John Mack - Newtown Supervisor

Will Newtown Help Residents Fight Arcadia III?

At the January 13, 2021, Newtown Board of Supervisors Meeting, Mike Gallagher, former Supervisor, current Bucks County Deputy Chief Information Officer, and resident of Newtown Crossing, said that the Eagle Ridge HOA had a better chance of winning its appeal against Arcadia III than does Newtown. Consequently, said Mr. Gallagher, it would make sense for Newtown to help with their case, which is distinct from the "Mandamus" case filed against Newtown by the developer.

Recall that Newtown recently failed to approve a settlement agreement with the developer to settle its "mandamus" case along with other court challenges made by the developer. The judge in that case “deemed approved” Arcadia's proposed 76-home community even though supervisors were unanimous in denying the project (see story below). The Eagle Ridge Community Association filed a separate Notice of Appeal from the asserted deemed approval.

According to Eagle Ridge resident Eric Scott Gold, some residents of Eagle Ridge and other nearby communities, including Newtown Crossing Community Association, Crowne Pointe Community, Liberty Square, are interested in setting up a fund to help finance the legal battle.

Mr. Gallagher and other residents wanted to know if Newtown Township was willing to help residents fight the case in some way, including helping pay the legal fees. The Supervisors agreed they need more information before they could decide and will arrange an executive session with residents and their lawyer in the near future to discuss the options.

Listen to the following short audio clip of the discussion. The entire video archive of the meeting is available here.

Mack's Newtown Voice · Will Newtown Help Eagle Ridge Fight Arcadia III?

Posted on 14 Jan 2021, 13:08 - Category: Development

Newtown BOS Rejects Chick-fil-A/Old Navy Settlement Agreement

At it's January 13, 2021, public meeting, the Newtown Board of Supervisors (BOS) voted 3-2 against agreeing to a settlement with Newtown Bucks Association (NBA) regarding Chick-fil-A and a "retail pad" in the Newtown Shopping Center.

NBA intended to make certain traffic/circulation improvements as related to the existing Chick-fil-A restaurant in the Shopping Center, together with a proposed pad that would be used for additional retail space (i.e., proposed Old Navy site).

The agreement would have granted several variances, including allowing additional impervious surface for the retail space, which was the main reason the Zoning Hearing Board originally voted against the application (read "So what's the status of the proposed Old Navy at the Newtown Shopping Center?").The BOS, however, seemed mostly concerned about the plan to "improve" traffic related to Chick-fil-A.

This following audio clip from the meeting mainly focuses in on that discussion. View the video archive of the entire BOS meeting here.

Mack's Newtown Voice · Newtown BOS Rejects Chick-fil-A/Old Navy Settlement Agreement
The proposed traffic/circulation improvement plan for Chick-fil-A


Posted on 14 Jan 2021, 01:30 - Category: Development

2020 Accomplishments of the Newtown Board of Supervisors

The following are a few notable accomplishments of the Newtown Board of Supervisors (BOS) in 2020.

It’s been such a terrible year that a new definition of accomplishment is needed. For example, merely surviving seems like an accomplishment.

Nevertheless, I am proud to have served the community to the best of my ability during difficult times that required difficult decisions to be made to secure the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the township. I am sure my fellow BOS members feel the same. With your support and input, I look forward to a prosperous and safe 2021 New Year.

NOTE: How much do you agree or disagree with the following Board decisions/actions? Please take a 5-minute survey to tell me. DISCLAIMER: This is not an official Newtown Township Survey. It’s purpose was solely to inform John Mack, a Newtown Supervisor, of residents' opinions.

Appointed First Person of Color as Supervisor

Board members voted 3-1 at a special meeting on January 8, 2020, to appoint Democrat David Oxley to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Linda Bobrin.

Oxley, 36, will serve through 2021 by virtue of the appointment but would have to run and win in that year's election to retain the seat.

Mr. Oxley brings to the Board extensive expertise in financial management combined with business development experience and volunteerism, which are perfect qualifications for taking the lead in the Board's effort to work with consultants, residents and the business community to solve the township's deficit spending problem.

Oxley said he will "work hard to keep the township safe, especially for our youth. I want to help keep Newtown Township family-oriented and promote growth, though we don't want to grow too fast."

Appointed Kevin Antoine to Newtown Human Relations Commission

At the August 26, 2020, BOS meeting, supervisors appointed Kevin Antoine, Bucks County Community College’s Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, to the Newtown Human Relations Commission.

Mr. Antoine has more than 16 years of experience in diversity and inclusion, non-discrimination and civil rights compliance with state and federal laws and regulations. "I believe my breath of experience and knowledge will compliment the duties of the commission," said Mr. Antoine in his application letter.

Held the First Ever Police Town Hall Meeting

A the June 10, 2020, BOS meeting, the Board directed Newtown Township Police Chief John Hearn to host a public “Town Hall” meeting where police officers and the community - especially residents who feel they have issues with the police - can get to know one another and have a meaningful dialog. Read more about the meeting in the August 2020 issue of Newtown News Update.

Established a Single Newtown Fire Chief

At the October 29, 2020, BOS meeting, supervisors approved the appointment of Newtown Chief Glenn Forsyth as chief of the all volunteer Newtown Fire Association and the Newtown Township Emergency Services Department (career firefighters) effective Jan. 1, 2021. It is the first step in bringing the two departments together as one. More…

Related Content: “The Volunteer Newtown Fire Association is at a Turning Point

Repaved 3.5 Miles of Roads

Approximately 3.5 miles of roads were repaved in 2020 despite the fact that 1.0 Mill of revenue (approximately $350,000) dedicated to roadwork was diverted to the General Fund in anticipation of a EIT shortfall due to COVID-19 restrictions. The following roads were among those repaved in 2020:

  • Swamp Rd (from the Bypass to Sycamore St)
  • Fountain Farm Ln
  • Newtown Gate Dr
  • Penns St
  • Upper Silver Lake Rd (From Newtown Yardley Rd to Vera Ave)
  • Silver Lake Rd (between N. Penns Trail & L. Dolington Rd)
  • Newtown Yardley Rd (Patch Paving between Tara Blvd & N. Penns Trail)

Rejected Arcadia Development Settlement

At the December 22, 2020, BOS meeting via Zoom, supervisors refused to vote on a settlement offer from Arcadia to build 60 homes on Buck Road and Newtown Bypass. Dozens of residents were able to attend this meeting and make their voices heard.

The appeal against the “Mandamus” decision will move forward and it is hoped that the township will be successful in overturning that decision.

For background, read “Newtown Township Supervisors Say 'No Means No' When It Comes to Arcadia Green III Planned Residential Development.”

Denied Toll Brothers Twining Bridge Road Application

A conditional use application by Toll Bros for a cluster development on 158.07 acres located in the CM Conservation Management district was denied by the BOS at its August 26, 2020, meeting.

Read “In an Unanimous Vote, Newtown Township Supervisors Denied Toll Brothers Conditional Use Application to Build 45 Homes in Conservation District. Residents Ecstatic!

Applied for a Grant to Extend Lower Dolington Road Trail

Although the Township received funding last year for the Lower Dolington Trail (LDT; read “Newtown Township Gets Grants to Build Lower Dolington Road Multi-Use Trail”), it did not receive all of what was requested to finish the trail as planned. Therefore, the Township applied for a DCED Multimodal Transportation Fund Grant, which has a zero percent match. With this money it will be possible to complete the LDT or another trail segment in the Comprehensive Plan.

Approved EAC Comprehensive Plan Recommendations

The Newtown Township Environmental Advisory Council (EAC) prepared a set of recommendations to the Planning Commission for consideration in the development of the next Newtown Area Comprehensive Plan. The Board approved submitting these recommendations to the Joint Zoning Council to consider as part of the new 10=year Newtown Area Comprehensive Plan. See the recommendations here.

Approved E30 “Curative Amendment” to Zoning

At the September 23, 2020, BOS meeting, supervisors approved the E-30 amendment to the Newtown Area Zoning Ordinance that would allow a combination gas station/convenience store use in various locations in Newtown, Wrightstown, and Upper Makefield (the "Jointure"). The amendment imposes several conditions such as a limit on the number of fuel pumps, prohibition of a drive through window, etc.

While this amendment will apply to all new applications for such a use in the Jointure, it does NOT apply to the application submitted by Provco to build a Wawa on the Newtown Bypass. That application precedes the curative process.

Read “Municipal Cure May Not Prevent Developer From Putting a Wawa on the Bypass in Newtown Township.”

Passed “Love is Love” Resolution

At the March 11, 2020, BOS meeting, Newtown supervisors passed a “Love is Love” resolution in support of LGBTQ + minority youth by a unanimous bipartisan 5-0 vote.

Many interested parties were present and made impassioned pleas in support of the resolution, which establishes February 15 as Love is Love Day in Newtown Township. More...

Mastered BOS Zoom Meetings to Allow Resident Participation

On December 9, 2020, the Newtown BOS held its first Zoom meeting that successfully enabled residents to attend and make comments. The December 22, 2020, meeting had over 90 participants. This is an important milestone because the township will be using Zoom for several months to come. In fact, it may be the way to go because more people will be able to attend these meetings than live ones.

Prior to that, the township had been reluctant to allow residents to participate for fear of being "zoom bombed." Read Newtown Supervisor Zoom Meetings Not Open to Residents.

Hosted The Newtown Township Citizens Survey

As part of the comprehensive multi-year financial management plan (see next item), the BOS approved a citizens survey that asked residents how satisfied they were with the township services and to identify the two TOP priorities that the township should focus on for attracting new business. 545 responses were collected, including over 300 open-ended comments.

Almost two-thirds of citizen survey respondents were women and over 70% have lived in Newtown Township for over ten years. Nearly two-thirds (72%) are 45 years old or older. Half report that their annual household income is over $100,000 and 75% have a bachelors or higher education degree. Only 18% work in Newtown. See the survey results here.

Developed a 5-Year Financial Plan

At an August 17, 2020, Work Session, Steve Wray of ESI provided the BOS with a 144-page detailed report and presented a slide summary of that report that explained the purpose of the Strategic Management Planning Program.

Wray reviewed the services Econsult performed along with key findings and recommendations, projections, financial history, a revised financial forecast and a recommended approach for developing the 2021 budget.

Related Content: VIDEO: “A Critique of ESI Financial Report

Established The Economic Development Committee

On June 10, 2020, the BOS approved the appointment of 7 applicants to establish the Economic Development Committee (EDC).

Soon afterward the EDC began looking to identify specific industries (life sciences, biotech) to attract to Newtown Township. Supervisor David Oxley has taken the lead in talking to Bucks County officials about attracting biotech firms to Newtown.

Related Content: PODCASTS: “Ideas for Bringing New Businesses to Newtown

Approved a “Contentious” 2021 Budget

Passing a budget without a tax increase was definitely considered an accomplishment in 2018 and again in 2019.

These budgets, however, continued a trend of deficit spending according to the Newtown Finance Committee (see VIDEO: "Thoughts on Newtown Township's Deficit Spending"). If that trend continued, warned ESI consultants, the township’s reserve fund would be depleted by 2022.

Faced with that possibility, on December 22, 2020, the BOS approved the 2021 budget, which includes a 3.99 mill increase in municipal property taxes (about $160 per year for the average homeowner). This decision ensured a healthy reserve fund, which is a definite accomplishment in terms of the financial health of the township. It also keeps Newtown's municipal property tax among the lowest in the region (see chart).

Some expense items were cut from the preliminary budget, including hiring a new code enforcement officer, one police vehicle, and a new police building study. The final approved budget, however, includes hiring 3 new police officers and continues full funding for Parks & Recreation programs, including summer camp, among other things.

View the Approved 2021 Budget here.

May the new year bless you with health, safety, and happiness.

Posted on 29 Dec 2020, 01:35 - Category: Governance

Summary of November 25, 2020, Newtown Board of Supervisors Meeting

Winter Services Agreement with PennDOT, Authorization to Advertise 2021 Preliminary Budget, Regulating Short Term Rentals, Verizon Cable Franchise Agreement

The following is a brief summary of the November 25, 2020, Newtown Township Board of Supervisors (BOS Definition) public meeting based upon the official minutes of that meeting, which you can find here. You also can view the video archive here.

Public Works

Winter Services Agreement with PennDOT: Mr. Lewis explained that this is a five year agreement for the Township to plow Routes 413, 332 and 532 for $104,901. This is a five year agreement. Mr. Fisher moved to adopt Resolution 2020-R-19, a winter services agreement with PennDOT. Mr. Davis seconded and the motion passed 5-0.

Planning Commission Report

The Members have been reviewing a proposed amendment to the JMZO which defines “families” in an attempt to give the municipalities a way to regulate use of residential properties for short term rentals, such as Air BnB. The members were uncomfortable with the ordinance as presented and asked that the following footnote be added:

Our intention in this Ordinance is to express our concern for the stability and permanency of the neighborhood, and not to pass judgment on the life style choices of those who live in the household for an extended period of time. We seek only to avoid transiency, which tends to disrupt the, "sense of community and shared commitment to the common good." Albert v. Zoning Hearing Board of N. Abington Twp., 854 A.2d 401, 410 (Pa. 2004). There is no intent to discriminate, either expressed or implied, beyond the stated meaning herein.

2021 Budget - Authorization to Advertise

Mr. Sander explained that the Township is required to advertise a budget for twenty days before it can be adopted. Once advertised, the budget can still be revised up to 10% overall in revenues or expenses or 25% in any category. If the Board makes any larger changes the budget must be re-advertised for an additional twenty day. The budget must be approved by December 31, 2020.

Discussion of motion: Mr. Mack asked whether the budget would need to be re-advertised if the changes were to reduce, rather than increase, revenues or expenses. Mr. Sander confirmed that only increases of more than 10% overall or 25% in a category would require re-advertisement.

Mr. Mack noted that the budget being advertised has been changed to now include a tax increase of 133%, not the originally proposed 178%. Mr. Calabro reviewed a chart provided to residents with sample tax bills based on homes with a variety of assessed values. He said that he did not believe the County plans a reassessment, so the assessed value should remain the same.

The motion passed 4-1, with Mr. Davis voting nay.

Board Member Reports

Environmental Advisory Council Meeting: 16 Nov 2020: Mr. Mack reported that the EAC would like to distribute pamphlets on native plants to residents and homeowners associations and asked about reimbursement.

Public Comments

Mr. Seimens: Mr. Seimens asked why an increase is needed with a projected year-end balance of over a million dollars. He also questioned why the Township had paid a consultant so much to just recommend a tax increase.

Mr. Calabro said that the Township had budgeted a portion of the money for the consultant last year and had received a grant for the remainder.

In response to Mr. Siemens’ questions about new spending, Mr. Lewis said that the budget includes new staff, including police and fire, roadway improvements and capital purchases of equipment, including public works vehicles.

Ash Kamath: Mr. Kamath suggested that, as the Township provides services to the School District, including police and fire protection, perhaps there is a way to ask for support from the District. It is not a good time to seek additional tax money from residents struggling in the pandemic. He questioned reliance of the consultant’s work which was done before the pandemic. He urged the Township to postpone the increase and suggested paying off the outstanding bonds and refinancing.

[Read more Resident Comments Regarding the Proposed 2021 Budget]

Summary of Votes on Motions

Download the UNOFFICIAL 2020 BOS Voting Record to date.

My Personal Notes

The following are my personal notes that I used to prepare for this meeting. You can also download the PDF version here.

Posted on 13 Dec 2020, 12:56 - Category: Board of Supervisors Minutes

My November 2020 Supervisor Activities: Interacting with Residents

In November 2020, as Bucks County continued in the COVID-19 "Green Phase", I spent about 32 hours on official supervisor business. Seventeen percent (17%) of that time was interacting with residents via phone, email, and social media mostly answering questions about the preliminary 2021 budget that was approved for advertising at the November 25, 2020, Board of Supervisors (BOS) meeting. Read summaries of the November 10 and November 25 BOS meetings.

The height of each bar represents total hours spent on official business that day. This includes time spent at meetings. Blue indicates I attended a required meeting that day, orange indicates that I attended an optional meeting that day. This year to date I've logged on average 46 hours per month compared to 59 hours per month in 2019.
BOS = Board of Supervisors, EDC = Economic Development Committee, JZC = Joint Zoning Council, EAC = Environmental Advisory Council, PC = Planning Commission,
FC = Finance Committee

Log of Hours Spent on Official Business

My log keeps track of the time spent on the following:

  • Attending “Required” Meetings
  • Preparation for BOS Meetings
  • Attending Optional Meetings/Activities
  • Interaction with Residents
  • Travel To & From Meetings

What This Report Does Not Include

My log of Supervisor-related activities does not include the many hours I spend posting to this blog, maintaining my personal website, writing a newsletter, creating and posting video clips from meetings, hosting podcast interviews, summarizing decisions made by the Board of Supervisors (BOS Definition), etc. Also not included is the time I spend posting to my personal Facebook page, Twitter account, and Instagram account. These activities are NOT part of my official duties as Supervisor, but represent my personal views.

Interaction with Residents

In my opinion, personal interaction with residents regarding their concerns is an important part of my responsibilities as Supervisor. I want to be sure that I spend enough time reaching out to and responding to residents via personal contact, official email via my account and via my personal account, and via phone and/or Facebook.

In November 2020, I spent 5.4 hours (17% of my total logged hours) interacting with residents in my official capacity as supervisor. Because of the COVID-19 restrictions, I am using Zoom to meet with residents. On November 9, I hosted a Meet Mack Monday Zoom meeting, which focused on the proposed 2021 budget.

What did I discuss with residents? Here’s a partial list (some items are not included for confidentiality reasons):

I decided to keep track of my activities as a Supervisor on a monthly basis partly because I want to be accountable to residents, but also to make sure I am making the best use of my time. It's really an honor to serve the community! I learn something new every day and have met many fine people and volunteers who also put in a lot of time without any compensation at all. Thanks to everyone who help keep Newtown in business and safe.

Posted on 02 Dec 2020, 01:18 - Category: Open Records/Transparency

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