Saturday, December 13, 2008

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.

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