Sunday, February 10, 2008

BoS Meeting 2/7/2008


Board Vacancy Interview and Discussion of Commission Vacancies - Scot Abert was interviewed for the opening on the Recreation Board.  He has been a Forks resident since 1999 and is active in the Athletic Association.  He grew up in Williams Township where his father served on the Williams Recreation Board for thirty years.  Mr. Abert said that he likes to think he can make a difference and that more can be offered in the way of recreation programs for older residents.

Planning Commission (PC) Chairman Dean Turner reviewed the process used by the PC to arrive at the two applicants the PC recommended to the Board, from PC participation in the formal interviews, to a PC workshop and executive session, to the final selection(s).  (Note: The two recommendations were announced at the PC workshop, Nicole Viscomi Alexander and David Billings.)  An email was sent to the Supervisors with the names and reasons for their selections. 

Supervisor Chuss noted that the criteria used by the PC included "participation and leadership" in the Comprehensive Plan subcommittees and that the large younger population in Forks should be represented.

Read more in Madeleine Mathias' Morning Call report.  The Express Times was not represented.

Regular Meeting (agenda)

Supervisors' Comments

Supervisor Nicholas announced that Boy Scout Troop 29 is looking for Eagle Scout projects and asked that anyone with ideas for the troop call her at 484-239-0866.  Chairman Howell asked what kinds of projects are being sought and Nicholas said that in the past the Eagle Scouts have done landscaping, bat houses, pathways and basically "projects where they build things."

Nicholas said too, that the next Community Days committee meeting is set for March 17th at 7:00 PM in the Community Center.

Supervisor Egolf said that he and Township Manager Rick Schnaedter attended the Better Models for Development in Pennsylvania (full day) workshop.  Edward McMahon was the speaker.  Egolf said of McMahon that he is very active in the state and nationally in getting communities to look at different ways of approaching development.  Egolf said too, that the Township has several copies of McMahon's book and that if any PC member or (the general public) would like to read it, a way can be worked out to loan it.  Nicholas said that she also has a copy that she will loan if needed. 

Treasurer's Report - Robert Egolf detailed the debits (cash paid out) since the last Supervisors meeting. The debits and transfers were approved with a 5:0 vote.  Current outstanding debt is $7,929,292.

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

  • Public Safety - Supervisor Chuss - reported that the February 5th meeting was very productive.  Topics discussed included: 
    • The status of the police department new hires (for several vacancies).
    • Police department modular furniture purchase and installation planning.
    • A communication issue with Northampton County that will be resolved shortly.
    • The fire department site plan sketch of the new tower/training facility.
    • Security cameras - a committee will be headed by Schnaedter to look into this issue across the municipal complex.
    • Heating and ventilation issues in both the fire and police departments.  The FD issue is resolved.  Correction of the PD issue is in progress.
    • Emergency operations procedures.
  • Public Works - Supervisor Miller - announced that the first committee meeting is scheduled for next week.
  • Parks & Recreation - Supervisor Howell - reported that the committee held its first meeting the last Thursday of January.  Egolf was introduced to the committee.  Discussed were a review of the finances of the Community Center for the five-year plan (being prepared by the Recreation Board), the priorities of capital improvements throughout the park system, and the very serious gym #1 (the largest of the gyms) air conditioning issue.  Schnaedter is working on specifications for an upgrade to the AC system. 
    • Resident Gretchen Gerstel asked Howell if he planned "on doing something about adult recreation... when and what?"   Howell said that adult recreation is a community priority and that the committee is waiting to hear from the Recreation Board.  He suggested that she can attend the Recreation Board meetings on Sunday nights or the Parks and Recreation standing committee meetings to give her ideas. 
    • Undeterred, Ms. Gerstel produced sample program publications from Forks, Palmer, and Bethlehem townships for comparison.  She said that Forks single sided sheet of paper is a disgrace and that she worked on the Comprehensive Plan and "nothing is ever done."  Ms. Gerstel said that she has been screaming for four or five years about getting a dog park.  She said that it's time for Forks to do something.
    • At this point Miller said that the Community Center has a lot of adult programs and that the building was built for a lot of different programs.  He said that both yoga and a senior exercise program by Easton Hospital were tried but there was no interest.  Miller said that the Senior Citizens met there today and had a guest speaker, an artist from Forks and it was well attended.  Gerstel said that it wasn't advertised and Miller said that the group does its own advertising. 
    • Howell noted that perhaps she should address her advertising issue as an agenda item at the Community Relations standing committee meeting. 
    • Resident Sandy Hanks said that she attended a Finance and Administration standing committee meeting and was not given a chance to talk. 
  • Community Relations - Supervisor Nicholas - reported that the Township website updates are in progress and among the improvements, is the new calendar.  She said it looks great, "like a regular calendar."  (See it here.)  Schnaedter said that the new edition of the Forks Quarterly and the new Township map (the last one was done in 2002) are at the printers and should be in residents' mailboxes within 30 days.  Nicholas asked that anyone with ideas for the website contact her. 
  • Finance and Administration - Supervisor Egolf - said that the committee met on January 23rd and reviewed the goals and objectives for each department.  They also had updates on the the email system and the meeting room projector system.  A major committee concern (and now goal) is the way legal and other important documents are stored. 
    • Egolf addressed Sandy Hanks' (above) issue about not being allowed to speak during the meeting she attended.  He said that he was there early and that at the end of the meeting he asked if anyone had anything to say.  No one did.  Egolf explained too, that the standing committees are administrative committees and although their meetings are open to the public, they are not public meetings. 
    • Howell explained that they are working committees and the public may attend as witnesses, not as employees of the Township.  He said that at the end of the meetings there may be an opportunity to speak with the chairman and that the other committee members (township employees) may leave as they have other things to do.  Howell noted that the public cannot expect to attend "public administrative meetings" in Easton or Northampton County and be a participant.  He added that this is open government and that there is plenty of time to comment - at the end of the meeting to the chairman - not during the one hour work meeting.
    • Ms. Hanks said that when she attends Board of Supervisors meetings she knows that if she has a comment to make and it's not on an agenda item, she must sign up before the meeting.  She wondered, however, when she could comment on things under discussion that are agenda items.  Howell said that she may make her comment at the appropriate time but it is to be a comment and not a discourse or accusatorial.  Howell said that if she attended the Easton City Council meetings she would see that Forks is much more transparent and allows for much more interactive comment.  Howell added that the Board, however, "cannot allow comment to get to a point where it takes over the whole meeting. We just won't get anything done." 

Township Manager's Report - Schnaedter - said that he received a letter from Senator Rob Wonderling announcing that Forks was awarded $58,870 for its recycling program.  He commended both Finance Manager Farley and Sharon Fisher for their efforts re. obtaining the grant.

Schnaedter also reported that a public works employee submitted his letter of resignation and that the position will be advertised. 

The Historical Society has requested that their restored merchant's wagon be displayed in the Municipal Building lobby.  After much discussion about the pros/cons - the size, insurance, how to keep people/kids off of the wagon, where it should be located, egress, the time period for display - it was decided in a 5:0 vote to have Schnaedter prepare a letter of agreement to the Historical Society (and submit it to Kline for review.)  The letter will state the Historical Society's responsibilities. 

Supervisor Egolf was elected in a 5:0 vote as the alternate representative to the TRCOG (Two Rivers Council of Governments).

Schnaedter reported too, that Congressman Dent sent a notice that 2009 grant applications for up to 55% funding of a project are due February 29th.  Schnaedter recommended that the Township submit an application for funding of the amphitheater (bandshell) project.  Nicholas asked if there is a time limit to use the grant money since the Township also needs a public works garage.  Schnaedter said that the grants are for things in wide use by the public and that it's a "stretch to think we'll get it."  He will prepare the grant and ask for $150,000 for construction only.  It will not include the sound system or anything else.  Confirmation that the application has been received will be in March and notice of award will be in December 2008.

Howell asked Engineer Hay about the specs for the air conditioner in gym #1 and whether the compressor will be internal or external.  Hay said that first the load must be determined and then its location will fall from that. 

Engineer's Report - Hay - no report.

Solicitor's Report - Kline - agenda items only.

Comments from the floor - None.


Executive Session - to discuss the applicants for the Recreation Board and Planning Commission vacancies and a personnel matter.  Kline reported that no action was taken by the Board during the executive session.

Appointments to fill vacancies - Recreation Board and Planning Commission - The first appointment was to the Recreation Board.  Miller made the motion to appoint Scot Abert.  It was seconded by Egolf.  In a 5:0 roll call vote, Scot Abert was appointed to the Recreation Board. 

Planning Commission - Chuss made a motion to appoint Sharon Davis.  Egolf seconded the motion.  The roll call vote was 2:3 with the nay votes coming from Miller, Nicholas, and Howell. 

Miller then made a motion to appoint David Billings.  Nicholas seconded and the vote was 4:1 with Egolf casting the nay.  David Billings was appointed to the Planning Commission. 


Northampton County Farmland Preservation - Speaker Maria Bentzoni - Schnaedter introduced this agenda item and the speaker, Maria Bentzoni, Farmland Preservation Program Administrator

Ms. Bentzoni said that they are requesting that the Forks Board of Supervisors support Act 4 and HB 87.  Act 4 allows for a millage freeze for preserved property at the rate in effect at the time that the last entity signs on.  Three entities must sign - the county, the township and the school district.  So far the Northampton County is "on board."  She is currently working with both the EASD and the (Nazareth) NASD.

At this time there is only one preserved farm in Forks, 103 acres of the Brown farm.  Ms. Bentzoni said that another Forks farmer has filed an application for preservation.  She said that the dollars removed from taxation are far less than the costs associated with development and additional children in the school system - a $6,000 deficit per child per year.  In Northampton County that deficit is $9,000 on average. 

Howell asked if there was an impact with Agricultural Security Areas (ASA - Act 43) and was told that there is no impact because ASAs designate a use - agricultural - and does not mean that the farm is preserved.  Farmland Preservation is Act 149, a different program.  The Act 4 program is strictly for farms that have sold their development rights to the State, County, or Township.  However, a farm must be in an ASA in order for the county to purchase its development rights.  It's the "starting point."

The Board learned that there are 84 farms preserved in Northampton County and that Lower Mount Bethel Township (LMBT) has the most preserved acreage - 2,603 acres.  The Bangor Area School District passed Act 4 in 2006.  Pen Argyl School District has passed it as have Williams/Wilson and Saucon Valley. 

There are six other townships that have passed it:  East Allen, Plainfield, Lower Saucon, Lehigh, Upper Mount Bethel, and Bushkill is expected to pass it this night. 

Kline asked if the millage freeze is forever.  The answer was that the Act is not specific and that as long as the law is active and not amended, there is no sunset clause.  Kline also asked if the easements are in perpetuity and yes, they are.  Bentzoni said that the farmland preservation easements cannot be reversed.  Kline remarked that "forever is a long time." 

Chuss asked about the size of the farms acceptable for preservation and was told that 25 acres is the minimum - or 10 acres contiguous to other farmed acreage is eligible. 

Jim Wideman (former PC member) asked if there were instances were a smaller parcel producing $2,000 in receipts would qualify and was told that unless it is attached to a larger tract, it would not qualify for preservation.  Wideman also asked if there were programs to extend county monies so that farms could be preserved today?  Ms. Bentzoni said that there are three and five year installment plans and that the interest rates are paid based on market rates. 

John Ackerman (former Supervisor) recommended that the Board approve the freeze because "you hear so many times that you want to preserve farmland - and this here should not even be a question.  This should just be voted in because if you want to really preserve farmland then help the farmer out."  Ackerman also said that the farmer has to pay capital gains on the money given (the easement purchase) to them so anything the Board can do to help the farmer is the way to go.

Ms. Bentzoni said that they are working with the federal government to reduce or eliminate capital gains on development rights purchases.

Howell remarked that it's a "no brainer" to help Forks farmers who've resisted the "lure and gold and continued to farm." 

Nicholas made a motion to have Kline write an ordinance to support Act 4 (was House Bill 87).  Chuss seconded the motion.  The vote was 5:0.  Applause!

Center for Animal Health and Welfare/2008 Service Agreement - Schnaedter said that the Center for Animal Health and Welfare changed the contract from previous years and in addition to raising the per animal fee from $40 to $50 (per day per animal), added "cats" to the list of eligible animals.  The attorney for the center was contacted and he said that concerned municipalities can simple remove the term "cats" and initial the change and return the signed contract along with a cover letter indicating the Board's direction.  Chuss' motion that the Board go with the recommendation of the manager and include the cover letter was approved in a 5:0 vote. 

Correspondence - Howell said that the Board received a letter from Alan McFall (solicitor for the EAJSA) stating that Wilson Borough intends to sell capacity to Williams Township.  Howell asked, "Are we interested or not?" Kline commented that the Board looked at its needs last year and acquired 150,000 gallons per day capacity from Wilson. 

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

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