John Mack - Newtown Supervisor

Report by BCPC to Jointure on 2020 Census Population & Housing Data

At the October 7, 2021, Newtown Area Joint Zoning Council (JZC) meeting, Lisa Wolff, Senior Planner, Bucks County Planning Commission (BCPC), presented an analysis of the recently released 2020 U.S. Census Redistricting Data Summary Files related to the "Jointure" townships (Newtown, Wrightstown, and Upper Makefield).

Her analysis, which will be incorporated into the updated Newtown Area Comprehensive Plan, covers population trends from 1950 through 2020, population change from 2000 to 2020, population by race, and housing data.

Jointure Population Trend

Ms. Wolff first reviewed the growth in population of the Jointure townships from 1950 through 2020. See the table below and listen to the audio snippet where Ms. Wolff highlights the important trends.

Table 1 from the BCPC report.

In the following audio snippet from the JZC meeting, Ms. Wolff talks about the trend in Jointure population from 1950 though 2020:

Mack's Newtown Voice · Lisa Wolff Reviews Jointure Population Trend
Figure 1: Prepared from data in Table 1
Population Change

It is clear that population growth is declining, especially between 2010 and 2020. Newtown, for example, saw a growth of only 3.1% during this period (see Table 2 below).

Table 2 from the BCPC report.

In the following audio snippet from the JZC meeting, Ms. Wolff reviews more details of Jointure population changes from 2000 to 2020:

Mack's Newtown Voice · Lisa Wolff Reviews Change in Jointure Population
Population By Race

The racial/ethnicity profile of all three Jointure townships show a shift to a more diverse population from 2000 to 2020. Newtown, for example, was 94% white in 2000 and 82% in 2020. The biggest change was in the “Asian Alone” category – an increase from 734 residents in 2000 to 2,201 in 2020. This category includes “Asian Indian,” which I am sure constitutes the majority of “Asian Only” residents in Newtown.

Table 3 from the BCPC report.

In the following audio snippet from the JZC meeting, Ms. Wolff reviews more details population by race:

Mack's Newtown Voice · Lisa Wolff Reviews 2020 Census Jointure Race Data
Housing Data

The last piece of data in the report is “Housing Occupancy Status,” which is summarized in Table 3 of the report.

Table 3 from the BCPC report.

In the following audio snippet from the JZC meeting, Ms. Wolff summarizes the housing data:

Mack's Newtown Voice · Lisa Wolff Reviews 2020 Census Data on Jointure Housing

Newtown saw a 28% increase in “vacant housing units” from 2010 to 2020 (389 vs 304). At the JZC meeting, it was not clear what was included in this category. The U.S. Census Bureau website provides the following definition:

“A housing unit is vacant if no one is living in it at the time of the interview, unless its occupants are only temporarily absent. In addition, a vacant unit may be one which is entirely occupied by persons who have a usual residence elsewhere. New units not yet occupied are classified as vacant housing units if construction has reached a point where all exterior windows and doors are installed and final usable floors are in place. Vacant units are excluded if they are exposed to the elements, that is, if the roof, walls, windows, or doors no longer protect the interior from the elements, or if there is positive evidence (such as a sign on the house or block) that the unit is to be demolished or is condemned. Also excluded are quarters being used entirely for nonresidential purposes, such as a store or an office, or quarters used for the storage of business supplies or inventory, machinery, or agricultural products. Vacant sleeping rooms in lodging houses, transient accommodations, barracks, and other quarters not defined as housing units are not included in the statistics in this report.”

Future Development

Ms. Wolff also reported the estimated number of acres of land suitable for future potential development in each municipality. For Newtown that number was just under 40 acres, for Upper Makefield it is a little more than 250 acres, and for Wrightstown it is a little more than 425 acres. These are just early estimates, but it is evident that Newtown may be reaching its limit for future development.

Additional Information

Posted on 11 Oct 2021, 11:37 - Category: Development



My Official Supervisor Activities for Q3 2021

The following is a summary of my Supervisor-related activities for the third quarter of 2021 (July, August, September) of 2021. In Q3 2021 I spent, on average, 35.0 hours per month on official Supervisor business. This compares with an average of 39.2 hours per month in Q2 2021 and 45.9 hours per month in Q1 2021.

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 tables shows the numbers:

For Q3 2021 I earned a “stipend” of $1,031.25 before taxes. That’s works out to $9.83 per hour or $64.85 per hour if I just attended required meetings. Compare that to 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, access the Directory of Newtown 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 can truly say that I work for residents EVERY day of the week, but mostly Mondays through Thursdays.

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 06 Oct 2021, 01:59 - Category: Governance



The First View of Newtown Township Website Analytics!

At the April 26, 2021, Newtown Technology and Communications Committee (T&CC) Zoom meeting, several people complained that it was difficult to navigate the township website (www.newtownpa.gov) and find the information they were seeking (listen to the discussion). 

Considering that the website is the main way that the township communicates with residents, it is crucial that its usability be improved. As Peter Drucker, who was arguably the world's greatest management consultant, famously said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”

Google Analytics

It just so happens that Google Analytics is one of the best tools available to “measure” the usability of websites – and it’s freely available. All that is required is a Google account and a special code to be inserted in every page, both of which are currently in use by the township.

The quest for a Google Analytics report for the township website goes back the June 13, 2018, BOS meeting. At that meeting, Josephine Vlastaris, who was then Chair of the Technology Committee, recommended using Google Analytics to monitor traffic and bounce rate for the township website, and make changes to pages as needed.

This issue was taken up recently by the revamped Newtown Township Technology & Communications Committee (T&CC), which requested a whole slew of analytics data. In response to that request, Beth Leone, Newtown Township Technology Director, ran Google Analytics on the township website for the period of Apr 1, 2021 through Sep 20, 2021. Several Reports were generated, which you can find in my DataBank.

This is my personal preliminary, non-expert analysis of the data submitted to the T&CC. A more definitive official report will be made in by T&CC experts in the near future and presented to the Board of Supervisors.

How Many Pages Are Visited?

Probably the most important parameter to keep track of is "pageviews." A pageview is an instance of an Internet user visiting a particular page on a site. A pageview is recorded whenever a full page of the website is viewed or refreshed. Unique Pageviews is the number of sessions during which the specified page was viewed at least once. Repeated views of a single page are not counted as unique views.

The Newtown website had 42,413 unique Pageviews from Apr 1, 2021 through Sep 20, 2021, which works out to 7,480 unique pageviews per month (divide 42,413 by 5.67 months). Compare that with my website, which averaged only 1,897 unique pageviews per month during the same period (read "Google Analytics and the Township’s Website").

What Were the TOP Pages Viewed?

Google Analytics can show you the Top 10, 25, 100, or whatever, pages viewed. Figure 1 shows data for the Top 10 township website pages viewed during the period Apr 1, 2021 through Sep 20, 2021. You can download the data for ALL of the 1395 pages.

Figure 1: Top Ten Pages

To no-one's surprise, the home page (index.php) is the #1 paged viewed with 12,496 unique views. The other top pages include the municipal office contact page and permit applications page as well as other zoning related pages. The township police page surprisingly is #2 on the list. Also up there is the Board of Supervisors page and the Parks & Recreation page.

Top 5 Pages for Community, Business, Government, Department.
*Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority

Obviously, many visitors are looking to contact the township regarding permits, zoning issues, and police matters. It seems to me that while many ordinary citizens may be accessing these pages, perhaps a majority of visitors are contractors, lawyers, etc. representing clients looking for specific information.

Why is the police department page so high on the list, especially since there is no direct link to it on the home page? I’ve heard that the police department gets many requests for arrest data either from lawyers or from people who are incarcerated. Or it could be that during this period the department was activity seeking to hire new officers and outside sites may have driven potential applicants to the police department to learn more about the department.

The minutes and agendas page is the 5th most visited page. On average, visitors spend more than 5 minutes on this page navigating through the menus trying to find what they are looking for. The time spent on most other pages is under one minute. See my lesson on how to access and download meeting agendas and minutes:

Committee Pageviews

In July and August, 2021, committee members were asked to respond to a survey that asked: “Is your Committee using the Township Website?” To date, 12 responses have been received. When asked “If available, would your committee like to utilize the Township's website to post important committee and/or government topics?” all respondents chose “Yes, please.”

Unfortunately, many committee members were not aware that their committee can have useful information posted to its page on the township website. Consequently, these pages include just the bare minimum of information about the mission and members of the committee. Partially due to the lack of information on the page, most committee pages are not visited often as demonstrated by the data in Table 1.

Table 1: Committee Pageviews. *The data for the period Apr 1, 2021 through
Sep 20, 2021 was divided by 5.67 to get an estimate of the pageviews per month.

Related data for other committees:

  • Parks & Recreation Board: 4.1 sessions per month
  • Human Relations Commission: 18.7 sessions per month

The dearth of useful information on a page is not the only reason for low pageviews. Another factor is how users are driven to the page. For more on that, see “Where Do Users Come From” at the end of this post.

Bounce Rates

Let’s look at the bounce rates. A “bounce” means that the visitor had no interaction with the page other than perhaps reading what was on it. They came and then left the site immediately without clicking on any link. As a rule of thumb, a bounce rate in the range of 26 to 40 percent is excellent. 41 to 55 percent is roughly average. You can see that most of the bounce rates for top pages is within the average range.

Bounce rates vary depending on the page. The bounce rate for the minutes and agendas page is 37.33% whereas for the Human Relations Commission page it is 74.53%. Perhaps many visitors think this is where they can find a well-paying township job!

I note that there are two conspicuous peaks in the pageviews chart; one on or about July 17, 2021 and another at the end of June 2021. I am not sure what caused these peaks. A deeper dive into the data might shed more light on this.

How Many Users Visit the Site?

A user is a unique person who has come to the website. A user can visit and leave the website multiple times per day. Each time they visit, do stuff, and leave is a “session.” The first time a person visits the site, a Google Analytics cookie will be set and a unique identifier will be assigned to that user. This then is used to distinguish the person as a “new user.”

Figure 2 below shows information about township website users and sessions for the period Apr 1, 2021 through Sep 20, 2021. Here “Users” is a total count of users during the report period, and “New Users” is just users in the report period that had only their first visit to the property during that period.

Figure 2: User Data

During the time period for the report, 85% of users were “new users.” I would have expected that the percent of “new users” would be lower. I am not an expert in interpreting these data and must leave it up to the experts to determine what this means.

What Day of the Week Do Users Visit the Website?

One more piece of data is the number of users by time of day, shown in the Figure 3 below.

Figure 3: Users by Time of Day, Newtown Township Website vs.
John Mack’s Website.

It is obvious from this chart on the left that most visits to the township website occur during the work week and during normal business hours, This tells me that the majority of visits are business related – probably by lawyers, contractors, etc. This confirms what was interpreted from the top pages visited.

Just for the sake of comparison, the chart on the right shows the data for my website, which is geared more to the typical layperson/resident. It’s interesting that in both cases the peak day of the week is Wednesday – the “hump day!”

The majority (57%) of visitors to the township website use desktop computers to access the site while 40% use mobile phones and 2 % use tablets.

Where Do Users Come From?

One of the most important pieces of information to gauge a website’s usefulness is the origin of visitors; i.e., referrers such as websites, search engines, etc. Figure 4 shows the referrers to my website (www.johnmacknewtown.info) during the month of April, 2021.

Figure 4: Referrals By Day for www.johnmacknewtown.info (April 2021). A referral in Google Analytics happens when one website refers traffic to my site. Essentially, it's a recommendation from one site to another.

Unfortunately, this information was not included in the dataset presented to the T&CC. If we had these data, we may have discovered why certain pages, such as the police department page, received so many pageviews. 

What's Next?

The goal of collecting and analyzing these data is to identify problems that can be fixed. Ultimately, the long-range goal is to make the site easier to use and to provide more useful information for Newtown residents. The T&CC discussed some ways to drive more visits to the website such as via social media, search engine optimization, etc. Committees should also update their pages often with useful information.

Whatever is done, we need to periodically run Google Analytics to measure the result. 

Posted on 29 Sep 2021, 13:18 - Category: Communication



Economic Development Committee Discusses Proposal for a LI/OLI Overlay District

I attended the in-person September 21, 2021, Newtown Economic Development Committee (EDC) meeting because I wanted to learn more about “Economic Development projects for 2022 budget” – which was an item on the agenda.

This was the first mention I have seen of the 2022 budget in ANY official agenda for a public meeting. Not even us supervisors know what projects will be in the proposed preliminary 2022 budget, which will not be presented to the Board of Supervisors (BOS) until October 18, 2021.

However, the EDC discussion actually focused on the Bucks County Planning Commission (BCPC) REVISED proposal for Planning Services to Develop an Overlay District to the LI and OLI Zoning Districts. For background, view the video: "Township Planner Presentation on Rezoning the OLI & LI Districts." Members did not have the revised proposal to review at this meeting.

The discussion focused on the process for approval of the proposal and how members of the EDC would be involved in the BCPC process if the proposal is approved by the BOS, which will vote to approve it or not on at the September 22, 2021, BOS meeting. They also discussed what an Overlay entails.

Overlay District Permits New Uses

Overlay Zoning is a regulatory tool that creates a special zoning district, placed over an existing base zone(s), which identifies special provisions in addition to those in the underlying base zone. The overlay district can share common boundaries with the base zone or cut across base zone boundaries. Regulations or incentives are attached to the overlay district to protect a specific resource or guide development within a special area.

Mary Donaldson - an EDC member - explained how an overlay to the LI and OLI zoning districts would allow for additional uses that are currently not permitted:

Mack's Newtown Voice · EDC Discussion of Overlay to the LI and OLI Zoning Districts

The EDC spent considerable time talking about possible new uses for the districts that the Overlay would allow. Restaurants, for example, were mentioned. You can find all the possible uses in a May 4, 2021 presentation before the Newtown Planning Commission by Township Planner Michele Fountain. You can also listen to that presentation.

Posted on 22 Sep 2021, 11:45 - Category: Development



Residents Accused of Being “Lazy”

It was a sad night at the September 8, 2021, Newtown Board of Supervisors meeting.

The debate over hybrid Newtown Board of Supervisors (BOS) meetings, which would allow residents the option to attend and participate via Zoom or other technology, continued at the September 8, 2021, BOS meeting.

In a comment to the BOS, Newtown Grant resident John D’Aprile was of the opinion that the township should not spend money on hybrid meetings so that “lazy” residents can attend. “Why should we cater to someone who is lazy and does not want to come to meetings?,” quipped Mr. D’Aprile.

Uber Refuses Guide Dog!

Meanwhile, at the August 25, 2021, BOS meeting, resident Terry Christensen, Chairman of the Board of Friends Village, said that he supports the hybrid option, as many of the Friends Village residents are not able to attend meetings in person anymore, but are still very eager to participate in local government matters.

In response to my questions, Mr. Christensen said that he is visually impaired and unable to drive and has taken Ubers to recent meetings. He cannot stay late as it becomes difficult to arrange for a ride later in the evening; he has also been refused a ride because he has a guide dog.

BTW, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a guide dog should be able to go anywhere that a blind person can go.

Adding Insult to Injury!

In my opinion, Mr. D’Aprile’s comments are an insult to residents who are NOT lazy such as the elderly, the handicapped, and anyone susceptible to COVID infections. Mr. Christensen was able to attend only because of the kindness of another citizen who gave him a ride – with his guide dog!

Yes, residents can watch BOS meetings that are simulcast on cable TV. But more and more people – especially the elderly – are doing away with expensive cable TV and using streaming media such as Youtube. Newtown does NOT stream its BOS meetings via digital media such as Youtube. Even if it did, it would not be advisable to allow unedited comments from anyone, including trolls and non-residents.

Yes, residents can send comments via email or postal mail to the township to be forwarded to all supervisors, but these comments are NOT read aloud at public BOS meetings and are NOT included in the official minutes of meetings. Basically, you are out of luck making your opinion known to other residents unless you attend the meeting in person.

What You Can Do To Help

This underscores the need to have hybrid BOS meetings that give residents - not just supervisors - the OPTION to attend and participate virtually. If you agree, PLEASE SIGN MY PETITION! To date, 180 people have signed. All signatures will be sent to the supervisors.

Posted on 09 Sep 2021, 11:19 - Category: Discrimination



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