Sunday, May 31, 2009

Public Works 5-Year Plans & proposed new garage – Workshop notes – 5/21/09

The 6:30 PM workshop began with DPW Director Mark Roberts’ presentations of the four DPW 5-year plans, the first ever created for the Public Works Department.  The session ended one hour and forty minutes later - after the presentation of the proposed new public works garage.  Both newspapers were represented.  Please read Christopher Baxter (Morning Call) and Tony Nauroth (Express Times) for more on the new proposed garage.

According to Township Manager Rick Schnaedter, these plans are “liquid documents” and are to reviewed every year and changed as conditions mandate.  Roberts began the process of replacing outdated and dangerous equipment when he began his position with the Township two years ago.

1.  DPW Parks & Recreation 5-Year Plan:

There are four men in the parks crew.  They are responsible for grass mowing and trimming, soccer and football goal posts, playground equipment, ball field preparation and upkeep, trash pickup, painting of park structures, maintenance and winterization of rest rooms, signs, tree trimming/removal/installation, landscaping, week control spraying, correcting drainage problems in the municipal complex, equipment maintenance, sinkhole repair, and snow removal for the complex.  They have 44.15 acres of basins to maintain as well as 204.25 acres of park property.  They mow 180 acres.  (The plan details the basins and parks properties.  Copies of all the plans are available at the Municipal Building.)

There is an existing master plan for the Community Park.  It includes additional parking off of Sycamore and two ball fields with two soccer field overlays (for each) for the as-yet-to-be graded five acres between the park woods and the College Park development – on the former DeWalt farm.  Roberts said that he hopes that the Township will not lose the parking it has been using behind the old Laneco building.

There are many memorials in the Community Park and a plan must yet be developed for their maintenance.  There will be additional trees planted in the arboretum.  Forty have been recently planted.  The oaks along the municipal entrance drive have had some problems; one has died and has been removed and two more will need to be removed.  This is due to root system damage incurred during the municipal complex construction.

The park plan includes the recent purchase of a replacement pick-up truck and in 2010, the hiring of an additional employee.  This is especially necessary now that new tot lots and neighborhood parks are being planned.  These new parks will require the purchase of more equipment as well.

  • Comments: 
    • Supervisor Nicholas said that she objects to the plan’s temporary “naming” of the parks.  These are not the official names and she feels that if they are in the plan, the names will “stick.” If someone donates land, that park will be named for the donor.
    • Chairman Howell noted that the ad hoc committee for the Comprehensive Plan has raised the same park naming issue.  Currently the Comp Plan is using park addresses to differentiate the parks and does not use tenant farmers names. 
    • Nicholas noted, too, that the springhouse on Bushkill Drive is not mentioned in the plan.  Roberts said that the Township does mow the springhouse area. It will be added to the plan list.

Roberts added that over the last three years, the township has removed over 34 trees from the recreation trails.  They were damaged during the construction of the trails.

2.  Sewer Department 5-Year Plan:

One of the three sewer department employees recently left and the remaining two have stepped up to fill the void.  Roberts stated that they are doing a terrific job maintaining the system and they are taking training from the State to become qualified to run the pump station.  At moment, Township Engineer Fred Hay has the only license to run the pump station.

The sewer department is responsible for maintaining all 74.1 miles of sewer lines.  The department is responsible also for manhole flushing and stabilization - there are 2035 manholes.  They have worked with the sewer subcontractor to drain the manholes before the sewer line was televised (to check for storm water infiltration.) 

Some of the easement issues that the sewer department encounters include:

  • Homeowners planting trees in the easements - over the sewer lines.
  • Manholes enclosed by homeowner fences.
  • Fences erected in the easements.

In fact, in the last few days, three homeowners were stopped before they erected fences in the rights of way.  Zoning Officer Tim Weis added that fence issues are being addressed by advising homeowners that fences in the easements are being put there at their own risk and must be removed so that the facilities can be maintained.  Weis said that a lot of the fences go back 30 and 40 years - prior to keeping track of permits.

Supervisor Nicholas said that no fences should be allowed there at all.  Roberts noted that his department is about to remove a fence and a shed because the manhole cannot be reached.  Nicholas remarked that the homeowners should be charged for these removals and that taxpayers should not be paying for the "road department to take down a fence that somebody else put up..."

Chairman Howell suggested that there be an article "at the next occasion" describing the issues and possible actions should access be needed.  Supervisor Egolf noted that the (5-year) plan contains a provision to develop a timeline to advise residents to remove fences and sheds that are blocking access to the sewer lines.  He added that homeowners should be notified that it is their responsibility to remove them by a certain time and if they do not, the township will - and bill them for it.

Projects for 2009 include:

  • The Old Mill Road sewer line restoration (replacing five manholes and over 4,000 feet of pipe.
  • The Meco Road force main and valve (the force main has collapsed and the line will be replaced to Richmond Road.
  • Replacement of the Red Barn sewer line (it has a big sag).

Roberts said that the township should research the inflows/outflows for future meters and that it is important to do it now because the township is being charged only on the "word" of Easton.  He referenced Henning Holmgaard's EAJSA (Easton Area Joint Sewer Authority) report to the Supervisors at the May 7 meeting.

Roberts also said that he would like to restart the installation of exterior meters and he would like to make it a three year project.  This project was started and stopped in the past.  Right now the crew has to get access to everyone's basements to read the meters.  Outside meters would allow the crew to do it at their own pace.

Egolf asked if the equipment listed in the plan will be in the department's budget request for the following year.  Roberts said that the department should have its own camera truck.  In the last two years the township has spent $50,000 with a subcontractor to televise sewer lines.  It costs $190,000 to own a camera truck.  He said that the crew will be trained in how to handle it.  Also, Roberts said that the 1996 jet truck needs to be replaced.  It is a big ticket item and needs to be researched.

Supervisor Chuss said that there is $2 million in the sewer fund that can be used to purchase these items.  Nicholas said that that money must stay in the fund as it is designated for the for the sewer line along the river.  It cannot be used for equipment purchases. 

Howell added that another possible capital expense will be the flow meters.  They will insure that Forks is charged correctly by Easton.  Chuss suggested a subcommittee to research the costs of everything listed in the plan.

3.  Facilities - 5-Year Plan:

Currently one employee is responsible for the internal and external maintenance of the administration building, the police and fire stations, the Community Center, the wrestling building, the parks garage, the public works garage, and the storage units scattered throughout the township.

The employee (Pete Gheller) has weekly maintenance schedules for generators and building inspections.  He does monthly checks of underground tanks and quarterly checks of heating units and water (testing).

In 2009, 13 manholes in the Municipal Complex were found to be holding water - 8 to 10 inches.  Holes were drilled to allow them to drain.  The entire complex's electrical conduits were under that water.

The Community Center roof repairs (already approved) are being looked at and a new maintenance roof inspection will be instituted.  The Police Department duct work is being looked at and sagging gutters have been repaired.  Drains were not installed at construction and draining pads will be installed around some of the doorways because the pavers have shifted. 

4.  Public Works Department - 5-Year Plan:

The Public Works Department has 10 active employees.  One other is currently out on disability.  The department is responsible for maintaining 56 miles of township roadways.  There is an employee training program that includes traffic control, equipment operation safety training, how to handle electrical issues when trees go down, and confined space entry. 

The department is responsible for road maintenance, snow removal, road bank mowing, trash pickup along the roadways, vehicle maintenance on all township vehicles, street signs, street lights, tree trimming, responding to residents' concerns, street sweeping, guide rail maintenance, weed spraying, line painting, road kill removal, animal control, Forks Days support, drainage issues, leaf collection, and sink hole repair.

Roberts said that he is concerned for the future because Forks grew so fast and so many developments came in at the same time, therefore all the roads will start showing wear around the same time - in 8 to 10 years.  He said that the Liquid Fuels money will not be able to handle the need repair expenses.   Roberts said that he would like to start using different treatments on the roads now. 

Some of the older neighborhoods need major roadwork.  Some have curbs with only a 2 inch reveal.  The Board will have to decide who pays to fix the curbing, since technically, the homeowner owns the curb.  Or, will the Board consider the curb replacements as part of the street repair projects?

Roberts thanked the Board for the recent equipment purchases, three new trucks and the John Deere mower with the 21 ft. boom reach.  Roberts said that the Township now owns a paver that can "put down a flat mat." 

Roberts said that he is comfortable with the current manpower level.  Township growth may change that though.

Schnaedter noted that prior to the new equipment purchases, the Township was paying nearly $40,000 per year in repair costs.  He said that the annual bond payment is not much more than that.

Public Works Garage:

Schnaedter summarized the history of the current public works garage.  He said that in 1954 when Forks had less than 5000 residents, the garage was moved from its old site to the one on Frost Hollow Road.  As the township grew, the footprint was expanded.  The sewer operation is deployed from the Frost Hollow site.  Road salt is stored there as are materials used by the DWP.  There is also a pistol range for police department practice and a dedicated area for brush and yard waste. 

In January 2003, Supervisors acknowledged the site's deficiencies and the Architectural Studio was hired to do a feasibility study on where a new facility should be located.  The study recommended the eastern side of the 53 acre township site on the southeast corner of Newlins and Richmond Roads - with the balance of the site devoted to recreation.  (The site of a to-be-planned township park.  See FAC 4/16/2009 Recreation Hearing Notes.)

In 2008 "staff" made the Public Works and Finance & Administration Committees aware of the need for a new garage and Schnaedter urged that it be the number one project.  He is still convinced of the urgent need for it as the facility continues to deteriorate and more equipment is stored outside.  The township insurer has cited the facility for unsafe working conditions and the onsite well water is polluted and per the recommendation of the testing laboratory, cannot even be used to wash hands.  There are also issues of raw sewage at the site.

Roberts gave a slide presentation of the conditions at the public works garage and other township storage buildings.  The issues described/shown include:

  • Equipment is stored in five township locations because there is no room at the garage.  There are only two doors and there are five trucks inside.  Employees cannot walk around the equipment.
  • The safety committee said that parts room stacking is too high but there is no place else to put the parts.
  • There is no room for a new computerized sign machine (approved three years ago at a cost of $23,000) because there is no room and no controlled, clean environment for it.  Employees cannot stand up straight in the current second floor sign room.  The doorway is just over five feet high and everything must be carried up stairs.
  • There is stormwater drainage through the salt building - into the storm drain which flows to the Delaware River.
  • There is no oil separator and everything goes into the storm drain.
  • The mechanic's pit is a safety hazard.  If there is a fire, he has no way to get out.  He welds in the pit.
  • The chemical (hydraulic oil and solvents) storage area is a fire hazard.  The chemicals are stored next to the mechanic's pit.  There is no place else to store them.
  • The trucks with plows do not fit and cannot be worked on in the garage.  They must be welded outside in the snow and rain.
  • There is only one toilet and one sink for 10 employees.
  • The break room is next to the toilet.
  • The water is tested quarterly and the coliform count is too high to count.
  • There have been two septic system failures that have flooded the lunch room.
  • The workers' lockers are only 12 inches wide and must hold uniforms, boots, rain gear, etc.
  • There is no security for the garage doors.
  • The heaters run all winter because there is very little insulation.  Equipment stays wet if washed. The "wet" vehicles cost $160,000.
  • People dump things, including refrigerators and some hazardous materials that require payment in order to dispose of properly, in front of the garage doors.  Employees have to clear it away to open the doors.
  • The back wall of the storage building is collapsing (due to sinkholes) - located near the wrestling building.

Schnaedter said that there is a a regular meeting agenda item to ask the Board to authorize a request for a proposal to go out to architect/engineering firms.  The proposal would then be reviewed by either the Public Works or Finance & Administration Committees (at the Supervisors option).  Once a firm has been chosen, a series of public hearings will be held and input from the Supervisors, the Planning Commission, and staff will be solicited.  The design and exact location will be then be determined based on the information obtained.  The firm will also serve as construction manager and be responsible for completing the building on time and within the budget.  The estimated cost for this service is approximately $6,000.

Finance Manager Farley said that this is a good time to "get the best bang for the buck" because prices are low.  The cost of this type of facility are very low right now, however, if the housing market improves, costs will go up.

Farley said that cost effective financing for the project is a challenge.  Municipal bond rates are currently very low.  And, another challenge is finding a way to do this project without raising taxes.

Farley explained that refinancing the current debt liability of approximately $847,000 (which is due to be paid off in 2023) by extending the bond by four years and adding the $3.2 million to it, will result in an increased annual payment of $23,000 to $26,000.  The goal would be to pay it off in 19 years.  The new public works facility will have a 40-50 year life cycle.  Farley's proposal was prepared with the help of Gary Pulcini, the Township's financial consultant.

  • Supervisors' Discussion:
    • Nicholas asked why the proposal (in the Supervisors' packets) did not show a payment for the new trucks for 2009.  Farley explained that the 2009 payment is coming from the Liquid Fuels fund.  The payment appears for the 2010 schedule and the total payment will remain level for 19 years.
    • Howell asked how the estimated $3.2 million figure was arrived at.  Schnaedter said that he spoke with officials of Williams and New Britain Townships and is confident that $3.2 million is a good number.  Howell said that he thought the process was to evaluate needs, to sit down with the architect/engineer, and then to arrive at a number.  Schnaedter acknowledged that they will come in with a more accurate figure.
    • Howell said that the feasibility study in his packet has pages removed.  Schnaedter said that the complete study was given to the Board twice before - several months ago.  Both Howell and Nicholas asked for another full copy of it. 
    • Howell also said that not all the lands owned by the Township in 2003 were listed in the 2003 study.  Schnaedter said that the study looked at three sites.  Supervisor Miller offered that they were Glover Road (now the fire tower site), the Remaly tract (the 53 acres), and the Dewalt farm ("gobbled up by a developer").  Howell asked if the township owned the 23 acres at Braden in 2003.  (It did.)  Schnaedter offered that Braden has issues because of the airport.  Howell said that he thinks the location is an issue and that the site is the "800 pound gorilla in the room."  He objects to the assumption that there is only one site. 
    • Howell said that he objects to the two agenda items, one to revamp the existing bond issue at $3.2 million and the other to solicit bids for an appropriate engineer.  He offered that all Supervisors agree that the garage is needed.  Howell said that he doesn't write the agenda; it is done by staff and individual Supervisors.  He added that there is no discussion of whether or not the building is needed and is approved.  If it is approved then the process to getting the bond bids and then bids for an architect/engineer should begin.
    • Chuss said that he went to Supervisor courses last year and learned that the chairman oversees the agenda.  He said that all they are looking to do now is to review the five year public works plans and "add, change, delete."  Howell said that a Board endorsed five-year plan is a "word of art" and that approving a five-year plan does not approve every line item in it.  He added that anyone looking at the agenda or the Township website would not know that they were approving a building tonight.  It's in the bond figure.  "It's not very transparent," Howell said.
    • Mr. Pulcini was asked by Solicitor Kline to "shed some light."  Mr. Pulcini said that no documents can be submitted for funding until (a) the building is approved and a cost estimate is done and (b) the contractual regulation per the IRS code must be followed.  Farley asked the length of time to get financing.  Mr. Pulcini said that it takes 1.5 months until the bonds are bid and the rate is locked in.  After that the Board must approve an ordinance.  It will be 2.5 months until the money is in the township account.  Farley said that he added the agenda item.  He apologized for the wording of the item.  He said that he added the item because last year the township lost an opportunity to save $300,000 through refinancing because there wasn't enough time to bring it to the Board before the market turned.  Howell noted that transparency for the public is an issue.
  • Residents' comments:
    • Fernando Cabrera - VP of the Lafayette Park Green Homeowners Association - said that the site is less than a mile from his development.  He wondered if this was the absolute, dedicated location and that considering the level of upkeep required for the Municipal Complex, he recommended the five acre tract behind the Community Park.  He also asked if the the $3.2 million includes the cost to decommission the existing location.  Schnaedter said that the cost is not included and that the existing site will be used for police training, pipe storage, and yard waste storage.  Roberts said that the site Mr. Cabrera suggests is up against homes and that wherever it is, it will be a very clean facility.  Nicholas offered that the Township should be certain that the existing site is brought up to code and that money is set aside to do that.  Farley added that the one of the managers of the Township's trash hauler has volunteered to help on a more advanced recycling program.  He has helped two other communities obtain grants for recycling centers.
    • Jeff Braido of Vista Estates said that his and other Vista Estates homeowners' land borders the proposed site.  He said that the homeowners are worried about noise, dust, fumes, and property devaluation.  Mr. Braido said, too, that Riverview Estates will be building homes adjacent to the site as well.  He wondered why the airport property would not be suitable for the facility since at the moment ball fields are being discussed for the airport site and that would mean that it is okay for kids to play there.  Miller said that there are a height restrictions at specific distances from the runway and a building cannot be put up there.  Nicholas offered that there is a two story house there now.  Roberts said that there are light restrictions as well as prohibitions on plantings that might attract deer or birds and he said that to put it on the rear third of the property would mean building a major roadway to get to Uhler Road.
    • Ken Nagy wondered why the land currently used at the airport cannot be reconfigured.  He said that the value of the airport property will skyrocket with the Chrin Route 33 interchange on Tatamy Road.  Mr. Nagy added that there may be a grant violation with the 53 acre site since it was purchased with Northampton County open space money - a $200,000 grant - and this type of facility is not allowed on "open space."  He suggested placing the facility on land zoned commercial or industrial, where there are no residences.  Mr. Nagy also said that he is concerned about the "liquid thing."  He said that in his experience, when dealing with liquid, living documents, they grow.  He said that the Township needs hard numbers for the cost of the new building and for the cost to renovate the current site since most of the buildings there need to be torn down.  The $3.2 million is probably not realistic.
    • Rick Petro - Assistant Executive Director of the Vista Estates Homeowners Association - said that the 242 residents are against it at the proposed location.  He thought that all other resources and locations should be exhausted first.  He added that the $3.2 million is excessive and that the bells and whistles should be cut to bring the cost down.  Howell explained that it is difficult for a municipality to acquire land because it must be purchased at the price of its highest and best use.  The Township is competing with developers for land.  Mr. Petro said that the land next to MetEd (on Meco) is up for "short sale."  Howell said that that land is Towne Center 2 and is owned by Mr. Zawarski.  Mr. Petro suggested that they research it.  He added that he is strongly opposed to the proposed location for all the obvious reasons as well as because there will be increased truck traffic on Richmond Road.

Howell said that the process is just beginning tonight and that there will be other opportunities for public comment and contribution.  He added that the Planning Commission will also be involved in the plan approval process.  There will be hearings and workshops.

1 comment:

Hydroponics said...

He added that he is strongly opposed to the proposed location for all the obvious reasons as well as because there will be increased truck traffic on Richmond Road.

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