John Mack - Newtown Supervisor

Celebrate Local Government Week: Say Thanks to Your Township Supervisors!

[An Op-Ed by David M. Sanko, Executive Director, Pa. State Association of Township Supervisors.]

You may read about them in the newspaper or see them along local roads, plowing snow in the winter or patching potholes in the spring.

They’re your township supervisors and staff, and while you may not know them personally, these public servants show up each and every day with one goal in mind: to build a better community for you, your family, and your neighbors.

As Pennsylvania celebrates Local Government Week, April 12-16, this is the perfect opportunity for you to better understand the critical role your township and its officials play in the commonwealth’s governing system.

Established to be a direct reflection and representation of the people who live there, townships are places where residents — when they choose to — have a voice in what happens, where every expenditure is scrutinized, and where services provided don’t exceed what the community needs or can afford.

In other words, townships are full-service, grassroots-driven communities overseen by your neighbors, who are dedicated to meeting your needs.

A system That Makes Sense

Since its inception, Pennsylvania has had three levels of government: state, county, and local. This structure, which the Founding Fathers based on a division of labor, made sense then and makes even more sense now.

In fact, the commonwealth’s governing system is a lot like a telescope. Open it wide and you’ll see the state’s big-picture view. Narrow the focus a bit and you’ve got the county’s regional perspective. Narrow the focus even more and you’ll see what townships see: the local side of things.

And each of these levels of government has distinct duties and priorities. In the early days, for instance, township supervisors primarily oversaw the maintenance of local roads. And while this continues to be one of their top priorities, township supervisors today have many more responsibilities.

Jacks of all trades, township supervisors in the 21st century are hands-on local leaders who must be well-schooled in a wide range of complex issues, such as land use management, budgeting, transportation planning, and public safety concerns.

And because they live and may even work in the communities they represent, township supervisors are on call around the clock. In fact, it’s not unusual for supervisors to field phone calls from residents during dinner and to plow roads at night and into the early hours of the morning.

Just imagine, though, what it would be like if your township didn’t exist and your community was managed by a larger, centralized government.

Under this scenario, which has been proposed in the past, you would not be able to turn to a neighbor for help. Instead, you would have to approach a more distant group of elected leaders — some of whom may be familiar with your community; most of whom may not — and compete against a much larger pool of individuals to get your voice heard and needs met.

Local democracy, as you know it, would be lost and replaced with a larger, more expensive, and more sluggish way of governing.

So as we celebrate Local Government Week, here’s something to keep in mind: Township government isn’t just another layer of government; it’s the critical layer, the foundation. It’s the one that represents you and your family, lives within its budget, and provides the services you’ve asked for — nothing more and nothing less.

And the next time you’re out and about, take a good look around your township and realize that all the good things you see — the parks, the well-maintained roads, and the safe environment to raise a family — are possible because your local leaders, your neighbors, had a vision about providing a high quality of life and turned it into a reality for you.

* * *

About the author: David M. Sanko is the executive director of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors. With a broad background in local and state government, Sanko oversees an organization that is the primary advocate for the commonwealth’s 1,454 townships of the second class, which are home to 5.5 million Pennsylvanians and cover 95 percent of the commonwealth’s land mass.

Posted on 12 Apr 2021, 10:24 - Category: Governance



The Future of Newtown Townships's Paid Fire Services

Applying BCPC's Fire Services Analysis to Newtown Township

On April 1, 2021, I attended a Zoom meeting hosted by the Bucks County Consortium. At that meeting Evan Stone, Executive Director of the Bucks County Planning Commission (BCPC), made a presentation titled “The Future of Bucks County Fire Service.” This was actually a summary of the full update report (download the presentation here and the full report here). This post focuses on applying the takeaways from that presentation to Newtown Township.

I recorded a short section from the end of the presentation and the Q&A session in the following podcast:

Mack's Newtown Voice · Future Of Bucks County's Fire Services
Paid Fire Departments

Newtown is only one of six Bucks County Municipalities that has a paid fire department: the Newtown Emergency Services Department (NESD) of 8 full-time fire fighters (see table below).

All of them operate only Monday through Friday and depend on volunteers to fill the gaps on weekends and after hours on weekdays. In Newtown, we have the volunteer Newtown Fire Association (NFA). As is the case with many, if not all, volunteer fire departments, have a problem answering calls and recruiting/retaining members (read “The Volunteer Newtown Fire Association is at a Turning Point”).

FACT: In 2018 there were 38,000 volunteer firefighters in Pennsylvania. In 1970 there were 300,000.

This has led Newtown Township Supervisors to do several things, among them:

  1. Implement a Fire Service Agreement between NESD and Newtown Fire Association whereby NESD Chief Glenn Forsythe is now also the Fire Chief of the NFA. Paradoxically, this agreement also cut the Township's yearly funding of NFA from $175,000 to $160,000. 

  2. Apply for a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant from FEMA. "Our solution," noted Chief Forsythe in the SAFER application, "is to hire 5 additional Firefighters so that we can create 7 day a week coverage with 12 hour shifts and maintain proper rotations. Each position will carry a salary of $67,877.80 and benefits of $57,713.63 which includes FICA/Medicare, Family Medical/Vision/Rx/Dental, Life & Disability Insurance, Worker's Camp, and Pension Contributions."
How Much Does It Cost to Run a Full-Time Fire Department?

It depends.

According to the BCPC, the average cost of a firefighter without benefits is $59,904.00 per year based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics and other studies. With benefits the cost of a firefighter is estimated to be $78,000.00 per year based on a 40 hour week.

NESD has a staff of 8 full-time firefighters with a 60 hour week. Based on BCPC’s estimate, those firefights should cost the township $117,000 each per year, not including equipment purchases, training, etc. The 2021 budget includes $1,171,225 for NESD salaries, benefits, supplies, and training), which is $146,403 per firefighter!

The SAFER 3-year grant application for $1,883,875.45 is for hiring 5 firefighters at an estimated $125,592 per year per firefighter with benefits included. This is based on an estimated entry-level salary of $67,660 plus $57,713 in benefits.

It should be noted that for an urban “Demand Zone” such as Newtown Township with more than 1,000 resident per square mile, requires a "Minimum Staff to Respond" of 15 firefighters. So, even with a staff of 13 (8 current + 5 new hires with SAFER grant money, if available), Newtown Township would still be short 2 full-time firefighters.

Newtown Township is considered an "Urban Demand Zone" because there are >1,000 residents per square mile.
Where Will the Money Come From?

A SAFER grant (see above) is one option, but it should be noted that Newtown Township has already failed in its first attempt to secure that money.

Some money may come from Newtown Borough. At the February 16, 2021, Board of Supervisors Work Session, the supervisors proposed a possible Intermunicipal Cooperation Agreement for fire services whereby the Township would charge Newtown Borough $300,000 per year for providing fire services between 6 AM and 6 PM, Monday through Friday (read the minutes of that meeting). Negotiations are continuing between the Township and Borough.

The only other option is to raise taxes – specifically a special “fire tax.” A fire tax is levied by some municipalities – including Newtown Township, which currently has a 1.00 mill fire tax. By law, a fire tax cannot exceed 3 mills unless a municipal referendum is passed and only up to 1 mill may be used for salary and benefits, according the BCPC.

BTW, Newtown Township can implement a fire tax up to 4.0 mills because a referendum was approved by voters several years ago to allow it.

Related Content:

Posted on 10 Apr 2021, 01:37 - Category: First Responders



My Email Newsletter Subscribers!

Each month I publish several email newsletters: Newtown News Update (NTNU) and News of Interest to Newtown Area Residents (NOI) and Newtown Township Meeting Notes (NTMN) as needed. NTNU includes in-depth coverage of an issue of topical importance to residents. NOI is a collection of summaries of articles curated from various news and other sources focused on a broader range of topics in the Newtown area. NTMN is designed to keep residents informed about important discussions & decisions made at Board of Supervisors meetings. You can access back issues here. Better yet, become a subscriber!

Subscriber Profile

You don't have to be a Democrat or even a resident of Newtown Township to be a subscriber to my Newtown News Update email newsletter series of publications.

Political Party Affiliation

Of the current 613 subscribers (as of April 4, 2021), I estimate that 83% are Newtown Township residents and almost one-third are Republicans (see chart below). Based on 2017 data that I have, approximately 38% of registered Newtown Township voters are Democrats whereas 42% are Republicans.

The political party affiliation of 63% of subscribers that can be identified from publicly available voter records. This chart is based data related to those subscribers
Age Distribution of Subscribers

Of the current 613 subscribers (as of April 2021), the average age (of the 60% of known age) is 59 years based on voter records. See the age distribution chart below. Based on the voter records I have - which may be a bit old - the average age of registered Newtown Township voters is 53 years.

The age distribution of 60% of subscribers that can be identified from publicly available voter records. This chart is based data related to those subscribers.
Subscriber Growth

On average, about 24 new opt-in subscribers are added every month (see chart below). This number varies depending on how I recruit subscribers. Most new prescribers learn about my email newsletter via surveys that I host. See the list of the current surveys.

On average, about 24 subscribers are added every month.

 

Posted on 04 Apr 2021, 01:44 - Category: Misc



My Official Supervisor Activities for Q1 2021

The following is a summary of my Supervisor-related activities for the first quarter (January through March) of 2021. In Q1 2021 I spent, on average, 46 hours per month on official Supervisor business. This compares with an average of 54 hours per month in Q1 2020 before the COVID-19 lockdown.

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

The following chart shows the breakdown in percent of hours spent on these various official activities.

The following table shows the numbers:

For the first three months of 2021 I earn a “stipend” of $1,031.25 before taxes. That’s works out to $7.48 per hour, which is $0.23 per hour more than PA’s minimum wage of $7.25. Luckily, unlike many working people in PA, I do no depend on that for a living.

What a travesty!
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 johnm@newtownpa.gov account and via my personal john@johnmacknewtown.info email account, and via phone, Nextdoor and/or Facebook.

BTW, if you need to contact other Newtown Township Officials, download the list from the 2021 Directory published by the Bucks County Association of Township Officials.

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.
Working for You Every Day!

I was interested in seeing what day of the week I log the most hours on official supervisor business (see chart and table below). It turns out that I spend the most time on Wednesdays, which is not surprising because Board of Supervisor (BOS) meetings are on the 2nd and fourth Wednesday of every month.

Of course, I MUST attend these meetings, which require a lot of time preparing for. In fact, there’s not enough time on Wednesday to prepare for these meetings – that’s why Tuesday’s and Monday’s are number 2 and 3, respectively, in terms of hours spent on official business.

I can truly say that I work for residents EVERY day of the week, although less than 2 total hours for Sundays.

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 03 Apr 2021, 12:27 - Category: Open Records/Transparency



What Issues Are Important to Newtown Residents This Election Year?

This year, two Newtown Board of Supervisor (BOS) seats are up for election: One six-year seat currently occupied by Republican Kyle Davis and one two-year seat currently occupied by David Oxley.

Mr. Davis and his running mate Andrea Ahern already have come out against overdevelopment and tax increases (read “Kyle Davis, Andrea Ahern Announce Campaign for Newtown Township Board of Supervisors  & Make Their Opposition to the Arcadia Settlement a Major Issue”) Their opposition is likely to be Democrats David Oxley and another newcomer Elen Snyder. Both are listed on the primary ballot but have not yet announced their candidacy.

Residents Speak Out on the Issues

For more than 4 years now, I have been hosting my “Issues of Importance to Newtown Township Residents” survey. A lot has happened during that time and no doubt some issues have become more important this past year. And those issues will likely influence who wins the coveted BOS seats.

Before I get to those specific issues, let’s look at the overall survey results. As of April 1, 2021, 356 responses have been collected. See the figure below for a summary of the results.

The survey asks each respondent to rank the importance of several issues from “Very Important” to “Not Important.” Respondents are also able to add comments and name other issues that are important to them.
What About Lately?

Has there been a shift in what’s considered “Very Important” from 2017 through 2020? I think so, as shown in the following chart.

I notice a few interesting trends:

Some Comments

Comments about these issues submitted by respondents during this period include the following. To see comments about other issues, read “Newtown Speaks Out on the Issues”.

Stop Arcadia development! ... Arcadia Green development should not happen ... Stop the over development tooo many toll house homes ruining the county side. Once developed its gone forever ... Please stop developing in and around newtown..its destroying it and once open space is gone...its gone forever ... The over development at the Village at Newtown shopping center is an outrage. It has become the new oxford valley mall. Traffic, parking and siphoning business from State Street are big problems.”

Bringing in new business is not as important as ensuring it is the right business for Newtown Township, and that it does not further compromise the quality of life that once made Newtown Township the ideal place to raise a family.

I’m a senior living on SS and fixed income so keeping my home taxes down are extremely important.

What Do You Think?

The 2020 data is based on only 20 responses vs. 115 for 2019 and 204 for 2017. What is needed are more responses and considering that this is an election year, I hope I can get at least 100 more responses before Election Day on November 2, 2021.

 

Take My Survey

 

After taking the survey, you can see a summary of the results to date (no personally-identifiable information included).

DISCLAIMER: THIS IS NOT A NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP APPROVED SURVEY. IT IS SOLELY A SURVEY POSTED BY JOHN MACK ACTING AS A PRIVATE CITIZEN. YOU MAY REMAIN ANONYMOUS - YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION IS NEVER REVEALED WITHOUT YOUR PERMISSION.

Posted on 01 Apr 2021, 11:53 - Category: Survey Results



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The opinions expressed here are solely those of John Mack and do not represent the opinions of any other person or entity.
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