Saturday, February 28, 2009

Old Giant/Laneco property may see new life - like it or not

It was hinted at at the February 19th BoS meeting.  Township Manager, Rick Schnaedter, without giving details, asked that the Supervisors take no action on the Laneco site for at least 45 days.  Schnaedter's request was prompted by Supervisor Chuss' suggestion that the Board consider declaring it a "blighted" property.  And, Chuss' comments were prompted by a resident's report that the Giant's deed restrictions no longer apply.

Enter the Morning Call's Christopher Baxter:  He was curious enough to do some digging and he broke the story in a February 26th article.  Baxter also posted it to the Two Rivers blog along with a link to a full brochure prepared by the leasing agent for the property, Metro Commercial Real Estate.

What does Forks have to look forward to?  Well, Planet Fitness and a Dollar Tree are listed on the brochure as proposed - along with more available space.  Baxter reported, too, that a McDonald's is also planned. 

This plan is the in pipeline for Planning Commission review but no date has yet been set.  An older plan for this site was approved by the Supervisors in July 2005

This plan may not be what everyone hoped for the site - remember the 2006 FAC email poll on the topic?  -  but it looks like that's what we shall get.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

BoS Meeting Notes - 2/19/2009

Regular Meeting (agenda)

This night, in the first 10 minutes of the meeting, Forks Supervisors learned from a resident that the deed restrictions on the vacant former Laneco property no longer apply. 

The Board also considered and granted Senator Wonderling's request for space in the Municipal complex for a satellite office.  On two Tuesdays each month, he and/or his staff will be available to constituents.  Supervisors went further than Senator Wonderling's request and said that the allotted space (in the Community Center lobby/atrium) will also be available to other elected officials (Grucela, Dent, Dowd, etc.) to meet with constituents.  Please read Tony Nauroth's article (Express Times, February 21, 2009) for more details.

Public Comments (non-agenda) 

Ken Nagy, Forks resident, addressed the Supervisors because he read an article in the newspaper (Morning Call, Christopher Baxter, February 17, 2009) that reported that the Township was considering increasing taxes for open space preservation.  Mr. Nagy reminded the Board that Forks already pays Northampton County that same thing and has yet to get some back.  Instead the county uses the money for rails-to-trails (over a million dollars), for private property purchases (that still remains private property), and other projects.  He said that we have farms that have been on the farmland preservation list for over two years. 

Mr. Nagy went on to say that it is disturbing to be treated like a "step child and a cash cow" by the county.  He said that the county has many dollars "to be had if you go and get them" and that Forks should be "aggressively pursuing" its council representative. 

As to the new regional health department, Nagy said that it "will take the burden of paying off of the backs of Allentown, and Bethlehem and lay it across the county line."

As a better way to get open space money than raising taxes in Forks, Nagy suggested that the Board write a letter to Northampton County stating, "We see no benefit, we get no benefit from the open space provisions, therefore we are going to cease paying it.  Please send us the 1/4 mill you receive from our residents."  He suggested, too, that if the Board reads the papers to see what the county is doing, it will know that it must be more aggressive to stop some of what is planned.  As examples he cited the TIF (Tax Incentive Financing) program, a hockey stadium ($30 million from the County), and Steel Stax (a private corporation that got $2 million with more coming from the County).

Nagy said that Forks does not have that much open space and that the County assumes that Forks sits on top of "nothing but a lot of money."

Finally, Mr. Nagy asked if anyone had pursued bringing in the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) to help with the old Laneco property.  He said that Phil Mitman, LVEDC President, told him that the deed restrictions on the property no longer apply.

Supervisor Remarks:

  • Supervisor Egolf - said that the Bushkill Stream Conservancy meeting in the Municipal Building on Tuesday night was well attended and that there were fine articles about it in the local newspapers (Christopher Baxter for the Morning Call and Tony Nauroth for the Express Times).  The program itself focused on a report by LandStudies, Inc., an environmental consulting firm.  They looked at Bushkill Creek from north of Tatamy to Easton.  The final report will be completed in a few weeks and a copy will be sent to the Township Manager.
  • Supervisor Chuss - in response to Mr. Nagy's comment said that the talk of the 1/4 mill tax for open space/farmland preservation will actually be a feasibility study as recommended by the Farmland Preservation Comprehensive Plan subcommittee.  He added that 44 acres are being preserved in Forks this year and that there will be more from that same farmer next year.  Chuss said, too, that there is another forks farm on the list for either this year or early next year.  He thanked Mr. Nagy for his comments and added that Forks residents' "pockets are not bottomless."

As to the Old Laneco property currently owned by ONE UP, LLC, Chuss said that he contacted them two years ago as part of the Comprehensive Plan Economic Development subcommittee.  He asked if they would come in and discuss what could be done about their property.  He said that the owner was open to it at first but never returned calls to confirm that he would be here.   Chuss said that this is an item constantly raised by residents.  He asked that the Supervisors look into declaring it a blighted property and direct the Township Manager to look into it.  Township Manager Schnaedter interjected and asked that the Board hold off taking any action on that building (old Laneco) for at least 45 days.  He added that the LVEDC is aware of the building and is marketing it.

Supervisor Miller added that the property owner has an approved plan through the Township and could begin to develop it next week if he wanted.  He chooses not to. 

Mr Nagy said that the Township should lean on the back of the LVEDC.  He restated that Mr. Mitman said that the restrictions are now gone and he (Nagy) wondered if it could be a KOZ (Keystone Opportunity Zone) to make it attractive enough.

Treasurer's Report - Egolf began by welcoming the students in the back of the room.  All were seniors at EAHS and attending one township meeting, one county council meeting, and one school board meeting are required for Mr. Corpora's AP Government class.

Egolf next 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 $8,381,641. 

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

  • Public Safety - Supervisor Howell - said that the committee met earlier this week that he will send the draft notes to the Board in a few days.  The next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 3rd at 8 AM.
  • Public Works - Supervisor Chuss - reported that the committee met on February 10th.  He was unable to attend but said that the five year plan was discussed and the final draft will be reviewed before it is sent to the BoS.   Also, there was additional discussion on the feasibility of a new public works building.  Both topics will be discussed further at the next meeting on March 10th.
  • Parks & Recreation - Supervisor Egolf - reported that the committee met on February 9th.  He remarked that with the change in meeting time to 6 PM, the meetings are better attended - especially by representatives from the various Township organizations.  He said that the committee had a full agenda and discussed Penn's Ridge, the court resurfacing, the bandshell, grading at the Braden Airport park, and the restrooms at Braden.  "The minutes will be forthcoming."  The next meeting will by on Monday, March 9th at 6 PM.
  • Community Relations - Supervisor Miller - said that the committee met this week.  Both staff and Supervisors have submitted suggestions for website changes and the committee is reviewing the suggestions.  The website consultant will attend the next meeting to offer his comments on the changes and to provide cost estimates on effecting them.   The deadline for the Spring/Summer newsletter has been provided by Hometown Press.  Schnaedter is gathering "appropriate time sensitive articles for the publication." 
  • Finance and Administration - Supervisor Nicholas - said that the committee met on February 11th and reviewed January 2009 Township expenses.  They discussed the Waste Management contract and Nicholas asked the Board if it wants a public hearing over the contract renewal terms and fees.  Currently Forks has a full contract with recycling every week.  There are other options that can be chosen, for example collecting recycling every other week would lower costs.  Howell said that it is a good idea to understand the "pulse of the community." 

Nicholas offered that she thinks the new contract will be a lot higher than the existing contract.  She said that perhaps Waste Management can attend and offer help to understand the new contract and the options and pricing available. 

Howell said that is in favor of a workshop and it must be well publicized to insure that a good cross-section of the community attends.  Schnaedter suggested that Waste Management may be able to help promote the workshop.  He said that he and Finance Manager Farley will be meeting with representatives from Waste Management next week.

Chuss asked why this couldn't simply be an agenda item at a regular meeting?  Schnaedter said that sometimes workshops about specific items bring out more people.  Nicholas said that people are more likely to talk at a workshop.  Schnaedter said he has learned that other communities are facing substantial increases.  And, he will report on his meeting with Waste Management at the March 5th BoS meeting.  Supervisors will revisit a decision at that time.

Nicholas said that the staff evaluation forms are completed.  She will get a copy to the Board for review.  She said, too, that the EIT form (Earned Income Tax) is available for download on the website.  The swipe card system for the Community Center gym will be finished by March.  Farley said that the system is up, they are waiting for the tags.  The handrail for the Municipal Building sidewalk is here and awaiting installation.

Nicholas asked the Board if when Farley puts out the budget calendar for 2010 that there be a notice on it that professionals' fee schedules are due to the Township Manager no later than October 10th.  And, finally, Nicholas reported that HR Manager, Barb Bartek has been asked to represent the Lehigh Valley Insurance Co-op Connection Care advisory board.  Nicholas said this is a good position for her and she congratulated her for doing that.  Bartek has been on the Lehigh Insurance Co-op board for several years.    Connection Care provides services to individuals diagnosed with cancer.

Township Manager's Report - Schnaedter reported that he received correspondence from Lafayette College's Meyner Center regarding a regional comprehensive plan.  He said that over the last two years a regional comprehensive plan was addressed several times at the Two Rivers COG (Council of Governments) meetings and although there was some interest, he thought that Forks was not interested in a regional comprehensive plan.  He said that unless something has changed, he will notify the Meyner Center that Forks is not interested. 

Chuss said that the didn't know a decision had been made and that he understands that there are grants and State/Federal money available for regional plans.  Schnaedter confirmed that there is State money available for the organization of comprehensive plans.  He added that the Township had a difficult time planning for its own community and this would involve neighboring municipalities.  Traditionally legislative bodies are reluctant to give that authority to neighboring communities.

Howell said at the Meyner Center/COG discussions Forks' district would include West Easton, Glendon, Freemansburg, Wilson, and Easton.  Palmer and Bethlehem Townships would have opted out.  He suggested that if Chuss wanted to revisit it, he is welcome to attend the COG and learn more about it.

Chuss asked why Bethlehem and Palmer would opt out and Howell said that it is because they don't want the "tail to wag the dog."  There is not much to plan in Easton and they will look to the suburbs to solve their issues.  Forks is involved in a lawsuit over providing affordable housing, one of Easton's major concerns. 

Schnaedter said that he will notify the Meyner Center that Forks chooses not to participate on the 27th.

Schnaedter also said that the Meyner Center is looking for the Board's comments on the report draft from the strategic planning workshop.  Howell said that he would like to get it going.  Egolf thought that an ad hoc committee to propose deadlines that will be sent to the Supervisors for approval/revision will work.  He said that it was important to move on it since these are 2009 goals - and it's already the end of February.  Schnaedter will set up a meeting within the next five working days.  The members are Schnaedter, Howell, and Egolf.

Schnaedter also said that the Board has the 2010 appropriations grant application (for the public works facility) for review.  The deadline is the 27th and unless the Board has objects, he will to send it tomorrow.

Schnaedter met with Brian Locus (sic) of the Forks Township business group.  He and other members will make a presentation at a BoS meeting about their plans to contact other business groups.  The group wants the Board to participate in that effort.

Engineer's Report - Hay - not present

Solicitor's Report - Kline - reported that he spoke with Mr. Rinaldi about the crop farming lease.  He is in agreement but has not sent the signed lease back yet.  It will be an agenda item at the March 5th meeting.

Kline also reported that the EAJSA (Easton Area Joint Sewer Authority) solicitor has been directed to prepare a new sewage service agreement that will control its relationship with member municipalities.  The current agreement is in many dated parts, 1976 inter-municipal agreement, 1988 agreement, the 1995 court order, and the amended articles of incorporation.  The new agreement will consolidate all into one.  This is a long and very important document since there are millions of dollars involved.  Kline said that he reviewed the new document and will meet with Henning Holmgaard, Forks' representative on the EAJSA, and then make a report to the Board.

Kline also updated the Board on the nine expiring letters of credit.  He explained that these letters are required of developers to insure that required municipal improvements are completed.  If the work is not done by the developers, the Township has the right to draw on the letters so that the work can be completed.  Seven of the letters have been resolved.  The two unresolved are from Strausser Enterprises.  They are due to expire on March 31st. 

Kline further explained that developers are unlikely to do the improvements before they begin building and have money coming in, so security is provided with letters of credit provided by banks.  The Township notifies the bank that issued the letter if the work is not done and the bank sends the money to the Township and bills the developer.




Request for authorization to bid – resurfacing of Tennis Courts and re-furbishing of basketball Court (Rick Schnaedter, Township Manager) - Schnaedter asked the Board for authorization to go out to bid for the rehabilitation of the Community Park basketball court and the resurfacing of its tennis court.   The advertising will be on March 29th, April 3rd, and April 6th.  There will be a mandatory pre-bid meeting on April 9th and bids will be opened on April 13th.  Several vendors have expressed interest.

Miller thought that there was one line that was inappropriate in the bid spec, and that is that the vendor must be a member of the American Sports Builders Association.  He said that there may be many qualified bidders who are not members.  Miller said that he looked it up on the web and that they are out of MD and require an annual membership fee of $840.  He asked Kline for his opinion.

Kline said that the purpose of the bid is to make sure you have qualified bidders and you need to be satisfied that they are in fact qualified.  The requirement that they pay $840 has nothing to do with qualification to do the job.  He recommended deleting the line.

Nicholas questioned the project notes section that says there is no removal or disposal of existing base included.  She wondered who is getting rid of it.  Schnaedter explained that this is rehabilitation and the materials will be reused.  DPW Director Roberts said that the stone base will remain and only the blacktop will be removed.  This will address the cracks in the court surface.

Nicholas questioned the line in the project notes that states the contractor will not accept responsibility or liability for damage done to existing areas required to access the work area.  Roberts agreed that damage could happen.  When asked who helped prepare the bid spec, Schnaedter said that a potential bidder did.  The Township Engineer then reviewed it and put in language to prevent one company from having unfair advantage.  Nicholas wanted the line removed and Kline agreed.  Howell asked if there were provisions in the package that will guarantee that the things like removing the fence around the tennis court will result in the fence being replaced as it was.  He was told that there were.

Nicholas then questioned the variable bid price provision (based on AC oil and market prices) for the blacktop and wanted it removed.  Roberts said that last year blacktop prices were volatile.  Nicholas said that bids should be good for so many days.

Howell remarked that there is a problem when potential bidders are writing specs. 

Nicholas recapped the changes as eliminating that the contractor is not liable for damages and adding instead that the contractor is responsible for damages, and eliminating the clause about the AC oil price index and adding per Kline, that the price be guaranteed for 30 or 60 days or until the bid is awarded.

Howell suggested that the Board could approve Schnaedter's authority to go out for bid if the Board agrees to allow him to consult with Kline for the correct language. 

Egolf made the motion to authorize the Township Manager to advertise for bids for the rehabilitation of the basketball court and the resurfacing of the tennis court with the stipulation that Schnaedter meet with Kline and Hay to finalize the wording with reference to the liability insurance, black top pricing, association membership, and the length of the contract.  Miller seconded and it passed 5:0.

Senator Wonderling’s request for Satellite Office in Forks Township Municipal Complex (Rick Schnaedter, Township Manager) - Schnaedter explained that Board had a copy of the email request from Senator Wonderling's office to set up a table two Tuesdays a month (for a few hours) in the Municipal Building lobby to meet with and serve constituents. 

Chuss suggested that the there is more traffic in the Community Center. 

Howell said that this is a request from one elected official and although he is not a fan of elected officials using "our facilities," it should be offered to all elected officials (Grucela, Dent, Dowd, etc.).  He agreed with Chuss that the Community Center is a much better venue for it especially if there are a significant number of people with issues.  Howell stipulated, too, that there should be no electioneering. 

Nicholas agreed that there should be no campaigning.  And, Egolf suggested that there be blackout dates during election times.  He said that the Community Center is a great place.  Howell suggested space in its atrium.  Miller offered that Saturdays would not be good since "they would be run over by 300 kids."

Schnaedter noted that this is the third request the Township has received (Dent and Specter were the others).

Chuss made a motion to set a policy that any elected official may use space in the Community Center for the purpose of meeting with constituents.  The time and dates must be arranged with the Township Manager and there will be no electioneering.  Egolf seconded and it passed 5:0.

Executive Session - The session was held to discuss a matter of current litigation and one of a potential litigation.  No action was taken and the meeting was adjourned.

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.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Not all elected tax collectors earn a fixed salary - some get a percentage of the gross

On February 5th, Forks' Supervisors agreed to raise the salary of the next elected real estate tax collector (the term begins January 2010) by 10%.  Shortly after the Forks decision, Stockertown Borough began considering a pay cut for its to-be-elected real estate tax collector. 

Sounds like Forks Supervisors are going the wrong way doesn't it?  Think again.

Forks tax collector's earnings are comprised of a salary paid by Forks Township, one paid by the EASD (the Easton Area School District), and per piece rates for real estate transfer certificates and the like.  In 2008, the current Forks tax collector, June Vail, earned $15,000 from Forks for servicing 7000 Forks real estate tax collections - or approximately $2.15 per bill. (Source: Express Times letter to the editor by Joe Gold of Stockertown.)

According to the Express Times (Tony Nauroth, February 14th), Stockertown's current tax collector is paid 4% of the total taxes collected.  The Borough wants to cut it to .5% of the total - a move which would result in a savings to taxpayers of $11,000.  The current Stockertown collector, Connie Marakovits, sent 365 tax bills last year and earned just under $13,000 in 2008 - or $35.65 per bill.  She has held the elected position for 15 years.

As of yesterday, Stockertown's Mayor Sherman Metzgar, had yet to sign the resolution to cut the pay of the to-be-elected tax collector.  Per PA rules, it must be signed by today, February 15th or the next tax collector will continue to be paid 4% of the tax gross receipts for the next four years.

Makes one wonder, given the current economic crisis, how many Stockertown candidates will be on the ballot for the elected tax collector slot - whichever way the Mayor decides.

Upcoming Municipal Primary Election

What's wrong with this picture? - Missing candidates!

The 2009 Municipal Primary Election in Forks Township offers opportunities for Forks voters to effectively change the "old guard."  Will it happen?  Maybe not.  You see, there's a problem - there are more openings than there are declared candidates.  Of course, the formal candidates' filings are not due until March 10th.  The paperwork/packets are available now at the Northampton County Voters Office.  Signature collection officially begins on February 17th. 

Easton Area School District - Region III (4 year term):  Forks Township is represented by Region III of the Easton Area School Board.  Forks voters will be electing two members in the upcoming November election.  One of the incumbents, Randolph Mahl, has announced that he will not seek re-election and the other, Pam Millen-Eustis, has announced that she will.  So far, no other candidates have announced for Region III. 

Forks Board of Supervisors (6 year term):  There are two seats up for grabs and to date, only one announced candidate, David Billings (R).  The incumbents, Bonnie Nicholas (D) and Don Miller (D) have yet to announce.

Forks Township Elected Tax Collector (4 year term):  One seat and no announced candidates.  June Vail (R), the incumbent, has yet to make her intentions known.

Forks Elected Auditors (6 year term):  One seat, that of incumbent Elizabeth Casapulla, and no announced candidates.

Forks registered voters, you still have time to make a difference and run for one of these offices!  All the information you need to be on the Municipal Primary ballot is available now from the Northampton County Voters Office

There's no time to waste.  You know you can make a difference. 

Sunday, February 08, 2009

BoS Meeting Notes - 2/5/2009

Regular Meeting (agenda)

This night, with all Supervisors present, a unanimous vote was taken to raise the pay of the 2010 elected tax collector by 10 percent to $16,500.  The four year term of the current elected real estate tax collector, June Vail, ends December 31, 2009. 

There were no members of the press present.

Public Comments (non-agenda) - none

Supervisor Remarks:

  • Supervisor Miller - commented on the recent tragic house fire that displaced a Forks family.  Miller said that the family came to the Community Center asking for donations.  There they picked through lost and found articles. Community Center monitors then made posters asking for donations for the family.  In one and a half weeks, two truckloads of clothing were collected.  There was even an offer of a 50" television.  Miller wanted to acknowledge the Community Center monitors and the "good people of Forks" for helping a family in a time of need.  The family is now staying with relatives.  From the audience, Thomas Humcheck (sic) said that the family has temporarily moved into a rental house provided by their insurance company.
  • Chairman Howell - announced that Lehigh County is hosting a Parks & Recreation Academy sponsored by the Department of Conservation on April 1 and April 8.  Also, Howell reported that he attended the oral arguments in the KMRD/Kings Mill procedural challenge appeal. (The challenge was denied by Forks Zoning Hearing Board in March 2008.  KMRD, as expected, appealed the decision.)  Howell said that attorney Steve Goudsouzian did a wonderful job and was complimented by the judge for his preparation and presentation.  The oral arguments were held in the new section of the courthouse, in what Howell described as a very nice, comfortable, and judicial courtroom.  (Please read Riley Yates (Morning Call) for more details.) 
  • Supervisor Egolf - reported that two Saturday's ago, the BoS and management staff had a day long meeting led by David Woglom of Lafayette College.  The objective of the program was met: Goals for the year were set.  The report will be public soon.  Egolf thanked the staff on behalf of his colleagues.  He said that a side benefit was the the staff and the Supervisors got to know each other a little better and together they "accomplished quite a bit."

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 $8,382,923. 

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

  • Public Safety - Supervisor Howell - said the Supervisors have the committee's last meeting notes in their packets.  The meeting discussion topic was to determine the best reports from Suburban EMS (SEMS) to fulfill the BoS responsibility of monitoring SEMS performance over the year.  Schnaedter will make a presentation to the committee.  The next meeting is scheduled for February 17th at 8 AM.
  • Public Works - Supervisor Chuss - reported that the committee has not met since the last BoS meeting.  The next meeting is set for February 10th at 7:30 AM.  The committee is looking at drafting five year plans for roads, buildings, etc.  Also under discussion is an assessment status of a new public works building.
  • Parks & Recreation - Supervisor Egolf - reported that the committee has not met since the last BoS meeting.  The next meeting is scheduled for February 9th at 6 PM when it will review and approve some plans.
  • Community Relations - Supervisor Miller - said that there was no meeting since the last BoS meeting and that the next one is next week (February 9th at 5 PM).  Howell said that Schnaedter sent an email to the BoS asking what the Supervisors want regarding website design.
  • Finance and Administration - Supervisor Nicholas - said that the committee's next meeting is February 11th at 5 PM.  They will review the monthly township financial statements and the Waste Management plan.  Nicholas offered to email a meeting agenda to anyone who would like one.  Please contact her via email to request the agenda. 

Township Manager's Report - Schnaedter said that the BoS has a draft copy of the strategic plan - from the workshop with David Woglom of Lafayette College.  He asked that the Board review it and send comments to him.  He said that Supervisors' comments will be forwarded to Mr. Woglom. 

Schnaedter said, too, that he will take the recent Klein correspondence before the Finance & Administration Committee for comments and recommendations.

Regarding grants, Schnaedter reported that (per Congressman Dent's office) all projects for 2009 are still pending and that he has received the appropriation grant request forms for 2010.  Initially the application focus was for economic development opportunities.  Now, because the "landscape has changed" he would like to submit an application for 55% funding of a new public works building.  The expected cost is ball-parked at $1.65 million.  Schnaedter said that this would be a long shot and that he doesn't receive a lot of advance notice for grants.  He does however, have enough information and documents on a public works building for a 2010 grant application.  An answer would be expected in December 2009.

Howell wondered if the Township has "shovel ready projects" that could be used to apply for Governor Rendell's shovel ready funding.  He mentioned the intersection of Sullivan Trail and Newlins Road as an example.  Hay said that the Township has made an application to Northampton County for a hazard mitigation grant (for that intersection) and is waiting to hear.  Schnaedter offered that the application passed the initial funding.  It is a $250,000 project.  Howell asked if that project would exacerbate the Sullivan Trail flooding problem and Hay said another project the Township plans is a culvert at Newlins and if water gets under Newlins faster it will get under Sullivan Trail faster. 

With a 5:0 vote, the BoS authorized Schnaedter to submit a 2010 grant application for a public works facility funding.

Nicholas offered that she received a mailer for a grant writing seminar being held in March.  Schnaedter said that he plans to attend.

Schnaedter also reported on the status of the traffic signal at Meco.  He said that he has been in contact with PennDOT and that they are preparing the application and that the drawings have been received by PennDOT.  There has been contact with Mr. Leiser and doesn't want to "jinx it," but he thinks the document will be signed and ready for approval at the next meeting. 

Schnaedter also said that he has had some correspondence from the Delaware Riverside Conservancy regarding a Flood Summit.  He said that Ms. Linda Hill has had conversations with some Supervisors.  Miller offered that having the summit in the Municipal Building is fine since there are a lot of Forks residents who live along the river.  Approval of the use of the room for the Flood Summit was given by consensus of the Board. 

Engineer's Report - Hay - agenda items only.

Solicitor's Report - Kline - reported that the KMRD procedural challenge oral argument was held.  The challenge was to the validity of the 2006 zoning ordinance as well as to the three prior zoning ordinances.  Originally KMRD alleged that there were 18 procedural defects.  However after 300 pages of documents were produced by the Township, KMRD withdrew 17 of the allegations.  The one left is the one alleging that the legal notice did not have enough detail. 

In March 2008, the ZHB (Zoning Hearing Board) unanimously rejected KMRD's challenge and KMRD has appealed that decision.  The judge indicated that should this be invalidated, it would invalidate practically all of Northampton County municipal zoning ordinances - because the legal advertisements had the same degree of specificity.  Please read Riley Yates (Morning Call) for more details on the oral arguments in the procedural challenge by KMRD.

KMRD's substantive challenge appeal is a few months behind the procedural challenge.  The Township must assemble the entire record of the hearings - 1,000 pages of testimony and hundreds of pages of documents - and submit it to the court.  The court will decide on the basis of what is presented to the court by the Zoning Hearing Board.  In the next few months briefs will be submitted and there will be oral arguments.

In another matter, that of security provided by developers to insure that municipal improvements are completed in their developments, Kline noted that case law says that if a developer does not complete the improvements, the Township must.  He said that in during difficult economic times, it is harder for developers to comply and that it is more important now, to keep tabs on developer provided irrevocable letters of credit. 

Kline said that he has notified developers that their letters must be renewed and that he has been authorized by the Board to draw on those that are not renewed.  Kline said that only twice since he has been Forks Township Solicitor have letters of credit been drawn on, once when a developer went bankrupt and once with Mr. Goffredo (Sullivan Trail Business Park).  There are nine letters of credit expiring by the end of March.  With banks tightening credit there may be up to nine letters of credit drawn on to insure the completion of mandated improvements. 

Chuss asked if Township accounts are set-up in the event that the letters of credit are drawn on and Kline offered that the monies could easily be substantial - "easily in seven figures."  Kline further explained that the Township does not get a "windfall" as the money must be set aside in interest bearing accounts, a separate one for each developer. 

Finance Manager Farley said that there is a restricted fund with sub-accounts that are each interest bearing and that there is full accounting for each.

Kline said that two of the letters come due in February and seven in March.




Famous Smoke Shop Land Development Plan (Tim Weis, Zoning Officer) - Weis explained that the Famous Smoke Shop has outgrown its existing facility. 

Steve Pany, Project Engineer said that a new 50,000 square feet warehouse is planned for a parcel in the Fort James II industrial park at the corner or Kuebler Road and Mort Drive.  Fifty percent of the building will be a humidor, 20% will be office, 20% will warehouse, there will be incidental space for retail sales, and room for expansion.  The main entrance will be on Mort Drive with a second entrance on Kuebler Road.  Initially there will be 40 employees and at full build out, there will be 80.  There will be approximately three truck deliveries per week.

The Fort James II subdivision requires curbs and sidewalks on Kuebler and the applicant will install them along his Kuebler and More Drive frontage through the bulb in the cul de sac.  There will be an emergency access road around the property perimeter as well a street light (powered from the building) at the high point of Mort Drive.  The building will have a Spanish motif.  Its nearest neighbor is Tioga Pipe.

The business owner, Arthur Zaretsky, said that the industry is in chaos and that the SCHIP program is being funded on the back of tobacco.  He added that if the Rendell (cigar tax) proposal comes to pass, it could change his whole plan.  He killed the project two years ago because of a proposed 50% Cigar Tax and a proposed Floor Tax

Mr. Zaretsky said that he is hoping to sell his existing building.

Pany said that all conditions of the engineer's review letter are acceptable.  The emergency road will have a hard surface, the building will be fully sprinklered, the plan is fully compliant with the Township stormwater plan.  Howell asked if the business is planning directory signs in other other locations so that customers can find their way there. 

Planner Larry Kitson asked who owns the existing tree line and was told that it is on the neighboring property and will stay. 

Kline offered that before the PC (Planning Commission) about the only additional issue was the curbing and sidewalk and that has all been agreed to.  The PC condition is that this developer must provide an agreement between the Township and the owner of lot 2F to install the curbing and sidewalk.  Pany said that Petrucci is willing to provide a letter of agreement to the Township and is already preparing it.  The curbing and sidewalks will be installed when lot 2F is developed.

The motion to approve based on the January 5th engineer's letter and the added PC condition was approved with a 5:0 vote. 

Mr. Zaretsky inquired as to permissible offsite directional signage and it was suggested that he set up a meeting with Zoning Officer Tim Weis and Township Manager Schnaedter, who can help him with options. 

Colosi Company, LLC Inter-municipal Liquor License Transfer Application – Schedule public hearing - Property @ 1600 North Delaware Drive - (Karl Kline, Solicitor) - Kline explained that if someone wants to obtain a liquor license, they can buy an existing license in a municipality, or they can buy one from another municipality, making it a new license in the proposed municipality. 

Colosi is seeking the second, and inter-municipality license from the Dancing Fish Company in Bethlehem Township.  The new site is My Little Gypsy Rose on North Delaware Drive.  A license hearing is required by the local municipality to learn more information about the proposed use and transfer.  Kline said that he originally suggested February 19th for the hearing but attorney Piperato is not available that night.  He is available on March 5th.

Howell asked if "we know anything about Colosi?"  He asked too, if they own other licenses?  Nothing is known - unlike when Big Woody's applied for its inter-municipal liquor license transfer.  Big Woody's had other establishments in the Lehigh Valley and a track record allowing for research into its general compliance with liquor license rules.

The vote was 5:0 to hold the hearing on Thursday, March 5th at 6:30 PM - before the regular BoS meeting. 

Resolution No. 090205-1 Forks Township Tax Collector Compensation and Duties (Karl Kline, Solicitor) - Kline said that the position of tax collector is elected and the BoS has the authority to establish a rate of compensation.  The statute controls the tax collectors many activities and hours worked.  Currently, the elected real estate tax collector is paid $15,000 per year and $15 per tax certificate prepared (for properties sold or refinanced).  In addition, the tax collector collects EASD (Easton Area School District) taxes as well as several other fees. 

The resolution restates the schedule for fees as well as provides that the tax collector submit collected money to the Township no later than the 5th and 25th of the month.  The resolution puts together in one place positions and resolutions adopted over the last five years to clarify for everyone what the tax collector's duties and responsibilities are.

The tax collector pay must be set no later than February 15th in the year before the new tax collector takes office.  This is to prevent "finagling" if the tax collector candidates are not liked.  The term is four years. 

Howell clarified that only the Township salary of $15,000 is being considered for an increase.  All other rates will remain in place, $15 for tax certificates, $5 for duplicate bills, $25 for electronic media, and $25 for returned checks. 

Chuss noted that it is an important position in the Township and that it is difficult to predict the cost of living.  Howell noted that In a good year, with the other fees, the tax collector can do well but not so well in a down real estate market.

Nicholas said that the EASD also pays the tax collector.  The Township provides a computer, office space, and postage.  The EASD reimburses the Township for the mailing of its bills. 

Both Howell and Chuss agreed that an increase is merited.  An audience member asked how Forks tax collector's salary compares to Palmer and Stockertown?  Howell said that "ours is under market."  Stockertown pays more on just over 300 tax bills.  The collector there has held the position for 38 years.  In Forks, the tax collector has been paid the same salary for four years.

The motion to accept the resolution and to increase the $15,000 salary by 10% was passed with a 5:0 vote.

Resolution No. 090205-2 Forks Township Municipal Sewer Authority termination (Karl Kline, Solicitor) - Kline explained that this resolution is a "housekeeping" one.  He said that a number of years ago, the BoS took action to terminate the Forks Municipal Sewer Authority and to assume its responsibilities.  The authority had the responsibility for the collector system in the Township but the maintenance of it was contracted to the the Township as was the sending out of the sewer bills.  There were disputes with the sewer authority and the Township terminated it and directed that all bonds be paid off.  They were all paid in 2005.  The authority has held no more meetings.

The Department of Community and Economic Development has continued to require the filing of an annual form and a resolution is needed to stop getting the forms.  This resolution along with notifying the State "should put this all to rest." 

Nicholas asked how the BoS terminates an authority it created?  Kline explained that there was a court battle in 1998.  In it the Township maintained the position that if it had the authority to create a municipal authority, it had the authority to terminate it.  Ultimately the local and commonwealth courts said that the Township indeed has the authority to dissolve the sewer authority and to pay its debt, but the sewer authority has to request it.  This resolution is so that "we can put a stake in the heart of this beast once and for all." 

Nicholas next asked when the sewer authority asked to dissolve?  Kline said that until the debt was paid, the authority had to have an annual meeting.  In 2005 the Tatamy debt was paid and a resolution assigning the assets to the Township was adopted.  The authority ceased to operate and had no assets. 

Nicholas said that she was on the board of the sewer authority and that she never voted on terminating it.  The sewer authority sent a letter to the BoS asking that no sewers be allowed in the FP (Farmland Preservation zoning district).  Mike Matyus, former chairman of the authority concurred.  The letter was sent because of KMRD.  Nicholas said that she believed that if the sewer authority said that there can be no sewers in the FP that there can be none. 

Howell said that if an appointed board refuses to terminate itself, and the appointing authority (the BoS) unilaterally agrees to terminate it, and there is a court contest all the way to the Commonwealth Court, the appointed board members cannot reappoint themselves. 

Kline said that in 2005, at about the time the Township was working on the new zoning ordiance, the sewer authority did send a letter stating that there should be no sewers north of Newlins Road.  But, back in 1997 or 1998 the sewer authority solicitor and two members came to the BoS and said that they had decided that there should be sewers in the FP and threatened to sue the Township if it did not comply.  The question was of who had control of the development in the Township, the sewer authority or the BoS. 

A series of resolutions was adopted to terminate the sewer authority.  The Township has the ability to terminate the authority and to tell them to go out of existence and pay their debt.  The BoS can resurrect the sewer authority.

Nicholas said that she thought it fiscally irresponsible in 2005 to pay off the 1% loan.  Also, she said that the wording in the resolution "needs to be changed because it isn't correct" since the authority is no longer in existence.

Kline said that the resolution follows the language of the statute.  In 2005 after the debt was paid off, the authority had no assets or operations or meetings.  It was defunct - dormant.  He said that if the Board wants to appoint members so that they can have a meeting for the purpose of adopting the resolution to dissolve the authority, it can take that additional step.  

Nicholas said that there is no secretary of the Forks Township Municipal Sewer Authority and asked who will sign it? Kline said that it has already been signed by Debi Tindall, who as acting secretary.  He said that she has been recognized by the State as the acting secretary for the authority since 2005.

Howell said that the Township cannot alter the form the State has given.  Mike Matyus said that the language requesting to be terminated was not how it was put to the authority.  Howell said that the authority sued the Township to stay alive and acquiesced, it did not take to another level which seems a tacit admission that the authority resolved itself to be terminated.

Chuss offered that he understood how he could want the record set straight for the future.  It will be documented in the meeting minutes.

Kline said that this is the language that the Municipal Authorities Act requires.  The motion to accept the resolution was passed with a 4:1 vote.  Nicholas cast the nay.

For more on the history of this topic, see the FAC blog - BoS Meeting Notes - 9/1/2005.

Crop farming Lease – Remaly Tract (Karl Kline, Solicitor) - Kline said that this is the 53 acres of Township land on the southeast corner of Newlins and Richmond Roads.  The Township purchased the land a number of years ago and is still determining how the land will be used.  The lease is for two years at $55/acre.  If the lease is terminated after one year, the Township agrees to reimburse the farmer for the cost of the lime treatments.  Lime is necessary because the Township dumps leaves there and the soil becomes acidic.  This is the same lease that Mr. Rinaldi had in the last two years. 

Chuss asked what happens if the Township wants to develop 10 acres of the parcel during the two year term.  Kline said that the the terms of the just ended lease are acceptable and he will talk to Mr. Rinaldi about any changes the Board wants to make.

Howell asked what Rinaldi's acreage limit would be - that is the number of acres that make it worthwhile for him to farm.  Of course, the Township would be responsible to survey and measure the acreage at its expense.

Kline said that he will talk to Mr. Rinaldi and put together a lease where the Township reserves the right to use some of the acreage in the second year.  He will have it for the next meeting. 

Chuss suggested that the $55 could be lowered to $1 "to help the farmer... with his profitability."  Schnaedter said that in conversations with the tenant, he indicated he would be willing to pay more than the $55/acre.  Miller offered that this farmer does not have a problem with paying $55/acre and that the farmer at the airport is paying the same rate.  Howell said that reducing it to $1 would favor just one farmer.  Kline said that he's been involved in other private crop farm leases and $55 is under the market.  Nicholas said that she recalled that the rate may have been set so that it would cover the cost of the lime if the Township terminated the lease early.

Howell asked if the area where the house was could be planted.  Weis said that because the public works department has equipment on that part of the parcel, it can't be planted. 

Per Board consensus Kline will make the lease "severable." 

Pension Plan (Jim Farley, Finance Manager) - Farley explained that the Township must adopt a revision once every five years, per the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Act.  He said that the revised plan includes "the basic things that apply to most people's plans."  All changes are per government requirements.  Adoption of the defined benefit plan with an effective date of January 1, 2008 passed with a 5:0 vote.

Executive Session - The session was held to discuss possible new litigation matter.  No action was taken and the meeting was adjourned.

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.

KMRD Procedural Challenge Appeal - Oral arguments heard

On February 3, 2009, Northampton County Court of Common Pleas Judge Emil Giordano heard the oral arguments in the KMRD/Kings Mill appeal of the Forks Zoning Hearing Board's determination that the Township followed procedures in the legal advertising of its 2006 zoning ordinance. 

KMRD wants all zoning ordinances enacted since 1983 declared invalid - a move which would allow development of their owned/under contract parcels in the Forks FP (Farmland Preservation zoning district) under 1983 rules.  Judge Giordano rightly observed that a decision in favor of KMRD would have far reaching ramifications in every municipality in Pennsylvania. 

The Morning Call's Riley Yates was there.  Please read his article for more details.