Saturday, December 12, 2009

BoS Meeting Notes - 12/3/2009

Executive Session - 7:00 PM

The session was held for a personnel matter.  Both Supervisors-elect attended.  No action was taken during or immediately after the session.

Regular Meeting (agenda)

On this night Supervisors voted to contribute $2,000 to Safe Harbor of Easton, hire a new Township Engineering firm, appoint a new Forks representative to the Easton Area Joint Sewer Authority (EAJSA), increase the sports sign up fees, advance the new solar ordinance, table the Comprehensive Plan, and almost went head to head with the Army Reserve!

For more on the Safe Harbor contribution (4:1 vote), please read Douglas Brill's Express Times article.  Also read the Express Times Turkey (editorial) - awarded for the second year in a row to the lone Forks Supervisor to vote against a Safe Harbor contribution.

For more on the Army Reserve's Forks Township plan, please see Douglas Brill's Express Times coverage

And, for more on the tabling of the Comprehensive Plan, see Tom De Martini, Morning Call

Public Comments (non-agenda) -

  • Neil Schurgot, of Meadow Lane Drive, told the Board of an abandoned property on his street (2309 Meadow Lane Drive) and the problems it is bringing.  The property has been vacant for two years.  The first year, the bank maintained the property and mowed the lawn every two to three weeks.  Since May of 2009, the property has been ignored. 

Mr. Schurgot has called the Township numerous times about the property and the problem is not remedied.  Rodent infestation is now coming onto his property.  He said that the owner of the property is in Philadelphia and the property is in foreclosure.  He has been in touch both with the owner and with the bank.  Nothing has been done.

Zoning Officer Tim Weis has been in touch with the bank and originally it was cooperating.  However, at this point, thirty days has elapsed and nothing has been done.  Weis said that he thought the next recourse would be a lien on the property.  Kline said that if the property is in foreclosure, the bank (Countrywide Bank) does not own the it. 

The process in place in the Township for dealing with its ordinances is unacceptable according to Mr. Schurgot who added that the Township's ordinance regarding abandoned property is very weak.  He said that with the way the market is today and the fact that people are walking away from their properties, the Township needs something in place to be sure that the value of residents' properties does not decrease because of abandoned properties. 

Weis said that the Sheriff's Department needs to get involved.  Nicholas suggested that Weis and Solicitor Kline get together to find a solution.  Mr. Schurgot said that if a solution is not found by the end of the month, he will have to resort to legal recourse.

Supervisors' Remarks:

  • Chairman Howell said that Chuss' motion (at the last meeting) specified a December 31st deadline for applications to the open seats on the appointed boards.  The legal notice in the Express Times contained an incorrect date.  Kline said that another BoS vote is not necessary since it was already voted.  Howell told Schnaedter to adjust the advertisement on the Township website to reflect the correct date. 
  • Supervisor Egolf - said that the Township contributed $2,000 to Safe Harbor last year and he was interested in seeing if the BoS wants to do it again.  Howell suggested that it be added as an agenda item (see below - Old Business.)
  • Supervisor Chuss reminded everyone of the tree lighting at the Community Center for Sunday, December 6th at 7 PM.  Bring canned goods.

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 $7,755,398.

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

  • Public Safety - Supervisor Howell - said the next meeting is Tuesday, December 15th at 8 AM in the Municipal Building.  The principal item to be discussed is fire equipment.
  • Public Works - Supervisor Chuss - reported that there has been no meeting of the committee since the last BoS meeting.  The next will be on December 8th at 7:30 AM in the Municipal Building.  To be discussed will be the public works garage and ways to reduce the cost of the initial design submitted by Kimmel Bogrette.  Also to be discussed are various projects going on in the Township. 
  • Parks & Recreation - Supervisor Egolf - was happy to report that Jim Farley (Finance Manager) sat down with some officers of the Recreation Board.  They covered everything that was covered at the regular meeting.  The Recreation Board five-year plan is in hiatus and next week Egolf will meet with Ed Moore to see what needs to be done to move it forward.  The fifth item on the agenda (New Business - Increase Sports Sign-up Rate for 2010) is an outgrowth of financial work with both the Recreation Board and the Athletic Association.  The next meeting is scheduled for December 14th at 6 PM in the Municipal Building.
  • Community Relations - Supervisor Miller - said that the next meeting will be on December 14th at 5 PM.
  • Finance and Administration - Supervisor Nicholas - said that there had been no meeting since the last BoS meeting.  The next will be on December 9 at 5 PM in the Municipal Building.

Township Manager's Report - Schnaedter - said that the Supervisors had his report in front of them.  He reminded them of the Township (employee) assessment forms and that if they wish a formal tour of the (Township owned) house on Zucksville, they should let him know.  Howell said that he would like all Supervisors to see the house because there are pending issues on the application of it for 2010. 

It is at 700 Zucksville Road and was previously rented to the Township Fire Chief, Bryan Weis.  He is getting married and has moved.

Schnaedter also said that Supervisors have the revisions to the Comprehensive Plan in front of them.  He said that they came in late this afternoon and he was told that the changes are italicized. 

Engineer's Report - Fred Hay - absent

Solicitor's Report - Kline - said that the Weis Market land development is moving along.  The additional right-of-way (Uhler Road and Sullivan Trail) to be dedicated to PennDOT has been acquired.  PennDOT requires it before it will issue a permit for the intersection.  Also, the Township right-of-way must be deeded over as well.  The deeds should be wrapped up shortly and a spring construction start is expected. 

Kline also reported that there have been three inquiries from three residential subdivision developers who are talking about getting agreements in place to get started.  They are the Courts at Newlins, Town Center II, and the Knollwood subdivision.  Howell remarked that the Courts at Newlins (Newlins and Sullivan) land is for sale.  Kline said that with the stormwater improvements in place (under Sullivan Trail), the land will be easier to sell.


Contribution to Safe Harbor - 2009 (Robert Egolf, Supervisor) - Egolf said that he thought that the $2,000 amount is appropriate for this year and that it is the amount given last year.  He made the motion for the donation.  It was seconded by Miller. 

Nicholas asked from which account the money will be taken.  Farley said that the Township is under budget as a whole.  Last year the money came from the Supervisors' discretionary fund.  There is no Christmas party planned for this year. 

Chuss commented that he voted against it last year and will again this year as it is taking residents' money - money they are forced to pay - and donating it.  He said that he thinks people should be encouraged to give to Safe Harbor and other charitable organizations but that taxpayer money should not be given away.  Chuss said that he thought the Township was "opening up a can of worms" and that he doesn't want to choose who to give to.

Howell remarked that Safe Harbor and the local SPCA are two charities that have a meaningful impact on the Township.  He said that the Township should not turn its back on a place that takes in Forks residents.  He also said that there was a time when the Township gave $5,000 to Safe Harbor.

The vote was 4:1 to make the donation of $2,000.  The nay vote was cast by Chuss.  Schnaedter was asked to send an appropriate letter with the check.  The donation is for 2009.

For more details see Douglas Brill's Express Times article and the Express Times Turkey (editorial).


Forks Vacancy on the Easton Area Joint Sewer Authority (David Howell, Supervisor) - Howell explained that this is a unique vacancy caused by the resignation of (former Supervisor) Henning Holmgaard as the Forks representative on the EAJSA.  Mr. Holmgaard is now a resident of Seattle, WA.  He served on the EASJA board (meets once a month) as well as on its engineering (meets once a month) and finance (meets as needed) committees. 

Howell said that only one candidate has expressed an interest in this position, Carl Dicker.  He is on the Planning Commission (PC) and applied for the EASJA seat in 2005.  Mr. Dicker is a professional engineer and his specialty is storm water and wastewater services for the Lehigh Valley office of Spotts, Stevens & McCoy (SSM).  SSM is not affiliated with the EAJSA.

In discussion it was learned that calls were made to the EAJSA to determine the type of term that is open, an unexpired one or a new one.  The EAJSA has very poor records and does not know the answer to that question.  It is a five year term.  Howell suggested that since there is an important meeting coming up on December 21, that Dicker's appointment be for the unexpired term of Henning Holmgaard and that at the BoS Re-organizational meeting in January, when more is known, another appointment be considered. 

Chuss wondered if there was a conflict of interest because of Dicker's seat on the PC.  Kline said that there is none since nothing prohibits him from sitting on two appointed boards. 

Kline said that there must be some records for the terms of the EAJSA members.  He suggested that he write to EAJSA solicitor (with the Board's permission) and ask for clarification of all the terms on the Authority.

Chuss made a motion - Nicholas seconded - to appoint Dicker until the termination of the unexpired term.  The vote was 5:0.

Bethlehem Army Reserve Center Land Development Plan – Lots 15 & 16 Fort James III (Tim Weis, Zoning Officer) - Weis said that Keystone Engineering's letter is in the Supervisors' packets.  He also noted that the Army was not here tonight.  The lot consolidation plan will be before the PC this month.  Weis recommended that this agenda item be tabled until the lot consolidation is approved by the PC.  Chuss made the motion to table.  Egolf seconded. 

In discussion, Turner (PC Chairman) asked if a time extension will be necessary to avoid a "deemed approval."  Kline said that they are dealing with the Federal government and that the Keystone list does not involve problems with the township roads or its sewer system.  Initially, the list had 36 SALDO related items but the Army Corps knocked out some due to security concerns and others with the "document of preemption" (where the Federal rules overrule the local ones.) 

Only two of the issues cited by Keystone must be dealt with.  As part of their stormwater system, they want to use infiltration beds in a known karst limestone area and that is just asking for sinkholes.  Township Engineer Fred Hay asked that they do resistivity testing and the (Swiss cheese) voids found under the lots put them on notice that they may be causing problems for themselves if they use the infiltration methods.  The Township sanitary sewer line runs under the property.  Kline went on to to say that Hay was satisfied that other than that, the plan is okay.  Kline said that the Board can grant conditional approval subject to the October 2009 Keystone letter including comments #1 and #2 - with the understanding that he, Kline, will add a warning of the inadvisability of using infiltration beds.

Nicholas said that she has questions and that the Army representatives should be there to address the Board.  She will not vote on any plan when there is no representative present to answer her questions. 

The motion and second were withdrawn.

Chuss said that he does not remember seeing the plan before and he made a motion to request that the Army grant a time extension and if they do not, then the plans are not approved - included was a request that they appear before the Board.

Kline said that the Army granted an extension until a few days after tonight's meeting and if they do not grant an additional extension the Board can deny the plan.  The Board must be aware, however, that it may begin a "direct battle" with the Federal government.  Kline added that there is nothing in the review letter that can serve as a basis for a denial.  He said that they still need the lot consolidation as well as approvals from outside agencies. 

Turner said that it is a very different plan than the PC dealt with and, "It is what it is."  He said that the Army plan complies with sewer requirements "and they have Federal regulations that trump Township regulations."

Chuss offered that he "trusts the PC a lot and values their views and opinions."

Howell asked Kline to review the Board's options.  The time extension (already granted) will expire before the next BoS meeting.  Kline said that the Board can grant approval with the two Keystone conditions or ask for the Army to grant a time extension and  if no new time extension is granted, the BoS can deny the plans.  However, it needs reasons to deny. 

Kline said that the Army Reserve appeared at all the PC meetings and were the ones anxious to advance the plan to this December 3rd meeting of the Supervisors.  He said that they knew they had to be present.

He suggested that the motion be to give an extension of time to give the BoS an opportunity to ask any questions they have about the project.  If the extension is not granted, the plan is denied.  Chuss complied and made a motion to request a time extension and if it is not granted, the plan will be rejected based on the fact that it has never been presented to the Board of Supervisors.  Egolf offered that it could be an oversight but that is not known and since it is not known "they must be treated like any other miscreant who doesn't show up when they are supposed to."  The vote was 5:0.

Read Douglas Brill's Express Times coverage for more.

Alfero Construction Company Land Development Plan (Karl Kline, Solicitor) - Kline said that "these miscreants" did not show up tonight and did not show up before the Planning Commission either.  Keystone Engineering's letter contained 32 items that have not been addressed.  Kline noted that the BoS can vote to deny the land development based on the comments in the review letter.  Keystone will provide the details of the SALDO (Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance) rules.  The vote was 5:0 to deny.

Appointment of Township Engineer (David Howell, Supervisor) - Howell said that the selection of an engineer has been a long process and that Chuss, chairman of the public works committee, has done an excellent job in the screening of applicants. 

Chuss said that it has taken a few months and that it has been a long time (five to seven years) since the Township looked to see what other engineering firms were "out there."  He added that the current Township Engineer has done an excellent job.  Chuss highlighted the selection process:

  • It was agreed that the selection would be done by December so that the new engineer could start in January.
  • Township Manager Schnaedter, DPW Director Roberts, and Zoning Officer Weis were heavily involved.
  • There were 31 applicants.  The committee narrowed the field to seven and they were interviewed in October. 
  • The committee recommended four firms to the Board and the current Board, Supevisors-elect, and staff "discussed the advantages and disadvantages and pros and cons" of each firm.
  • It was decided that December would be the transition month.

Chuss offered that it is a very difficult decision since all of the candidates are excellent.  Howell added that in his four years as a Supervisor, he's never been involved in a decision this difficult.  He said that the timing was difficult, too, since it occurred in an election year and there is only one meeting left.  Howell said that involving the Supervisors-elect was important so that they can be comfortable in 2010 with a decision made by the 2009 BoS. 

Chuss made a motion to appoint Gilmore Associates and requested that it be effective immediately.  Egolf seconded the motion.  After Kline explained that a transition period is obviously needed and that their rates will be set at the 2010 Re-org meeting, Chuss amended his motion to state that Gilmore Associates is the selection of the Board to be appointed at the Re-org meeting on January 4th 2010 and that the transition begin immediately.  Egolf seconded the motion.  Howell offered that the 5:0 vote showed the solidarity of the Township. 

Representatives from Rettew and Spotts, Stevens & McCoy were present and Howell said that the Board was really impressed with their presentations and that he was sorry there wasn't another job for them as well.  No one was there to represent the winning engineering firm, Gilmore Associates.

The four finalists were: 

Increase Sports Signup Rate for 2010 (Jim Farley, Finance Manager & Bob Egolf, Supervisor) - Farley said that the Township budgeted $72,000 for sports and agreed to hold the line at that amount for 2010.  The Athletic Association (Forks Township Youth Sports Organization) has requested $110,000 for 2010.  The bottom line, said Farley, is that they have additional needs - referees and umpires in particular.  After an analysis of other municipality sports fees, it was recommended that Forks' fees be increased by $10 (from $40 to $50) per child per sport.  Currently, the $40 is split evenly between the Township and the FTYSO.  This will close the gap by $17,000 and the Recreation Board will use its surplus funds for the balance.  Farley offered that they will work with the FTYSO to analyze how the programs are run and to look for opportunities to cut costs for next year.  Egolf made the motion to ask the BoS to endorse the increase.  Nicholas seconded.  The vote was 5:0.

Comprehensive Plan (Dean Turner, Planning Commission) - Howell said that the BoS held a public hearing on the Comprehensive Plan on Tuesday night.  It was productive and a number of changes were talked about.  The written changes arrived today and Supervisors have not yet had a chance to review them. 

Dean Turner (PC Chairman) noted that he, too, has not had time to review the changes.   Kline said that according to the MPC (Municipalities Planning Code) if, after the hearing, the proposed plan is substantially revised then another public hearing must be advertised and held.  The question is, "Do all the changes constitute a substantial revision?"  Kline offered that if the BoS is satisfied that at the end of the hearing, all the changes wanted were noted, it can set a date for another public hearing as well as a date for consideration for adoption of the plan.  

Turner suggested that the BoS review the changes and have a final version available to the public for review before the (to be) advertised next hearing. 

Nicholas made a motion to table the Comprehensive Plan until the December 17th BoS meeting.  It passed 5:0.  Please read Tom De Martini, Morning Call for more.

Planning Commission request to advance Solar Ordinance (Dean Turner, Planning Commissioner) - Turner said that Kline forwarded both the proposed Solar Ordinance and Historical Resources Ordinance to the BoS in June.  The historical properties list will show all existing structures in the Township that are over 100 years old. 

The original plan was for the two ordinances to be moved forward together however there is still more to do on the Historical Resources Ordinance.  The Planning Commission (PC) needs to develop procedures for properties to get on the list, to change classifications, to be removed from the list, and to be elevated on the list.  

Turner asked for permission to hold a PC public hearing for only the Solar Ordinance at the January 26, 2010 PC workshop.  The Historical Resources Ordinance hearing will be more complicated and expensive since it will involve the notification of property owners.

A motion was made (by Chuss) to approve the advertising of the PC January 26th public hearing for the solar update to the Zoning Ordinance and SALDO (Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance). 

Kline said that, per the MPC (Municipalities Planning Code), copies must be sent to the LVPC (Lehigh Valley Planning Commission) along with a notice of the public hearing as well as when it will be considered for adoption by the BoS. 

The motion passed with a 5:0 vote.  Either Kline or Weis will write the advertisement.

Executive Session - There was an Executive Session for a personnel matter earlier, at 7 PM.  No action was taken. Supervisors-elect attended.

Our objective is to relate what is experienced at Forks Township meetings for those who cannot attend. We are attempting to be as factual as we can. If we make a mistake, tell us via email or COMMENT here in the blog, and we will do our best to correct it. We are not perfect. We want to get it right.

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