Sunday, March 09, 2008

BoS Meeting 3/6/2008

Regular Meeting (agenda)

The Board of Supervisors meeting began with a moment of silence for Elwood "Tiny" Smith, a lifelong resident of Forks, a former Forks Supervisor, and lifetime member of the Forks Fire Department.  Mr. Smith passed away on March 1, 2008.

This night Supervisors considered and voted against an audit of Forks EMS.  Read more in JD Malone's Express Times article. 

The Supervisors also voted to adopt Ordinance 309, the Farmland Preservation Tax Millage Freeze.  Currently the only farm in the Township that qualifies is the Elsie Louise Brown farm.  At least one other has filed an application to become a preserved farm.  If it is accepted by the County, it too, will qualify for a tax millage freeze.  For more background, see JD Malone's post on the (Express Times) Easton Area Blog.

Supervisors' Comments

Supervisor Nicholas said that she asked Finance Manager Jim Farley to prepare a report of last year's budget (by departments) so that she (and the Board) can see where the budget was over and under.  She would like to know "where we went wrong and how to make it better."  The Finance and Administration Committee will review the report first.

Supervisor Egolf reported that he and Supervisor Chuss attended PSATS (Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors) training workshops on February 2nd and 9th.  He said that the sessions were "informative... and long."

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. Current outstanding debt is $7,911,513.

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

  • Public Safety - Supervisor Chuss - reported that the committee met on March 3 and that they are making a lot of progress.  The police department has received sketches of the modular furniture and there is some interest by two departments, for the old furniture.  The communications issue with the County is being addressed.  The fire tower bid request was advertised with an extended bid closing to March 22.  Fire Chief Bryan Weis said that he wants to update the burning ordinance.  The emergency operations procedures draft will be reviewed at the April Public Safety Committee meeting.  Also, Chuss said that EASD (acting) Superintendent Kish sent a letter thanking Chief Dorney and the Forks police officers for a job well done with the leap year rumors issue.
  • Public Works - Supervisor Miller - said that the committee will meet next week.
  • Parks & Recreation - Supervisor Howell - reported that the last meeting was canceled but that the committee is working to survey and address all recreation and park assets for repair/replacement issues.  A report will be made to the Board on those items as well as the estimated costs.
  • Community Relations - Supervisor Nicholas - said that the next meeting is Monday at 6:00 PM.  The newsletter is going out within the next two weeks.  Nicholas also said that changes have been made to the Township website.   
  • Finance and Administration - Supervisor Egolf - reported that the committee met on February 27.  He said that Tim Weis reported that the camera system for the municipal meeting room will be installed on March 12-13.  Egolf also announced that Barb Bartek, Tim Weis, Jim Farley, and Mark Roberts will attend an Employee Harassment Training For Supervisory Personnel seminar at Lafayette College's Meyner Center on March 20.  Also, Rick Schnaedter and Jim Farley are continuing to evaluate the record storage issue and the committee is working on a protocol for record storage.  The next meeting is March 12 at 5 PM.

Township Manager's Report - Schnaedter - introduced Sarah Marten, Director of Community Relations of the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs.  She said that the Phillies are interested in community involvement and she is passing the first pitch ball through all the LV communities.  Chairman Howell pitched to Schnaedter who caught the ball successfully.  The official season begins on April 11th.

Schnaedter said that he was approached by a representative from a Forks business who wanted to know if the Board would be interested in initiating a business association.  He described it as informal and asked if the Board would send a representative to the inaugural meeting.  Chuss asked if more than one Supervisor may attend.  He said that a group like this is one of the recommendations in the draft Comprehensive Plan.  Both Howell and Chuss volunteered. 

Schnaedter reported, too, that two grant applications have been submitted and that the DPW is working at Gollub Park.

Engineer's Report - (Ryan) Christman - agenda items only.

Solicitor's Report - Kline - reported that the Northampton Court of Common Pleas upheld the Township decision to allow a grocery use in the EC.  The issue was threefold: 

  1. The zoning ordinance - challenged
  2. Land development - not challenged
  3. Approval of Conditional Use - challenged

The challenger, Scott Gingold, has thirty days to appeal.  If he does, the case goes to the Commonwealth Court. 

Kline said that he was in contact with Weis Market representatives and that they are looking forward to starting (construction).

Comments from the floor - None.


Community Center Fitness Room Access System Proposal - Farley explained that this proposal is to install a swipe card system to prevent use of the fitness rooms by folks who do not pay.  The rest of the complex is on a Simplex/Grinnell system and this would piggyback on it.  The cost is $8,000 (plus) and the money is accrued from last year.  The roll call vote was 5:0 in favor. 

Fort James III - Lot #17 - Weyerhaeuser Land Development - Final Plan - Project engineer Steve Pany presented a summary of the plan to the Board.  It is a rail served site with 100,000 square feet of building - for lumber storage both inside the building and in the yard.  Weyerhaeuser expects to send out 25 trucks per day to retail destinations and employ 27 people initially.  Future expansion could take the employee total to 50.  The Board roll call vote was unanimous (5:0) in favor with conditions.   The conditions include the engineer's letter and that the emergency access road will be maintained and plowed (by Weyerhaeuser now and the owner of lot 1 when that lot is sold).  See the Express Times March 7th article for more.

Meyner Center of Lafayette College - Proposal to Survey - Tabled.

Ordinance #309 - Adoption (Farmland Preservation Tax Millage Freeze) - Kline explained that Maria Bentzoni, the Farmland Preservation Program Administrator for Northampton County addressed the Board on February 7th.  She detailed the program that will allow millage rate freezes on approved preserved farms in the county and said too, that in order to work, the all three taxing bodies must "join in."  So far, Northampton County is on board.  The EASD has yet to commit.  At this time, only the Elsie Louise Brown farm is in preservation and qualifies.  Another farm has applied but has not yet been accepted.  The ordinance was properly advertised and the roll call vote to pass the ordinance was unanimous, 5:0.  Kline will send a copy of the ordinance to the County and write a letter to the school district encouraging them to adopt a resolution.  He said that the EASD has the most to gain by preserving farms - fewer new homes and thus fewer new students.  Egolf suggested that because Mr. Kish is the "acting" Superintendent, that copies be sent as well to all EASD board members. 

Jim Wideman (resident) asked Kline the millage freeze would apply to land preserved through the Heritage or Wildlands Conservancies.  He wondered if it was just for land preserved through the counties.  Kline replied that he thought the ASA (Agricultural Security Area) provision would cover those preserved lands as well.

Establish Fire Department 2008 Idle Rate - Schnaedter said that this item was discussed at the Public Safety committee meeting and Fire Chief Bryan Weis suggested that the Federal reimbursement rate of 50.5 cents per mile be used for actual mileage used.  And, although the FEMA rate for idle time is $19.90 per hour, Weis suggested $3.98.  Weis uses his personal vehicle for fire events and idles it while on scene to keep electronic equipment running.  Nicholas wondered why the billing couldn't be done quarterly as it would cut down on record keeping for the office. 

Chuss made a motion that both the IRS rate for mileage and the requested idle time rate with a cap at $3,500 per year be approved.  Nicholas said that the cap was not right.  She said that last year it was $800 and was raised to $1,600.  Nicholas said too, that the fire department was over-budget last year.  Chief Weis said that the Fire Ordinance indicates that the cap is to be approved annually and his letter is asking that the cap be changed to match the budget line item of $3500.  Nicholas said that there are other items in the budget line item than just the idle time cap.  She warned that they better start looking at the budget. 

Howell offered that the fire department is staffed with volunteers and that no car is provided.  He thought it counter-productive.  Howell said that the Township is spending a lot on public safety (new police officers and modular furniture for the PD) and not on fire department payroll.  Howell asked if the Board is saying that if the cap has been met, Chief Weis will not be reimbursed for his expenses at additional fires?  Egolf expressed his support and reminded everyone that the Chief and Assistant Chief use their personal vehicles and pay for wear and tear, new tires, etc.  He thought it a bargain compared to the Township buying and maintaining two additional vehicles. 

From the audience, Sandy Hanks asked, "Why is it necessary to idle your car to run the computer?  Don't you have a battery?"  She said that she was against raising the cap since it was done just last fall.  Chuss said that the rates are used by companies all over the country and are very fair. 

The roll call vote for the new rates and cap was 4:1 with Nicholas casting the nay vote. 

Authorization for Forks EMS Audit - Chuss explained that it has been a year since the Forks EMS reorganized and there are concerns about its current finances.  He said that the $20,000 township payment has been restricted to paying Suburban EMS for monies due them if the funds are distributed at all.  Chuss said, too, that the EMS president thinks an audit would be beneficial.  Chuss suggested using Forks auditors, France, Anderson, Basile & Company, P.C.  He thought the cost of the audit would be between $3,000 and $5,000.  Chuss' motion was to get approval to seek bids/proposals to audit the year end financials of the Forks EMS and to approve spending $3,000 to $5,000 from the general fund to do the audit. If the amount exceeds $5,000, the audit will not be pursued.  The auditors will be determined in discussions with Forks EMS and the Township.  Egolf seconded the motion. 

Nicholas asked what will be done with the audit information.  Chuss offered that the  audit will verify accuracy and will help restore confidence.  If the audit uncovers errors, it will help the EMS to correct and properly record their data.  Nicholas asked why are we spending taxpayers' money to find out that they are losing money every month?  Will there a decision that will be made at the end of the audit?  Chuss said that no, he didn't anticipate that.  Nicholas said, "So we are paying for an audit and there will be no decision made?"  She said that Farley has looked at the paperwork from the EMS.  Farley confirmed that he has and that an audit (of an organization without six to eight years of records to examine) can only find material misrepresentations or compromised practices.  He said that the monthly statements submitted speak for themselves. 

Howell offered that Forks EMS is the Township authorized BLS (basic life support) provider and is required to give monthly asset and liability and income and expense statements to the Board.  Farley has taken the monthly statements and consolidated them.  The submitted reports are prepared for the EMS by a CPA but they are not certified reports.  Howell asked Farley if he thought the reports accurately reflect the condition of Forks EMS.  Farley replied that he thought they did and that the numbers are not "good."  Howell said that if the Mr. Kuhn (the CPA and a member of the EMS board) had a bias the reports would look better than they are.  The numbers show that Suburban is now owed $30,000.  Howell said that the service being provided by Forks EMS is as it should be and they say that "they will continue until they can't." 

Morris Metz (former Supervisor and one of the founders of the Forks EMS 36 years ago) said that he has more than a "glimmer of hope" that the EMS will be successful.  He has been asked to return to the squad as a director and he accepted.  He said that what the squad needs now is the support of the Supervisors and the support of the citizens of Forks.  Mr. Metz said that there will be an open house in early April (after one year of service) and that he supports them 100%.  Forks EMS saved his life in 1986.

Gretchen Gerstel offered that she heard that 16 people in the EMS are being paid.  She said that she doesn't know if that's true.  Gerstel said that in her opinion an audit is not necessary.  Howell said that the trained medical personnel and the administrator get paid.  Nicholas said that there are 16 paid and only one volunteer.  She said that no one is questioning whether the EMS is doing a good job.  She said that paying money for an audit will not do any good for anyone.

Egolf said everything he is hearing in the discussion is punctuated with with a question mark.  He thought that the audit might answer some of the questions that have been raised and would be beneficial to the Township and the squad.

Miller said that he's known John Kuhns (the accountant) for 30 years and he believes the figures provided are accurate.  He said that he supports the emergency squad and does not want to see them go under.  Miller said that he'd rather take the $5,000 and add it to the $20,000 and give them $25,000.  He thought that would be a better way to spend taxpayers' money.

The roll call vote for authorization to get bids/proposals for an audit (as noted above in the motion) was 2:3 with Miller, Nicholas, and Howell casting the nay votes. 

EXTRA:  Erik Chuss announced that the Kiwanis is having Breakfast with the Easter Bunny on March 15 from 9-11:30 AM at the Career Institute of Technology (CIT).  Admission is $6 for kids over 12 and $4 for kids 2-12 years. 

Morris Metz thanked the Supervisors and the Township for the WWII plaque restoration.  Metz said that is is a tribute to all those from Forks who served in WWII.  He said that it was in his barn for three years or more until someone came up with the idea to restore it.

Howell reminded everyone that the "rogues gallery" of Supervisors photos is on display in the hall and that Morris Metz and Elwood Smith are in the photos. 

There was no Executive Session and the meeting was adjourned.

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