John Mack - Newtown Supervisor

My Official Supervisor Activities for Q2 2021

The following is a summary of my Supervisor-related activities for the second quarter of 2021 (April through June) of 2021. In Q2 2021 I spent, on average, 39 hours per month on official Supervisor business. This compares with an average of 37 hours per month in Q2 2020 during the height of 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 tables shows the numbers:

For the second quarter of 2021 I earned a “stipend” of $1,031.25 before taxes. That’s works out to $8.77 per hour or $127.31 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 02 Jul 2021, 12:18 - Category: Open Records/Transparency



As COVID Restrictions Ease, DUI Arrests in the Newtown Area Are Zooming!

I've been noticing that arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) account for a majority or large portion of incidents in recent weekly Newtown Police incident reports. In the June 11 to 17, 2021, Incident Blotter, for example, 5 of the 12 incidents involved a DUI arrest. One involved a vehicle crashing into a tree and overturning! Most (4) of these incidents occurred between the hours of 10 PM and 2 AM, one was at 4:30 PM.

I wondered if there was a trend related to the easing of COVID-19 restrictions on serving alcohol in restaurants and bars. So I plotted the data for a 24-month period from July 2019 through May 2021. See the chart below.

A: Effective July 15, 2020, nightclubs had to shut down, bars were closed
unless they also offered dine-in meals, and bars and restaurants
were be limited to 25% capacity. B: Effective May 31, 2021,
restaurants and bars no longer have capacity limits.

What's interesting is the fact that in the months PRIOR to COVID restrictions that began in March, 2020 (Jan 2019 through February 2020), there were, on average, 4 DUI arrests per month. In contrast, the average for the months from January 2021 through May 2021 when restrictions eased is 15 DUI arrests per month!

NOTE: In April and May 2020, the Newtown Police made fewer patrols to protect the force from infection. Consequently, the number of DUI arrests for those months are perhaps lower than usual.

What About Other Substance Abuse Incidents?
Projections are based on the April, 2021, NT Police Report 
presented at the May 12, 2021, BOS public meeting.

According to my survey of issues important to Newtown voters this year, only 20% of respondents during the period of 2020-2021 (YTD) consider “Drug Abuse” of HIGH IMPORTANCE compared to 38% in the period 2018-2019 (before COVID).

From the police data shown in the chart above, drug abuse increased dramatically during COVID-19, yet people seem to be ignoring the problem or are not aware of the problem. A reporting system called ODMAP shows that the early months of the pandemic brought an 18% increase nationwide in overdoses compared with those same months in 2019. The trend has continued throughout 2020, according to a report by the American Medical Association.

It seems to me that we are going through a period of excessive indulgence in previously restricted activities, especially out-of-home eating, drinking, and taking drugs; i.e., we're on a binge! And there's no telling when it will end.

NT PD Statistics for May 2021

See the embedded PDF below or download the file here.

Posted on 24 Jun 2021, 01:39 - Category: Police



Mack’s Guide to the Newtown Township Website. Lesson 1: How to Access Official Meeting Agendas and Minutes

Let's suppose you wish to attend an upcoming public meeting such as the next meeting of the Board of Supervisors (BOS) or Planning Commission or other official committee. But you want to make sure you know what’s on the agenda so that you don’t waste your time going to a meeting that won’t cover any issue you care about. This lesson will show you how to do that using the Newtown Township website. You can use the same steps to access the minutes and Zoom recordings of previous meetings.

EXTRA BONUS: The steps outlined here can also be used to access approved minutes and Zoom recordings of past meetings.

 
CAVEAT: This lesson, which was created on June 13, 2021, will show you how to get the agenda for any public meeting. If you are following the steps at a later date, what you see may be different than what's presented here, but the instructions remain valid no matter when you access the website. You might find it easier to view the video version embedded at the end of this post.

The first step, of course, is to go to the homepage, which is newtownpa.gov. You should see this nice page that includes a big scrolling video (Figure 1). Kind of cool, right? No other municipal website that I know of dedicates so much of its homepage to graphics.

Figure 1: newtownpa.gov Homepage

In any case, you also see the main sections of the website: HOME, COMMUNITY, BUSINESS, GOVERNMENT, DEPARTMENTS, and CONTACT. Since the BOS is part of the Newtown government, it would be logical to click on “GOVERNMENT,” but I like to first see the calendar. You need to scroll down to see that.

Click on the down arrow and up will pop the bottom of the screen (see Figure 2). Very useful links and information here, but no calendar. You have to scroll further down to see that.

Figure 2: The Homepage Below the Visuals

Further down the page, we see the column of “Upcoming Township Meetings.” Here you will see most – BUT NOT ALL – of the upcoming scheduled meetings. For example, I do not see any Board of Supervisors meeting listed here.

What you have to do is scroll further down until you see the calendar icon near the bottom of the screen. Click on that. Now you will see the “Newtown Township Calendar of Events and Meetings” (Figure 3).

Figure 3: The Calendar Page Showing the Meetings Scheduled
for June 2021.

If you scroll further down this screen you will see that there is a "BOARD OF SUPERVISORS ZOOM MEETING” scheduled for June 23, 2021. When you click on that you will see that this meeting will be on a Wednesday at 7 PM. It says the LOCATION is the Newtown Township Public Meeting Room, but that cannot be correct because this is a Zoom meeting.

There are also links here that allow you to add this meeting to your personal calendar. I don’t like to mess with that. What we want is to find is the agenda for this meeting, but I see no links to get me to that.

Now what?

Maybe we should have clicked on the GOVERNMENT menu item on the top of the page and saved a lot of time! Let’s do that now. Actually, you only have to roll your mouse pointer over “GOVERNMENT” and you will see a menu pop up.

Whoops! I don’t see “Board of Supervisors” on the menu, so I guess we have to click on “Boards & Committees.” Actually, don’t click on it, just roll your mouse pointer over it and ANOTHER menu will pop up and lo and behold there’s “Board of Supervisors” as the number 2 choice.

What you have to do now is carefully roll your mouse pointer over to the second pop-up menu and click on “Board of Supervisors”. This will get you to the “Township Board of Supervisors” page (see the video at the end of this post).

 
BE CAREFUL: When moving your mouse pointer from one menu to a submenu it could venture outside the menu limits. If this happens, the menus will disappear and you will have to start over. This might be a problem for older people with less dexterity or experience with mouses.

On the Township Board of Supervisors page you learn that the BOS meets on the second and fourth Wednesday of every month. This is true, except when it isn’t, such as when a meeting is cancelled for some reason or another.

Anyway, you will see a list of past Zoom meetings and other information such as a link to watch previous meetings and the mission of the Board of Supervisors.

Step-by-Step Guide

OK. Here’s a step-by-step guide on what you need to do to get to the agenda of the June 23 BOS meeting (see the video embedded at the end):

  1. Scroll down further on the Township Board of Supervisors page and you will see “Supervisor Meeting Minutes & Agendas.” This is what we need.
  2. Scroll further down and click on “2021”. There’s an information icon (the letter “i” in a circle) that you can click. But that just tells me when this item was created. Forget about that!
  3. Click on the highlighted “2021” menu item and you will see a number of choices. Again, this is useful non-agenda and non-minutes information such as the “Bills List” item, which will lead you to all the bills paid by the township in 2021!
  4. But we’re interested in finding the agenda for the June 23, 2021, meeting, so click on “Agendas.” You should see a list of  2021 meeting agendas to date.

Unfortunately, the agenda for the June 23, 2021, meeting is not yet available because most agendas are not posted until just a few days before the meeting. Actually, the law requires that the agendas – or at least public notices announcing the date, time, and location of official meetings – be posted no later than 24 hours before the meeting. The Board of Supervisors agendas are usually posted at the close of business on the Friday before the meeting. Thus, the agenda for the June 23, 2021, meeting will not be available until June 18.

Let's find a meeting that is closer to our search date (June 13, 2021). If we go back to the Calendar we see that there is Planning Commission meeting scheduled for June 15, 2021. Let’s try that.

First, click on “PLANNING COMMISSION ZOOM MEETING” in the Calendar. You will see the time and location – correctly noted as “Zoom” – for this meeting, and other “Event Details,” but no direct link to the agenda.

Let’s go to the Planning Commission page and see if we can find the agenda for the June 15, 2021 meeting there. Click on “Planning Commission page” under EVENT DETAILS in the Calendar. Unfortunately, you’ll need to roll you mouse pointer over items like this to realize that they are clickable.

The Planning Commission page looks very similar to the Township Board of Supervisors page. However, if you scroll down you do NOT see a “Meeting Minutes & Agendas” list as with the Supervisors page. This is true for every committee page.

Darn!

Here’s My “Secret” to Finding Meeting Agendas

In order to find agendas for upcoming meetings of any committee other than the Board of Supervisors, we need a different way of doing it. I’ll let you in on my secret way of accessing more information about upcoming meetings including agendas and minutes of past meetings PLUS the agenda of the next scheduled meeting (if we are lucky).

  1. Go back to the top of the page and open/click on the GOVERNMENT menu.
  2. Click on “Minutes & Agendas.” This is the door to the magic kigdom of agendas and minutes!
  3. Scroll down the list until you find the board, committee, or commission you are interested in. In this case, click on “Planning Commission.” It may require two clicks before it works.

Now we can follow the same procedure we followed with the Board of Supervisors:

  1. Pick the year you are interested in; i.e., 2021. Click/double click on that.
  2. You now should see just 3 folders: Agendas, Minutes, Zoom Meetings. You might think to click on the latter, but don’t unless you want see the archive of PAST Zoom meetings. Click on “Agendas.” BONUS: Obviously, from here you can also access approved minutes and Zoom recordings of past meetings.
  3. Aha! There it is at the bottoem of the list! It's a file titled “06 June 15.pdf”  (ignore the “06” in the name – it’s a mystery). Click on that and you finally see the agenda, which you can download to your computer (see the video at the end of this post to see how to do this). It may take a few moments to load – have patience. This is a Google function we are working with and who knows what evil lurks there!

Hurray! Success!

Just SIX not so “easy” steps. I’m sure, however, that once you do this 5 or 6 times. It will be second nature!

UNFORTUNATELY, this is the ONLY way you can get the login information you need to join the Zoom meetings, like this one for the Planning Commission. For live meetings, you just show up; i.e., get dressed nicely, drive to the township municipal building, park, and walk in to take a seat.

NOTE: When you attend live committee meetings, try to sit close to the committee members if you wish to hear them. For some reason, only televised Board of Supervisors meetings use the speakers in the room so that members of the public sitting at the back can hear what’s going on.

 

As COVID-19 restrictions are being eased or lifted entirely and as more people are fully vaccinated, townships are planning to return to live in-person meetings or are already hosting hybrid in-person/online public meetings (read "Incorporating Zoom Into Live BOS Meetings" and "Middletown Township Hosts Successful "Hybrid" Public Meetings").

This survey asks your opinion regarding whether or not townships such as Newtown should implement hybrid public meetings where officials meet in person as before COVID-19 but the public has the option to participate remotely via Zoom (or other technology) or in person.

No identifying information is collected via this survey unless you opt-in to provide such information for purposes of follow-up by subscribing to John Mack's email newsletter. After completing this 2-minute survey, you will be able to see a de-identified summary of the results to date.

TAKE THE SURVEY NOW!

DISCLAIMER: This is not an official Newtown Township approved survey. Its purpose is solely to inform John Mack – a Newtown Supervisor – of the public’s opinion regarding this issue.

View the Video

An Easier Way

Now that you know my secret, let me tell you another secret. I do all this work for you so you do not have to. Just visit the “Upcoming Meetings” on my website.

Better yet – subscribe to my email notification/newsletter service. I sent out notifications of upcoming meetings once or twice a month depending on activity. Subscribe here.

Posted on 13 Jun 2021, 11:09 - Category: Communication



Philly Workers Who Stayed Home May Be Due a Wage Tax Refund

Contributed by: Nick Valla, MPA, Assistant Township Manager, Middletown Township

Has your home turned into an office during the last year? With the pandemic forcing many people to work from home, thousands in our area are no longer commuting to work.

For those who in the past commuted to Philadelphia, there is yet another benefit to working from home beyond saving time, gas, and tolls: a tax refund.

Anyone who works in Philadelphia and lives elsewhere [e.g., Newtown Township] is subject to pay the non-resident Philadelphia Wage Tax, which stands at a hefty 3.5019% of gross wages. Nearly all municipalities in the Philadelphia area [including Newtown Township] levy an Earned Income Tax (EIT), with most topping out at 1%. Residents living in the suburbs are subject to this lower rate EIT where they live- unless they work in Philadelphia. However, with many required to work from their homes during the last year, they may no longer be subject to the Philadelphia Wage Tax while telecommuting.

Is it worth the effort to pursue a refund?

The simple answer is yes! Someone working from home in in the suburbs [e.g., Newtown Township] during the pandemic making $60,000 per year would be subject to their home municipality’s EIT, which is typically 1%. In the span of one year, this would equal a savings of about $1,500!

[Note: The median household income in Newtown is $118,654, which means Newtown residents may save much more.]

Plus, the 1% you contribute to your local EIT will be invested into public safety and infrastructure improvements into the community you and your family lives.

How do you take advantage of this? For any amount of time a Philadelphia job was completed at a home outside of the city limits, they may request a Wage Tax refund from the City of Philadelphia.  When submitting a tax return to Keystone Collections, the tax officer for all EIT in Bucks County, use the Out-Of-State Tax Credit Worksheet on Line 12 of the tax return form if you need to receive a tax credit for the time you did not work in Philadelphia.

For anyone who continues working from their home outside of the City of Philadelphia, they should submit a Residency Certification Form to their employer and request that their local EIT be deducted from their wages instead of the City Wage tax. A political subdivision (PSD) code will be needed for the form, which can be found using this tool.

Note: This notice has been reviewed by Joe Lazzaro of Keystone Collections to ensure accuracy.

Posted on 04 Jun 2021, 01:29 - Category: Finances



Summary of 12 May 2021 BOS Meeting

Storm Drain Stencils, Fred Beans Revised Final Plan, Missing EIT Income, Stream Bank Rehabilitation Project, Police Report Report, More...

The following is a brief summary of the May 12, 2021, 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. Also see the (UNOFFICIAL) 2021 Voting Record of Newtown Supervisors, which is updated frequently.

Storm Drain Stencils

Sycamore Street Storm Drain Stencil project proposed by Eagle Scout, Troop 99: Michael Wysnewski of Scout Troop 99 was in attendance to review his project to continue the stenciling storm drains on N. Sycamore Street to alert residents about the hazards of throwing trash down the drains, as these inlets bring stormwater to the Delaware River, Delaware Bay and eventually to the Atlantic Ocean.

Mr. Davis moved to approve the Eagle Scout project of marking the stormwater drain inlets on Sycamore Street. Mr. Fisher seconded and the motion passed 5-0.

More details:
 

This Project involves stenciling the curbs above 16 storm drains along both sides of North Sycamore Street, beginning at the Jefferson Street intersection and ending on the intersection of West Washington Avenue. The stencil will be custom-designed.

Reports of Committees, Boards and Commissions

Planning Commission - Fred Beans Revised Final Plan: Chairman Allen Fidler reported that at its May 4, 2021 meeting the Commission reviewed the revised final plan for land development for Fred Beans Ford, 10 N. Sycamore Street. The applicant proposes to revise the expansion plan which had been approved in January of 2018 to reduce the showroom addition from 4,507 square feet to 1,321 square feet, and increase the setback for the new façade. The dealership currently has 10 display parking spaces in front. This will be reduced to 8 parking spaces.

Mr. Mack asked about sidewalks and other amenities in the original plan.

Related Content:
Newtown Township Planners Recommend Approval of Revised Final Plans for Fred Beans Ford

Planning Commission - Review of Permitted Uses in the LI and OLI Zoning District: Mr. Fidler said that at this same meeting, Township Planner Michele Fountain provided an overview of current zoning in the Newtown Business Commons and led the preliminary discussion on possible expansion of the permitted uses, with a goal of enhancing revenue to the Township, either by bringing in new, high wage businesses or by creating a more attractive environment for the current business tenants, and possibly for nearby residents. The Commission has generated a preliminary list of uses to be considered and explored further, including expanded eating place and eating place take-out (focusing on casual dining), service businesses such as salons and dry cleaners, a possible entertainment overlay for venues like theater or bowling alley uses and shared workspace uses for office and laboratories.

Mr. Mack had some concerns about the impact of some of these proposed new uses on nearby residential developments.

Mr. Fidler reminded the Board that the Planning Commission has always been sensitive to the concerns of nearby residents, as was exhibited when the Commission considered a dog daycare center. The overlay concept would be useful in keeping a distance between residential and commercial uses. In response to Mr. Mack’s further comments on sidewalks, Mr. Fidler said that the Commission is aware of the desire for walkability. There had been a plan for trails developed some years ago and has been referenced when the Township is considering new land development.

Related Content:

Ass’t Secretary/Treasurer: Mr. Mack reported that he had attended a meeting of the Bucks County Tax Collection Committee and heard an update from Keystone. There is some question about people working from home but paying income tax to the City of Philadelphia. He will keep the Board informed on this.

Development

Solicitor’s Report - Professional Services Agreement for Planner for ZHB Appeal: Mr. Sander explained that a postponement has been granted for the WaWa Zoning Hearing Board appeal, in order for the Township to prepare its case. He is recommending that the Township retain the services of David Babbitt, Planner, as an expert witness for the hearing on June 3, 2021.

Discussion of motion: Mr. Mack asked whether he can telephone Mr. Babbitt to discuss his testimony. Mr. Calabro said that he would prefer if the Township organized its questions and concerns and two supervisors were included in any calls with this planner.

The motion passed 5-0.

Related Content:

Environment

Engineer’s Report - DCED Watershed Restoration Fund grant: Resolution 2021-R-10, to request a DCED watershed restoration and protection program grant from the Commonwealth Financing Authority to be used for the Clark Nature Center.

Discussion of motion: Mr. Mack asked whether the work involved would impact the trail system in the park. He also noted that the cost is about $40,000 more than the grant amount.
Ms. Colubriale said that this phase is not close to any of the trails.
Mr. Lewis said that the project was included in the 2021 budget, paid with recreation capital funds. The grant has a 15% match requirement. The Township will have 3 years to complete the project.

The motion passed 5-0.

Related Content:

Public Safety

Police Report: Police Chief John Hearn reported that in the last month the Department responded to 1708 calls for service and made 20 arrests. 15 cases were referred to the detectives, who worked with the FBI. He reminded everyone that May 22, 2021 is the Police Consortium test to become a police officer. He urged anyone interested to take the test.

Mr. Mack asked about last month’s drug take back day. Chief Hearn said that Newtown collected 163 pounds of discarded narcotics and other prescriptions that day, and 494 pounds in the month. Mr. Mack commented on the increased use of Narcan by officers.

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 02 Jun 2021, 12:37 - Category: Board of Supervisors Minutes



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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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