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.

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