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.

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