Sunday, November 15, 2009

BoS Meeting Notes - 11/5/09

Regular Meeting (agenda)

This four and one half hour meeting was one of the longest in recent memory.

Supervisors voted 3:2 to disavow the lease signed by Don Miller (Community Center Manager/Supervisor) and the HOPE Wesleyan Church to use a large part of the Forks Community Center on Sunday mornings - for a full year.  Read Edward Sieger (Express Times) and Christopher Baxter (Morning Call) for more details on the long discussion.

Also on this night, Jim Farley, Finance Manager, informed the BoS that there is a small surplus in the 2009 budget and that according to the 2010 draft budget that they all had in their meeting packets, no tax increase will be needed in 2010!  Please read Christopher Baxter (Morning Call) for more on this good news.

And, both Supervisors elect, David Billings (a meeting regular) and Michele Rogers (a first timer) were there and both were extended courtesy invitations into the Executive Session.  Both accepted.

Public Comments (non-agenda) -

  • Dan Martyak, President of the Forks Township Youth Sports Organization, informed the Board that the tax reporting issues from the last few years have been addressed and that I.R.S. penalties have been waived.
  • Eric Konecke of Cosenza Court in College Park Estates told the Board that he was under the impression that the construction of ball fields on the five acre tract behind his house was "in motion."  He has since learned from Don Miller that there are only drafts/sketches for the site and that no formal plans have been done.  The plans, when done, will come before the Board for approval.  Mr. Konecke said that he was before the Board at the October 15th meeting and that the depth of the five acre tract is only 300 feet, not enough for setbacks and playing fields.  He asked that the Township notify him and his neighbors when the plans are to come before the Board.  Mr. Konecke pointed out that even neighbors whose properties are not adjacent to the park land have issue with the parking that the fields will attract.  He said that there will easily be 60 to 70 cars whose drivers will park them along their streets.  The recreation path will then be used to access the fields.  He said that the planned parking at the end of Sycamore will displace soccer fields.  He suggested that the 53 acre parcel at Newlins and Richmond and the Lafayette fields are more suitable for ball fields.
  • Fritz Wiede, Forks resident, addressed the Board with his concerns regarding the building of the $3.5 million "equipment shed" that he read about in the newspapers.  He was speaking of the estimated $3.2 million DPW garage.  It was explained to him that no one is sure what the facility will cost as it has not yet gone out for bids.  The figure was used in conversations with the bond consultants.  At this time, the Township is planning to refinance its entire debt because the rates are very favorable.  Mr. Weide asked how many pieces of equipment will be stored in the building and was told by DPW Director Mark Roberts that there will be approximately 25.  Howell added that in addition to equipment storage the buildings will have space for the crew, for inside equipment repairs, and for vehicle washing.  Mr. Weide thought the DPW garage should come before Forks voters as a ballot referendum.  He was told that the condition of the current facilities was presented at a public meeting.  Mr. Weide thought that with two new Supervisors starting in January, that it would be "fiscally responsible" to bring up the building again.

Supervisors' Remarks: 

  • Supervisor Miller said that there had been a good meeting with Lafayette College and Forks coaches the previous night.  They worked on areas where both teams could agree on practice times, etc.  Miller said that a week ago he called Don Miers, Wrestling Commissioner, to inform him that all wrestling matches would be in gym #1.
  • Supervisor Chuss extended congratulations to the new Supervisors elect, David Billings and Michele Rogers.  He then said that he spoke with Mr. Konecke (see above Public Comments) regarding the new fields.  Parking is a significant issue.  He asked that the Board to look back at the proposed parking and access to the new fields.  Howell said that at this point, the Board has only approved the grading and the planting of grass.  Miller said that the parking plan for 90 cars off of Sycamore is the same parking plan that has been in place since the beginning (when the park plans were done) and that the area currently is 1/2 soccer field and 1/2 nothing.  It is not planted or graded and there are no plans for the five acre parcel yet.  Howell suggested that the plan be looked at again.  As to Mr. Weide's comments regarding the DPW garage, Chuss offered that the garage has been in discussion since the early 90s.  He said that planning started early this year with presentations of the current conditions and prices.  Chuss said that had Mr. Weide come to township meetings or read the minutes, he would have found this out.

Treasurer's Report - Egolf detailed the debits (cash paid out) since the last Supervisors' meeting.  The debits and transfers were approved with a 5:0 vote.  The Township's current outstanding debt is $7,774,126. 

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 next meeting is set for November 17 at 8 AM.  To be discussed are general issues of public safety.  He added that the Suburban EMS subscription drive is underway.
  • Public Works - Supervisor Chuss - reported that there has been no meeting since the last BoS meeting.  He updated the BoS with the following:
    • The DPW garage initial plan draft and initial cost estimates from Kimmel and Bogrette are expected next Thursday.  They will be presented at the next BoS meeting.
    • Thirty one engineering firms have responded to the Township's RFQ.  The field has been narrowed (by the committee) to seven.  Interviews will be conducted next Monday (6:00 PM) and Tuesday (5:30 PM).  The BoS will conduct interviews of the final three as recommended by the committee.
    • The next meeting is Tuesday, November 10 at 7:30 AM.  The DPW garage will be on the agenda.
  • Parks & Recreation - Supervisor Egolf - said that there has been no meeting since the last BoS meeting and the next is scheduled for Monday at 6 PM.  Because of the interviews being held by the Public Works Committee in the Municipal Building meeting room, the Parks & Recreations Committee will meet in the Supervisors conference room.
  • Community Relations - Supervisor Miller - said that the next meeting will be on Monday, November 9 at 5 PM.
  • Finance and Administration - Supervisor Nicholas - said that at the last meeting the committee worked on the budget and that there is no meeting in November because of the Veteran's Day.  The next meeting will be on December 9 at 5 PM.  She said that she will report what the agenda will be at the next BoS meeting (December 3).

Township Manager's Report - Schnaedter - announced that the Kiwanis annual tree lighting will be on Sunday December 6.  There will be beverages and the Easton Area Choir.  It will be an enjoyable event.  Those who attend are requested to bring non-perishable goods as donations for those less fortunate. 

Schnaedter also reminded the Board about the evaluation forms.  They are used to assess the operations and the performance of the department heads (and the Township Manager) for the past year.

Also, Schnaedter asked the members of the Board to let him know if they wanted to tour the Township property on Zucksville Road.  (The current tenant, Fire Chief Bryan Weis, will be vacating the house.)

Engineer's Report - Fred Hay - said that a written report was submitted to the Board.  He reported that the Meco/Sullivan plans for the pole relocation have been given to Verizon and the area is staked out.  As to the park tennis and basketball court rehabilitations, Hay said that there is only a final coating and the fence replacement left to do. 

The sewer rehab is winding down and one area needs to be repaired.  The work on Sullivan Trail has not been started.  The hazard mitigation work on Kesslersville has been slowed by PEMA and FEMA fighting over which form the Township is to complete. 

And, Hay met with Weis Market representatives last week to discuss the right-of-way issues with PennDOT.  Weis is anxious to start construction as soon as possible.  Apparently the Township owns some rights-of-way (dedicated by developers) that PennDOT wants turned over to them. 

Hay also said that Winchester Drive is finally paved. 

Nicholas asked if there will be signs at the basketball and tennis courts that prohibit skateboarding.  She said that she has received a few phone calls with complaints that "people were skateboarding on the new surface."  Roberts said that there will be signs posted as soon as the fence goes up.

Dean Turner (Planning Commission Chairman) asked if the roads will be paved after the sewer line work is done.  Hay said that the contractor is prevented from doing permanent pavement for one month after the temporary pavement is done.  This allows for settlement (of the earth) and for time to do video inspections.  Old Mill Road is scheduled to be paved shortly.

Solicitor's Report - Kline - said that he was at the Weis Market meeting.  Some technical issues with the right-of-way were discussed.  The Township just learned that it has owned a right-of-way for the last 50 years - that it didn't know it owned.  The paperwork to straighten things out will be provided to PennDOT as soon as possible. 


Hope Church Lehigh Valley – Community Center Rental Agreement (David Howell, Chairman) - Kline reviewed the situation and the legal issues involved.  He said that he became aware only last week of an arrangement made with the Hope Wesleyan Church to use a significant portion of the Forks Community Center "for religious services, meetings, and other church operations."  The contract was signed August 4, 2009.  For $700 a week for one year, the church is to use rooms "A, B, C, D, MP (multi-purpose room), and gym #1 (on Sundays from 7 AM to noon).  The contract is the standard form used to rent any single room in the Community Center - "for a limited purpose."  

Plans underway last week for the church's pastor to use a storage room as a permanent office - with the installation of a telephone line, a FAX line, and an Internet connection - have been withdrawn.  They were not included as part of the original agreement. 

The church website and its mailed flyers list the Forks Community Center as the church's address.

On November 1st, the first day of the contract, the church was using the entire Community Center except for gyms #2 and #3 and the fitness center.   The church website indicates other (youth group) events for other times including something at 2 PM (on a Sunday) and laser tag in the Community Park after dusk (on a Saturday from 7:30 to 10 PM).

Kline said that there are Constitutional issues involved and that the applicable law must be considered - not just whether it is thought to be okay or not okay.  Kline said that he thinks there are two Constitutional provisions that come into play:  the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Section 3 of the PA Constitution.  The First Amendment states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."   The PA Constitution states that "All men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences; no man can of right be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship or to maintain any ministry against his consent; no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience, and no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious establishments or modes of worship."

The Establishment Clause bans the government from "abandoning secular purposes in order to put a stamp of approval on one religion."  Government cannot favor any sect or religious organization.  The Establishment Clause mandates tolerance of all religions.  It is a balancing act. 

In 1971, a Supreme Court case established a three prong test:

  1. Is there a bone fide secular purpose?
  2. Will it neither enhance nor inhibit religion?
  3. Is excessive entanglement (of religion and government) avoided? 

Kline said that all three must be answered affirmatively or the court will strike down the activity.

Kline offered that on Community Day, non-profits, including churches, were able to have booths, sell food, and even talk about their church services.  There currently is equal access for all churches to rent a room for bible (or koran) study or any other particular purpose.

According to Kline, in the case of the Hope Church lease there are problems with all three prongs of the Supreme Court test.  The use of a municipal building, parking lots and recreation fields for its place of worship advances one particular religion - especially given the magnitude of the lease agreement.  There is excessive entanglement (what if other faiths want equal space?).  Also, although not a Constitutional issue, the use places limitations of facilities use by local residents and on other Community Center programs such as wrestling. 

Kline's opinion is that this has gone over the line and does not meet the Constitutional standard.  He recommends that the Board adopt a motion that it will not continue to make the space available to the Hope Wesleyan Church because it does not meet the policy of separation of church and state as stated in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. 

Egolf question the second test of the three prongs.  Kline said the scope of the activity appears that it (the lease) is advancing one religion.  Egolf said that he thought that test to be an "either/or" question and he asked what the case was and did Kline have a summary with him.  Kline said it was Lemon v Kurtzman and no, he did not have it with him.  It is a rule that the Supreme Court set up and has been used from then (1971) on. 

Nicholas apologized for not being at the special meeting and said that she read over the information and has had phone calls, spoken with others, and received email.  For her, the real issue is whether or not Miller, or any other Township employee, has the right to enter into this kind of agreement - an agreement of that length (a year) and magnitude (the amount of facility used).  She said that at the BoS meeting of September 17th, she asked the Board if the Community Center was supposed to be for the people of Forks Township first.  Egolf and Miller were not there but Chuss and Howell (and Nicholas) agreed that the Community Center is for the people of Forks first.  Nicholas said that this agreement prohibits the people of Forks from using their community center for a year and that no one has the right to authorize this.

Chuss said that he feels that this is a separation of church and state issue.  He agrees with the Solicitor (Kline), who spent much time researching the issue.  He said that it this is an unfortunate situation and that at the emergency meeting (October 29th) the Board was still receiving information regarding the terms and conditions of the lease and the situation.  Chuss said too, that he has no problem with the length of the lease but that there is "cause for concern" with the number of rooms and the dollar amount.  Allowing the church on Township property, in his opinion, is explicit support for a particular religion without giving others the option for equal access to the building - going to the exercise room or to rent gyms #2 and #3 for example.  He feels that this is "opening a Pandora's box."  Chuss said that the Township should void the agreement at this time. 

Nicholas said the issue is renting that amount of space in the Community Center for that long of a period of time - not who it is rented to.  She promised "wrestling" that they will have their matches in gym #1 and she intends to keep her word; the facility "is for Forks residents first."

Miller offered that the church is in gym #1 and that other rooms are for the nursery (with 8-10 little kids and no programs).  He said that church starts at 10 AM and is over at 11 AM and everyone is completely gone by 11:45.  He said that there are no guidelines that say he cannot sign contracts of this kind and that he didn't enter into a contract; he used the regular room reservation form.  Miller said too, that there is nothing going on in the Community Center from 10-11.  He said that in his 24 years on the Board, he has never gone against the Solicitor's recommendations.  In this case, however, he does not agree with him.  Miller said that there are churches in schools and other public buildings throughout the Lehigh Valley.  Church members come in at 7 AM in order to transform the gym into a church.  They bring their own chairs, lighting, and a PA system that "rivals the State Theater."  Their band plays church music.  They have no choir.  Miller comes in at 7 AM to open the Community Center for the church to set-up.  Regular hours on Sunday begin at 7:30 AM.

Egolf said that he would agree with Nicholas except he was not aware that any Forks Township group asked to use the room at that time and was denied.  Men's basketball is in the other two gyms at 8 AM.  In fact, he said that a lot of the facility is being used by residents and he doesn't see a problem unless unless a Forks group is denied. 

Nicholas said that she found out about the wrestling conflict on September 17th when she learned that the wrestling team was told they could not have gym #1 for their three matches.  She asked the Board if it should set a policy.  The Board said "no." 

Egolf said that in going through the Township policies, the Board will see that it needs a lot more policies.  A clear cut policy of who can sign what is needed.  Egolf said that gym #1 is to be used by the wrestling program and the church is moving to one of the other two gyms... and that problem is solved. 

Miller said that the wrestling matches start at 12:30 PM.  The novice program starts before that and the facility must be set up.  Floor covering is needed for both the wrestling use and the church use and he was trying to put both groups in gym #1. 

Howell said that he agrees with Chuss and Nicholas in principle.  This not the time to be negotiating a contract.  The main issue is whether there is a contract and whether there is a potential violation of church and state.  Howell said that Kline did not mention the authority to enter into binding contracts (although he did at the special meeting.)  Rules were never needed before because the rooms were rented on a daily basis.  Howell said that Schnaedter believes the contract should have another $20,000 in it.  There are rules for entering into contracts such as the fire and possible police protection with Stockertown.  Howell cannot see where an employee of the Township can negotiate a contract of this size and magnitude in July with the only inkling of it in September when the wrestling group thought there was a conflict.   

Howell said that he would disavow the contract on the basis that Miller had no authority to enter into it.  He also believes in the separation of church and state.  When a non-profit is accommodated, the Township must be prepared to accommodate other non-profits.  Howell mentioned "lease creep" as a possibility when dealing with a church - the holidays like Christmas and Good Friday are times when a church will want services.  Outreach programs and other special needs of the congregation are not covered in the agreement.  Lease creep is a natural thing.

Howell said that he was at every poll on election day.  The church was a hot topic.  Two devote catholic (Easton has lost two catholic churches) women asked him if the Township would accommodate them to have masses early in the morning for commuters.  What if a group of young Jewish citizens feel that they are religiously under-served in Forks Township and want worship time on Saturdays in the Community Center?

Rules and standards are needed.  Howell feels that Miller had no authority to enter into a contract with such huge social and legal implications, not to mention that it is a huge revenue matter.  He also agrees with Chuss that there is a potential conflict with the Establishment Clause and that Pandora's Box is being opened. 
The discussion continued for nearly another hour. 

Dean Turner, Chairman of the Planning Commission, said that discussion of the availability of the Community Center should also include the availability of parking.  He said that when the Shawnee School project was being discussed, parking was considered particularly when more than one activity was to be scheduled for the same time. 

Ron Asteak, Zoning Hearing Board, said that the Board should listen to the sound advice of the Township Solicitor.

Gretchen Gerstel, resident, said that she taught school for 31 years and used to read scripture and recite the flag salute.  Then the schools couldn't read scripture.  Then teachers had to hide religious emblems (if worn).  Then there were no Christmas carols.  She said that she agrees with separation of church and state.

James Wideman, resident, spoke in favor of disavowing the contract.  He felt that the Solicitor's opinion should be respected especially regarding church and state issues.  He said too, that Miller over-stepped his bounds regarding the size of the contract (it is over $10,000) and the parking.  The church requires 100% of the 100 parking spaces.  This restricts others. 

Sandra Hanks, Elected Auditor and resident, said that she agrees with the Solicitor.  She said too, that if the Township rents to this group and a right wing or left wing organization comes along and wants to rent space, the Township will be in a "heep of trouble."

Dan Martyak, President of the Forks Township Youth Sports Organization, said that the decision should be based on the Solicitor's legal opinion.  Guidelines for the use and availability of the facility are needed.  Compromises and short term accommodations can be reached by working with the Parks & Recreation Committee.  The park is heavily used in the spring and parking is an issue.

Chuss made a motion that the contract for rooms A, B, C, D, MP, and gym #1 at $700 per week was signed without authorization and therefore is not a valid contract.  Nicholas seconded. 

The vote was 3:2 with Miller and Egolf casting the dissenting votes.

Please read the very thorough newspaper accounts of this agenda item.  See:

Comprehensive Plan (Rick Schnaedter, Township Manager) - Kline explained that the latest Comprehensive Plan (draft) has been years in the making.  There were many meetings.  There were questions about language and substance.  It was re-drafted by a joint committee of the Planning Commission and the Supervisors.  There were questions about grammar. 

A draft was sent to the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission (LVPC) where it was reviewed and commented.  The LVPC comments were submitted to Dean Turner (PC Chairman).  The PC was the agency that started the process and as such is required to hold one public meeting.  It was held on July 9th.  The Comprehensive Plan was also sent to the local school district and to adjacent municipalities for comment.  None have been received. 

The Board of Supervisors is required to hold one public hearing.  If the Comprehensive Plan is revised, another public hearing will be necessary.  It can then be adopted by resolution. 

If the Board is satisfied - without any more changes to the plan - Kline can be directed to advertise the public meeting with a date in early December. 

Howell asked Turner if the LVPC comments are more benign than they have been in the past.  Turner thought that was the case.  The PC recommends that the Plan process proceed.

Egolf asked if the Township must address the recommendations of the LVPC in any way or if the Township could simply say "thanks but no thanks."  Kline said that the Township is indeed free to say "thanks but no thanks."  The recommendations are advisory.  They are from the experts on the LVPC staff who are more concerned that the Township's plan fits into their plan.

Chuss noted that he, Turner, and Billings attended the workshop on smart transportation yet none of that is in the plan. 

Egolf made the motion that the Comprehensive Plan be placed out for public review as stipulated by the MPC (Municipal Planning Code) and that it be available to the public at both the Municipal office and on the township website.  Nicholas seconded.

In discussion of the motion, Chuss remarked that there has been no opportunity for the Board to comment and to review the plan.  His biggest problems are the changes made by the joint (PC & BoS) committee.  He said that the committee met without agendas, plans, or schedules.  He is particularly bothered by two things:  (1) recommending increased density in the Town Center district and (2) schools in the Farmland Protection district.  Chuss asked that it go another month before holding the public hearing and that a joint meeting be held and the plan changes listed.

The vote on the motion was 4:1 with Chuss casting the nay vote.  He said that he wanted Charlie Schmehl (URDC) to review the plan changes. 

The public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, December 1st at 7:00 PM.

CMX Amphitheater Proposal (Bonnie Nicholas, Supervisor) - Nicholas reported that the meeting with CMX, Modern Concrete and staff was very productive and that they were able to get the price for the amphitheater down to $312,000 (of which, $28,000 is contingency money).  Nicholas reminded everyone that the money is not taxpayer money but money set aside from the recreation fees paid by developers. 

In order to shave the costs, DPW Director Roberts offered the DPW crew for trenching and landscaping and Modern Concrete offered to use a product called "dry-it" (sic) for some of the relief areas of the structure's surface.  She said that this is not going to be just a bandshell, but a "very nice looking amphitheater."

Nicholas made a motion to move forward by having CMX go out for bids.  Howell seconded the motion for discussion purposes.

In discussion, Chuss said that he hates the phrase "not using taxpayer money."  He called it a shell game.  The price of $312,000 does not include the Township's cost of using the DPW budget.  Chuss said that the area will need a restroom ($$$) and other intangibles and the Township already paid the $49,900 design fee.  There will be "opportunity costs."  There is no plan (a reference to the Five-Year Recreation Plan that has not yet been presented to the Board) in place.  Chuss said that this project will use a significant amount of the money in the (recreation) fund.

Nicholas offered that in the Recreation Survey (done in 2006), residents voted for a bandshell as their number two choice.  It is passive recreation. 

Howell noted that Nicholas and the Parks & Recreation Committee have worked diligently on the amphitheater.  Miller said that there is a meeting of the Recreation Board coming up.

Egolf said that he is concerned with the hardship the project may put on the DPW department.  He would rather have outside contractors do the work.  To that, Schnaedter said that all aspects of the project will be in the bid package.  Nicholas offered that the Township's DPW department does not have to do the work. 

Howell remarked that since 1997 when he started following Forks Township, this is the first project that is for all citizens.  It will also get business and commerce more involved in the Township.

The vote on the motion to move forward was 4:1 with Chuss casting the dissenting vote.

Please read Edward Sieger (Express Times) for more details.

Riverview Recreation Center (Karl Kline, Solicitor) - Kline refreshed everyone's memory with a summary of the Riverview Recreation Center phasing proposal.  He said that there will be a cul de sac and two lots, one with the Recreation Center and one with no (as of yet, future) plans.  The developer wants to complete the portion of Ramblewood Drive that borders the lots and then dedicate it to the Township.  The Township holds the position that all the planned improvements must be complete before it will take the road.

Kline further explained that the Planning Commission (PC) recommended conditional approval.  The conditions include the recreation path spur and the need for a phasing language change to the plans.  Another issue came up after the PC meeting - a small section of sidewalk on the south side of Winchester Drive is not complete.  Kline recommended that the BoS add completion of the sidewalk as a condition to the PRD (planned residential development) phase 3 boundary.  There is a transformer directly in the path of the sidewalk and Kline suggested that the Township work with the developer to go around the obstruction.

When Chuss asked about adding escrow replacement as a condition, Kline explained that it is a separate issue and that the Letter or Credit for the improvements is in place.  He said too, that it is appropriate to accept conditions from the PC with the addition of including the remaining sidewalk.

Kline said that the homeowners want the path (spur) moved 150 feet to the east. 

Kline recommended that the Board approve the phasing with the conditions set forth by the PC and that the Board then do another motion for a field change to move the path to the east subject to Strausser, the homeowners, and the Township Engineer's agreement. 

Chuss made the first motion - to approve the phasing plan as approved by the PC and with the additional condition that the sidewalk be completed.  Nicholas seconded and it passed 5:0.

Chuss made the second motion - to allow Strausser Enterprises, the Riverview Homeowners Association, an the Township Engineer to move the spur to the east, keeping its same size and scope.  Miller seconded and the motion passed 5:0.


First Submission of Overall 2010 Budget - Rough Draft (Jim Farley, Finance Manager) - Farley reported that three work sessions were held in September and October and that there is no tax increase projected in the draft budget.  Instead there apparently is a modest surplus for 2009.  The draft has been presented to the Board for review and at the next meeting there will be a motion to tentatively approve it.  In December, after the budget has been publicly advertised, there will be a formal approval.  Farley said that this is one of the least painful budget processes he has experienced.  See Christopher Baxter (Morning Call) for more on the 2010 budget.

Executive Session - There was an Executive Session for a litigation matter.  The Supervisors-elect attended.  No action was taken after the session and the meeting was adjourned

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