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.

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