the "integrity of the offer."

Resident Jim Wideman said that is was his understanding that if a resident paid (FEMS) before October 16th that the Township would pay SEMS for that resident's subscription.  He said that it didn't make the Township liable for any services and said that he thought it was a great offer by the Township for those caught in the middle.  Mr. Wideman said that he sees no reason to rescind that offer. 

Resident Sandy Hanks said that she agreed with Howell and thought it premature knowing FEMS' history.  She said that it was in the newspaper and people know to bring their cancelled checks to get a SEMS subscription.

Resident Dick Wambold said that it sounds like FEMS "has perpetrated a theft of services and that something should be done to them if the money is not paid back to Suburban."  Howell offered that the money was probably used for general expenses, a legitimate use of subscription monies.

The motion to rescind the reimbursement credit (from the October 16 meeting) and refer the matter to Public Safety to report back with a recommendation at the first BoS meeting in December was discussed further.  Nicholas said that she would like a (Public Safety) report before the (BoS) meeting.  Chuss said that the Public Safety meeting is after the (Supervisors') packets go out.  Howell suggested a fast email. 

Chuss offered that he would hate to see people going through the hassle of getting cancelled checks and that FEMS has gone on "very, very public record" about their intent to refund subscriptions.  He felt that the resolution should be rescinded as it can put back on the table in a month or the BoS can "start from scratch." 

Howell said that there is no money and that the refunds are not going to paid any time soon.  He referred to a  Morning Call article reporting that refunds (ref. Christopher Baxter, 11/11/08) will be paid only after the building is sold.  Howell said it is rather callous to walk away from the problem. 

The vote to revoke was defeated in a 1:3 vote.  Chuss was the only "yes."  This issue will be on the next BoS agenda.

  • Public Works - Supervisor Miller - reported that public works is in the ongoing process of "putting up the park system" for the winter.  He said too, that the new "gym 1" HVAC installation should be completed tomorrow and that it did miss the summer cooling season.  Also, the Community Center is in the process of scheduling winter programs.  There will be 360 basketball games in the Community Center.  Forks has 30 teams.
  • Parks & Recreation - Supervisor Howell - no report. 
  • Community Relations - Supervisor Nicholas - reported that Supervisors have received copies of the next Forks Quarterly.  She asks that they get back to Schnaedter by noon on Monday with any recommended changes.
  • Finance and Administration - Supervisor Egolf - absent and the budget continues to be the focus.

Township Manager's Report - Schnaedter announced that the Kiwanis annual tree lighting at the Municipal Building is set for December 7th at 7 PM.  Attendees are asked to bring non-perishable goods to be given to local food banks as the Kiwanis hope to have a substantial donation.  The Township staff is also collecting food and there will be collection baskets throughout the municipal complex. 

Engineer's Report - Hay - agenda items only.

Solicitor's Report - Kline - said that he reported at the last meeting that the Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) rejected the challenge to the validity of the Forks Zoning Ordinance.  In another suit, KMRD's procedural challenge to all zoning ordinances back to 1983, the ZHB ruled that the 2006 Zoning Ordinance is valid and therefore there is no need to look back further. 

KMRD, however, likes the 1983 ordinance and would prefer to operate under it. To that end, KMRD has filed an appeal to the ZHB procedural challenge decision.  It is currently in the Court of Common Pleas of Northampton County before Judge Emil Giordano

And, while this appeal was pending, KMRD filed a separate motion before the judge to "present additional evidence" about the other, older ordinances they were challenging and asked that the case be sent back to the ZHB.  Judge Giordano rejected that motion.

The ultimate issue, the validity of the procedures involved in enacting the 2006 zoning ordinance, has not yet been decided by the court.  If Judge Giordano agrees with the ZHB, that the 2006 procedures were valid, Kline feels that he will not require analysis of any of the prior zoning ordinances.  Kline said, "That's where it stands.  One more step along the way.  One more victory for the Township.  One more defeat for the developers." 

Kline added that there is a provision in the Municipal Planning Code (MPC) that appellants can petition the court to order that there be additional evidence.  However, he didn't think there could be a separate appeal on it.

Executive Session - There was a short mid-meeting executive session on a matter of potential litigation and on a personnel issue.  No action was taken during or after the session.


Ordinance #310 Adoption - Adamson Street Common Use Line (Karl Kline, Solicitor) - Kline explained that although all Easton Area Joint Sewer Authority (EAJSA) member municipalities thought the short Adamson Street line in West Easton was included as part of the common use sewer line, it was never officially part of the 1976 inter-municipal agreement.  All members must adopt this ordinance amendment to get it included.  Forks' representative to the EAJSA, Henning Holmgaard, recommends approval.  Kline said that the amendment was properly advertised and is ready for BoS approval.  The Supervisors agreed and adopted the ordinance in a 4:0 vote.

Proposed 2009 Township Budget - (Jim Farley, Finance Director) - Farley began with an overview of the budget process.  He said that they began working on the budget in early October and that there were five work sessions with the BoS and with department heads. 

There are challenges to the 2009 budget because the "bottom has fallen out" in housing starts and reality transfers as well as the reciprocal revenues, such as permits.  The net impact is that $400,000 of revenue is literally removed from the budget.  The Township must still deal with the price of fuel and with staff contractual obligations.

In the final work session, there was a proposal for the net reduction of $49,000 in general expenses across the board in all departments.  The capital requests for next year are frozen.  They will appear on the budget line as items but will not be released until at least mid-year after it has been determined that the revenue stream can support them.  That frozen amount is $345,000 in proposed capital purchases.  Even that amount still results in a shortfall for the needed 2010 carryover amount.  Therefore, a tax rate adjustment of 1/2 mil for 2009 is necessary.  This 1/2 mil increase is approximately equal to $39 per household. 

Forks is not alone as other municipalities are facing the same problem.  For the last 1-1/2 years, the Township has been looking for opportunities to renegotiate vendor contracts.  Farley said that he hopes that next year is decent and that reserves can be built up again. 

Farley said that this tentative, rough final draft of the budget can be approved or disapproved.  It must be on public view for 20 days and final approval can be at the December 18th BoS meeting or, if necessary, at a special meeting at the end of the year.

Nicholas asked if even with the 1/2 mil increase, the Township would still be short for the 2010 carryover?  Farley explained that it would be "little" short if the capital items are purchased.  Of course, if any capital items are to be purchased the priority will be decided by the BoS.

Howell asked when the real estate tax monies come in and Farley said that the majority are in by the end of May.

Farley said that the real estate transfer revenue is a big problem but if it rebounds a bit the Township will be in a better cash position and it will help to build back a significant reserve.

Howell asked if the budget had been adjusted for the drop in the price of gas and oil.  Farley said that it has not.  He used October rates.  Howell thought there might be an area of savings there.

Nicholas asked about the $218,000 surplus.  Farley said that if the capital items are not purchased, the surplus will be $500,000.

Planner Dean Turner asked if the budget will be on the website.  He was told yes and that it will be at the Municipal Building counter tomorrow.  The legal advertisement should be in the newspaper over the weekend.

The 2009 tentative budget with its included 1/2 mil increase was adopted with a 4:0 vote.


Fancy Furrow Farms Preliminary / Final Minor Subdivision Plan (Tim Weis, Zoning Officer) - Engineer Fred Hay referred to Keystone's letter of 10/3/08.  He explained that this plan is taking one tract of land and creating a three lot subdivision.  On lots one and two are two residences and a business.  He recommended approval with the conditions specified by the Planning Commission (PC).

Howell said that it appears the PC is asking for a 40 ft. right-of-way from the center of the road and going around two of the buildings (so that the buildings will not be in the right-of-way).  And, that the applicant (former Supervisor John Ackerman) did not feel it necessary to dedicate a right-of-way. 

Hay said that the PC recommends that the BoS reject the plan if the right-of-way is not dedicated.

Attorney Joel Scheer, representing Fancy Furrow Farms, pointed out that there are no proposals for changes in use or intensity.  The purpose is to separate the lots so that John Ackerman's brother's lot is broken off from the tract.  Scheer said that because Uhler Road is a State road and because Fort James III is under development, PennDOT has "fully vetted" Uhler Road.

Scheer said that based on previous court rulings, a subdivision cannot be rejected based on the refusal to grant a right-of-way.  Setbacks can be required but not rights-of-way. Scheer said that the courts say that if you insist on someone's land, you have to pay for it. 

Kline said that that the MPC specifies in Section 503, that "a subdivision or land development shall conform to the Comprehensive Plan..."  The SALDO (Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance) looks at various streets and indicates certain rights-of-way for those streets.  In the case of Uhler Road, the right-of-way is 40 feet from the center of the road.  Kline advised that Keystone did not just make it up on an "ad hoc basis."

A long discussion ensued about traffic, the Fort James III development, road improvements, and PennDOT's unwillingness to have money to acquire land for road widening while still demanding same - forcing townships to pay for it.  A potential problem is, that in the future, Braden Boulevard may extend north and take a left over to Church Lane.  Another issue is future development to the north.

There was also discussion of the improvements made by JG Petrucci for the Fort James III industrial park.  They include extending the sewer line across the road to the Ackerman rental building on lot 2 (the old dairy store now occupied by a tenant - who, the PC was told, may want to purchase the building) and grass planting and railroad tie curbing.

Hay offered that a road is never paved to the edge of a right-of-way - usually only up to 10 feet of it.  An acceptable compromise was achieved with the word "covenant" - it will run with the land and be noted on the plan along with a 40 foot right-of-way that jogs appropriately around existing buildings and that covenant will apply to all three of the lots.  It will used if any of the lots are developed - in the future.

As to the on-lot septic, the BoS was informed that the developer has agreed to hook up the two buildings on lot 2 because the septic system will be only inches from the road. 

The BoS voted 4:0 to grant conditional approval, subject to Keystone's letter of 10/3/08 (less comments #3 and #4), of the Fancy Furrow minor subdivision with the covenant that the Township has the right to acquire the 40 foot (from the road center) right-of-way (with the jogs around the buildings).  The covenant shall be subject to the approval of the Township Solicitor. 

Sullivan Trail Business Park, Lot 5B Daycare Center – developer’s agreement (Karl Kline, Solicitor) - Kline recounted the approval of the splitting of lot 5 into two lots, lot 5A and lot 5B (ref. the April 3rd BoS meeting notes).  The day care center developer requires an indemnification agreement so that dirt can be moved.  There is no letter of credit yet so no building permit can be issued.  The certificate of insurance, the escrow account money, and the indemnification agreement "signed by our good friend Mr. Goffredo" have been received.  The vote was 4:0 to accept the developer's agreement.  

Executive Session - There was an executive session on a personnel matter.  No action was taken after the session.

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.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Forks 2009 Projection = 10% tax increase + cinched belt

According to an article by Christopher Baxter in the November 13, 2008 Morning Call, Forks officials working on the 2009 budget are in the uncomfortable position of cutting expenses AND raising taxes.  The worldwide economic mess is hitting home... homes in Forks.  Property owners may be facing a 10% real estate tax increase in 2009.

In the past, Forks' rapidly rising population and simultaneously rising expenses were subsidized by the very developers who built-out the Township.  That building/revenue source has come to a screeching halt. 

Everyone knew it would happen sooner or later.  Most expected that it would end slowly and that lost developer monies would be replaced by monies from new economic development in our industrial parks. 

The world stepped in, however, and Forks Township, just like its residents, is being forced to examine every budget line item. 

A glance at the official Township calendar shows that the Finance & Administration standing committee will meet at least one more time before the budget is adopted by the BoS at its December 18th meeting.  The Finance & Administration meetings are working sessions that are open to the public. 

Hang on to your hats!

Election 2008 over - Election 2009 begins

Thinking about running for one of the two upcoming vacancies on the Forks Board of Supervisors?  There is good  news for you this month.  It might even get you off of the fence and into the ring. 

On Saturday, November 22nd the League of Women Voters of Lehigh County and the League of Women Voters of Northampton County are hosting a workshop on running for local office in 2009.  It will be held at Northampton Community College, in the Kiva room, from 8 a.m. to 12:30 (continental breakfast included).  There is a $45 charge to cover their costs - a workbook is included.

For more information on this highly acclaimed (by successful candidates) workshop, please see the workshop brochure.  And, get off that fence! 

Sunday, November 09, 2008

BoS Meeting & Recreation Plan Workshop - Notes - 11/6/2008

Workshop 7:00 PM - Five Year Recreation Plan

Ed Moore of the Recreation Board was the spokesperson for the five year plan committee.  He acknowledged the help and input of Butch Scerbo, Jeff Bader, Jim Craig (also an Elected Auditor), and Bob Dilts. 

Moore detailed Forks' growth from 2003-2007.  He said that 1344 homes were built and that the population is now 14,500.  Moore said that the last five year plan was done in 1977 and that the October 2006 recreation survey was used to formulate the new plan.  The survey was sent to 5196 households and 1078 were returned - for a 21% response rate.  Of the 1078 completed surveys, 97 residents chose expansion of the walking/biking/jogging trail system as their first choice, 70 opted for a swimming pool (as first choice), and 58 preferred improved playgrounds and playground expansion (as first choice.)  (Also see:  FAC notes from Supervisor Miller's presentation of the interpreted survey results to the BoS - December 2006.)

Moore stressed that the new plan is dynamic, in that it can be changed in the future as needed.  Plan highlights by year include:

  1. 2008 
    1. gather information and start a pool feasibility study
    2. preparation of a bid spec to recondition the four tennis courts
    3. review and update the master bike plan
  2. 2009
    1. construct a bandshell
    2. look at building a dog park
    3. grade and seed the recreation land at Braden park, Lafayette (Meco?) park, and the DeWalt/Maloney field
    4. build restrooms at Braden park and Meco field
    5. erect an "all purpose" building at airport (Braden?) park
  3. 2010
    1. install ball fields at DeWalt/Maloney park
    2. recreation fields at Lafayette and airport parks
    3. consider adding an additional pavilion and basketball court to Community Park
    4. review a bike bridge over Sullivan Trail
  4. 2011
    1. consider building an outdoor ice skating rink
    2. acquire land for a possible sleigh ride and tubing park
  5. 2012
    1. finish projects from prior year
    2. begin work on a new five year plan


Supervisor Nicholas asked if the only passive recreation in the plan was to continue the recreation paths and build a bandshell?  Moore said that the "all purpose building" will serve Township seniors who want dancing and aerobic exercise.  He added that the Community Center basketball courts are ill-suited for that. 

Supervisor Howell asked Moore if he thought that the Community Center could not be expanded?  Moore said that was a great question but he wasn't sure if the land around it was sufficient for expansion. 

Howell then asked if the lack of mention of neighborhood parks was because it was not on the 2006 survey?  Moore replied that the committee began work on the plan in June before they had the tabulated survey data and that the neighborhood parks discussions with the Parks & Recreation BoS Standing Committee began after June.  He said that they took that on as a separate issue (from the five year plan) and were waiting for the BoS to give them "some direction on how that was to go forward."

Howell said that he was hoping for a more comprehensive plan - one that wasn't just recreation and might include expanding the arboretum and addressing the traffic that adding more ball fields will bring. 

Supervisor Miller offered that the original park plan (from 1991) shows another parking lot - inside the park - from the Sycamore Avenue dead end.  Howell bet that other than Miller, there is not a single Supervisor who knows that there is a plan to use Community Park land for a parking lot. 

Howell said that he would have liked the plan to address the Community Center's deficiencies.  He added that the developer-built bike paths on the master plan do not all exist but are planned and will be built at an unknown time in the future - by developers when their projects are under construction.  He wanted to see a plan linking the paths - those links must be built and paid for by the Township since they are not part of a development.  Howell said that a more comprehensive plan would show the BoS where they will need to find capital. 

Supervisor Chuss said that he thinks the plan is a good foundation and includes some great ideas.  He thought that the next steps should be set-up and that some ballpark cost figures are needed.  Moore said that this is a broad based plan about what the Township wants.  Nicholas remarked that the plan is a good foundation and needs more direction from the BoS.  She added that the committee should elaborate on some of the items and estimate some of the costs. 

Supervisor Egolf commented that the plan is a "fine job and a good start."  He too, questioned the lack of neighborhood parks in the plan.  Moore said that the committee wanted input from the BoS about whether or not the parks should be put in "pockets" or in existing parks.  Egolf said that he thought that the spring joint meeting (specifically on the subject of neighborhood parks) defined the issue.  He added that a whole summer was lost without neighborhood parks and he wouldn't like another summer to go by without them.  The Parks & Recreation committee has petitions from residents and has met with a lot of people and would like the Recreation Board's endorsement. 

Chuss said that "neighborhood parks" were never before the BoS.  Egolf said that there was a joint workshop and he didn't understand why anyone in Forks would be against neighborhood parks.  Moore said that the Recreation Board is not against neighborhood parks and that the Recreation Board lost a whole summer waiting for the five year recreation plan.

Butch Scerbo said that he is not against tot-lots but is against a basketball court in Penn's Ridge.  He said that the Parks & Recreation (BoS standing) committee meets during working hours.  Egolf said that the committee would have changed the meeting times had there been requests.

The BoS will get back to Miller on how it will go forward with the five year recreation plan. 

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Regular Meeting (agenda)

Much of the next nearly three hours was devoted to discussion of the EMS subscription issue and how Suburban EMS (SEMS) was to recover revenues lost during the one month between the dissolution of its billing agreement with Forks EMS (FEMS) and its designation as the Township's sole EMS provider. 

Please read Tony Nauroth's very clear Express Times article for more on the EMS discussion and the BoS action to help make residents who paid FEMS and not SEMS convert their subscriptions to SEMS.

NOTE:  On November 8, the Express Times' Tony Nauroth reported that the now defunct Forks EMS will return all checks to residents who subscribed during its 2009 fund drive. 

Public Comments (non-agenda) -

  • Katherine Watt (sic) representing the Lehigh Valley Coalition on Affordable Housing in Bethlehem said that she sent a letter to Chairman Howell (in September) about the Coalition's annual municipal funding appeal for the area's nine city based shelters.  Currently funding comes from the cities of Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton but the group feels that all municipalities should share the responsibility for caring for the valley's homeless population.  She said that 42% of the people using the shelters are from outside of the major cities and and that in 2007, 11 were from Forks Township.  The total shelter census for 2007 was 2598.

Heads of households who are working and can't make it on what they earn represent 25% of the shelter users.  Fair market apartment rent in the LV is $816 and the LV is has a severe apartment shortage.  The shelters offer programs to address self-sufficiency. 

The Coalition is asking for $5,633, a figure arrived at based on Forks' demographics in the 2000 census.  Ms. Watt said that the BoS last contributed five or six years ago and that she is aware that budget constraints make this is a bad time to ask.  (Please see BoS Meeting Notes 10/20/05 for the coalition's last appeal to the BoS.)

Tyson Sprandell representing Safe Harbor in Easton told the BoS that Safe Harbor helps 300 homeless men and women per year and serves two meals a day to about 75 in its day time drop in program.  He said that he needs to raise $100,000 a year in order to keep the doors open.

  • Marcia Hauser of Penn's Ridge addressed the BoS about plans for a basketball court in Penn's Ridge.  She said that quite a few people object, particularly those adjacent to the open field.  She said that they have no problem with a playground.  She questioned whether the basketball court would be lighted.  Howell explained that at this time, a basketball court is a proposal only and started as a proposal for a 2-12 year old toddler lot with park benches and a swing set.  Basketball was added as a response to complaints about stand alone basketball hoops in the rights-of-way.  Ms. Hauser said that she counted the hoops and there are 22 of them. Of the kids using the hoops, only one does not get out of the way of cars.  That child's basketball hoop is located between 2551 and 2545 Penn's Ridge Boulevard.

Ms. Hauser also said that a basketball court is an invitation for kids to hang out.   She said that the history of the parking lot (on Silo Drive) is not good.  At one time, residents were parking cars and trailers there for storage.  The kids would get between the parked vehicles and get high and drink beer.  Ms. Hauser said that she and her neighbor cleaned up there and on two occasions found two empty cases of beer, a roach (pot) and two used condoms.  The police were called a couple of times to get residents to move their vehicles and now it's an empty lot.  Kids don't hang out there anymore.

Lots of Penn's Ridge kids use the field for football, baseball, golf, and volley ball.  Ms. Hauser wondered how much room the court will cover and if it will prevent other kids from using the field.  She asked too, about basketballs hitting parked cars (parked on the street because there is no place else to park) and noise (some residents in the immediate area work nights and sleep during day).  Water damage and flooding are also concerns because of the slope of the field (which serves as a water retention area.)

And, lastly Ms. Hauser said that her neighbor put in a pool and had to post a sign and notify neighbors within a specific area about the construction of the pool.  She wondered why no one in Penn's Ridge has been notified about a basketball court and where it is to be located. 

Howell explained that the Township is so far away from putting one in, that it is not yet time to notify residents.  He also said that funds have not been allocated.  Howell asked Ms. Hauser if it was her general feeling that the neighbors do not like the stand alone hoops?  He said that people came to a BoS meeting and complained about how difficult it is to walk on the sidewalk with the hoops obstructing them.  Howell said that the big issue with the stand alone hoops is the winter - cars on the roads and snow clearing. 

Chuss said that he was approached by two residents about flags/stakes who wanted to know if it will be a full or half court.  Chuss said that he told them it was for a basketball court and although he didn't know whether it would be a full or half court, he thought a full court would be open the public and would not be restricted to Penn's Ridge residents.  Chuss said that the residents do not want to encourage people to come there - "undesirable people" - and that there would be parking issues.  He also said that a friend told him that Vista Estates residents are concerned about tot lots bringing a negative element into their neighborhood.  Howell asked Ms. Hauser if she objected to a tot lot near the parking lot.  She said that she does not object.

  • John Wieller of Penn's Ridge addressed the BoS to make them aware of kids hanging around in the Community Park playground near the basketball court.  He said that a woman told him she can't take her kids there because of the foul language from these kids.  Mr. Wieller said too, that the kids take the football bleachers and put them in the middle of the basketball court, skateboard on them, and hang around smoking cigarettes.  He said that he called a police officer over on one occasion.  He said that he does not want "that" in his development.  Mr. Wieller told the Supervisors that they should see what's there on a Saturday afternoon and that it needs patrolling.  He said that the kids are in fifth, sixth, and seventh grades.  As to the stand alone basketball hoops, he said that there are 21 in the development and he has one for his kids.  His kids get out of the way of cars and the hoop is moved out of the way when it snows.

Supervisor Remarks: 

Chairman Howell said that the Board received a letter from Leiser's Rental & Sales relative to the light at Meco Road and Sullivan Trail.  The Board got it this evening.

Treasurer's Report - Egolf detailed the debits (cash paid out) since the last Supervisors' meeting.  The debits and transfers were approved with a 5:0 vote.  The Township's current outstanding debt is $7,768,332.

Standing Committee Reports (meetings are open to the public - see the official Township calendar for dates and times)

  • Public Safety - Supervisor Chuss - said that the committee met on November 4th. 
    • Police Chief Dorney reported that the department passed the formal onsite assessment for re-accreditation - with "flying colors."  The process included a facility tour and inspection, a policy manual review, and a thorough compliance file review.  Dorney will go to Harrisburg on December 8th to appear before the accreditation bureau with a recommendation that the department be re-accredited for the next three years.  There are 1252 municipal police departments in PA and only 50 are recognized as accredited.
    • Chuss said that the department is looking into the possibility of national accreditation - in three years.  It would involve a commitment from the Township.
    • There is progress being made on the modular furniture and the evidence locker installation.  Both should be done by year end or very early next year. 
    • The emergency services tower foundation backfill is complete, the floor is done, and the building erection should start Thursday and take 4-6 weeks.
    • The committee discussed a volunteer incentive program and will make recommendations to the BoS.
    • An hour and twenty minutes of the committee's meeting was devoted to discussion of EMS status.
  • Public Works - Supervisor Miller - reported that the committee had not met since the last BoS meeting and will meet next week. 
  • Parks & Recreation - Supervisor Howell - said that the committee had not met since the last BoS meeting and did have a workshop at 7 PM - prior to this night's meeting. 
  • Community Relations - Supervisor Nicholas - reported that the committee will meet on Monday at 6 PM.
  • Finance and Administration - Supervisor Egolf - said that the committee met on October 22nd and the main focus continues to be the 2009 budget.   The next meeting is November 12th at 5 PM.

Township Manager's Report - Schnaedter asked the BoS for authorization to hire a new DPW employee.  The position has been vacant for four months.  The interview process is complete.  Leaf collection has begun and snow plowing is upcoming.  Another worker is out because of medical disability.  The new employee is needed.  He would like to make the offer to the selected individual tomorrow.  The vote to authorize the new hire was 5:0.

Schnaedter also reported that he is getting positive feedback from the business leaders breakfast.  Interest in continuing has been expressed.

Engineer's Report - Hay - reported that the Sullivan Trail Business Park paving has been completed - by the developer's paving contractor.  Hay also reported that the foundation and slab for the fire training facility are completed. 

Solicitor's Report - Kline - reported that the last of the KMRD hearings on the substantive challenge to the language of the zoning ordinance before the Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) was held on October 20.  There were closing arguments and statements in opposition from several citizens.  The ZHB voted unanimously to reject the challenge.  The next step is a written statement drafted by the ZHB solicitor and approved by the ZHB.

KMRD has vowed to immediately appeal to the Northampton Court of Common Pleas.  There will be no hearings conducted in that court as the court's decision is based solely on the records established by the ZHB hearings.  The case will likely go further - to the Commonwealth Court, if not to the PA Supreme Court. 

Howell thanked Kline and attorney Steve Goudsouzian for the best legal advice the Township could have had.


Suburban EMS Subscription Discussion (Erik Chuss, Supervisor) - Notes from this over 1-1/2 hour discussion to follow.  Please read Tony Nauroth's very clear Express Times article for more on the EMS discussion and the BoS action to help make residents who paid FEMS and not SEMS convert their subscriptions to SEMS.  Morning Call reporter, Christopher Baxter was there but no report has yet been online - nor in print that we have seen.

Please note:  On November 8, the Express Times' Tony Nauroth reported that the now defunct Forks EMS will return all checks to residents who subscribed during its 2009 fund drive. 

Municipal Pool – Feasibility Study (Rick Schnaedter, Township Manager) - Schnaedter reported that he and Miller met with Mr. Lorne Possinger from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to get some tips on preparing the bid spec document.  Possinger told them that a feasibility study can cost between $20,000 and $40,000.  The City of Easton study cost about $60,000.  Schnaedter researched further and learned that the cost paid by three municipalities that either recently renovated or built pools ranged from $2.7 million to $6 million.  Schnaedter asked the BoS, in light of the costs involved, if he should proceed with preparing a bid document for a feasibility study. 

Chuss suggested that "in light of budgetary considerations" that the study be revisited in the second quarter of next year.  Egolf thought that other contiguous municipalities might be interested in a joint venture. 

Howell said that it would be wasted money if the study were done and the pool not built.  He said that this is an inappropriate time to go forward. 

The pool feasibility study was tabled because of budgetary considerations and the economy and Schnaedter was directed to not proceed with the RFP but to keep the documents he has amassed so far, in a file. 


CCTV System – Awarding of bid (Rick Schnaedter, Township Manager) - Schnaedter reported that this has gone out to bid twice.  The first time only one bid was received and it was deficient.  This time two bids were received - the low one was deficient and the next bid was much higher.  He recommended that both bids be rejected and that it be re-advertised.  The BoS agreed in a 5:0 vote.

Elsie Brown Preliminary / Final Minor Subdivision Plan (Tim Weis, Zoning Officer) - Hay explained that this was taking one large tract and making two smaller ones - basically cutting the tract in half.  There is no development permitted since the land is all in preservation and therefore there is no drainage issue.  It is the settling of an estate and one of the lots may be sold to a farmer.  There may be a house built on the other 54.37(?) acre parcel.  One house is allowed in the County preservation agreement and Kline explained that Maria Bentzoni (of the County) sent a letter indicating approval. 

Both votes were 5:0.  The first granted waivers of plan scale, absence of contour lines, and drainage requirements and the second was to approve the final minor subdivision.

Application for permit to install and operate traffic signals – Meco Road & Sullivan Trail (Fred Hay, Township Engineer) - Hay explained that PennDOT has lost the resolution already created by the Township.  Hay said that he met with the PennDOT District 5-0 traffic engineer and his position was that the signal, with the existing Leiser driveway will never come to fruition.  The engineer felt that the best place for Leiser's driveway is behind his barn and that he didn't think that Leiser should get two driveways.  In fact, according to Hay, PennDOT won't approve two driveways. 

Hay's recommendation is that the BoS grant a waiver (of distance from the intersection) to Mr. Leiser and allow him to move his driveway to the other side of the foundation and as far as possible towards the insurance building (to the south).  Hay said that he will meet with Mr. Leiser tomorrow.

The BoS passed the motion to apply for the permit to install and operate a traffic signal at Meco Road and Sullivan Trail with a 5:0 vote. 

Kline said that he thinks the Township took the position previously that Mr. Leiser could keep his Sullivan Trail driveway where it is but that it would not allow another on Meco Road.  The problem is that it is not acceptable to PennDOT. 

Hay said that PennDOT will not allow two driveways and that he will offer Mr. Leiser either a moved Sullivan Trail driveway or one from Meco. 

Resolution for One Street Light/Riverview Ests. Ramblewood Dr. & Road A (tabled prev.mtg.) (Fred Hay, Township Engineer) - Hay explained that this is a Met-Ed resolution for a street light at the Riverview Recreation Center.  It was approved 5:0.

2009 Budget - First Submission (Jim Farley, Finance Manager) - Farley said that he submitted a rough draft of the 2009 budget and that a tentative work session is scheduled for November 12th at 5 PM.  Nicholas suggested that all departments with capital projects in their budgets, justify and prioritize them.  Farley said that he will email all department heads and ask that they submit their lists in writing.  He also asked that any Supervisors who have questions let him know prior to the work session and he will do research in advance to answer.  Chuss said that although he cannot be at the work session, he will submit his ideas for areas to cut costs to the Board via email. 

Ordinance # 310 – Adamson Street Sewer Line (Karl Kline, Solicitor) - Kline explained that the proposed ordinance amendment to the 1976 Easton Area Joint Sewer Authority (EAJSA) original inter-municipality ordinance - that created the EAJSA - was necessary because although it was thought that the Adamson Street line was included as a common use line, it was not in any of the agreements.  The ordinance amendment has been reviewed and approved by all member municipalities and endorsed by Forks' representative to the EAJSA, Henning Holmgaard, as appropriate.  The vote to advertise the ordinance for adoption was 5:0.  It will be adopted by the BoS at its November 20th meeting.

Executive Session - There was an executive session on a personnel matter.  No action was taken after the session.

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.