John Mack - Newtown Supervisor

Does Newtown Need a Mobile-Enabled Emergency Notification System?

Recently, there have been several emergency or near emergency situations in Newtown Township. On March 7, 2018, during a snow emergency power failure, the Township Building was open as a “warming center,” but before any township residents were made aware of this, power was restored; on October 24, 2018, Swamp Road and Route 413 experienced significant traffic delays due to an accident, but many residents were unaware of the problem.

UPDATE (15 Nov 2018): Obviously today's storm was a challenge for Township residents. According to the Township Manager, Buck and Swamp Roads were closed and caused an overload of traffic on 413, the Bypass, and Eagle Road. The township had difficulty all afternoon even getting trucks out to efficiently address the accumulation of snow/ice. Almost all major roads in the Township were inhibited in one way or another throughout the day by volume and stuck vehicles. Again, residents were not adequately notified until it was too late.

The list goes on. And although the Newtown Police Department and/or the Township Manager were able to post information about some of these events on Twitter and Facebook or via email to homeowner association management companies (with the hope that it would passed along to HOAs and residents), these notices reached a limited number of residents, reached them too late, or never reached them at all.

Not only is there a limited ability for the Newtown Police and Administration Departments to send out emergency and other notices to residents, there is limited ability of residents to easily communicate information to the Township and be assured that a record is kept of each contact.

The Newtown Technology Committee has been investigating services that can solve these problems by sending notices to residents about active shooters, traffic incidents, community events, severe weather alerts, missing persons, etc., via text, mobile apps, email, voice, Twitter, and Facebook. One such system is NIXLE, which is used by over 8,000 communities across the country. For more information download the NIXLE data sheet.

Such a service would cost Newtown Township about $5,500 per year (plus $500 in the first year for implementation and training). The service is FREE to residents who sign up (opt-in) to use it. Is it worth it?

Listen to This Presentation

This is an edited recording of a presentation to the Newtown Technology Committee made by a Nixle sales representative. It covers all the major features of the system.

Recently, I spoke with the Chief of a Regional Police Department that uses NIXLE. According to him, "Nixle has been working very well for us. We purchased this service and permit the three municipalities in the region to also post notices/alerts through our system.  All officers can post an alert. The system is very easy to use, especially the mobile application. I have already used NIXLE's mobile app from my car while traveling to the scene of an event."

Citizens and residents from surrounding municipalities can opt in to receive mobile, email or hard line phone notifications. His department created information cards and officers hand them out at community events to make people aware of the system.

"I would say that Nixle is a benefit and cost appropriate," said the Chief.

So, should Newtown purchase such a system to instantly send out Emergency Alerts, Advisories (less urgent need-to-know information), Community Information (day-to-day neighborhood to community-level information), Traffic (very localized traffic information), etc? 

If you are a Newtown area resident, please take a short survey to let me know if you would opt-in to such a service if it were available to Newtown Township and Wrightstown residents (both communities are serviced by the Newtown Township Police Department) as well as Newtown Borough residents.

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.

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.

Posted on 13 Nov 2018, 10:40 - Category: Survey Results



John Mack’s Supervisor Report for October 2018

As I reported in September, Newtown Supervisors prepare for and attend a lot of meetings (read “A Month in the Life of a Newtown Supervisor: Meetings, Meetings, and More Meetings!”). Some of us also spend time doing other things as well, such as having full-time jobs, being parents, and volunteering for other community services.

Admittedly, I have a lot of free time to devote to my Supervisor duties – perhaps more than other Supervisors. I am a retired businessman whose children are adults and sad to say, I do not have any grandchildren to keep me busy, yet! And I am not a golfer! So, for me, I have the “luxury” of devoting as much time to being a Supervisor as I wish. This month, for example, I spent a total of 57.5 hours on official Supervisor-related activities. The following report provides details of how these hours were spent. 

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.

What This Report Does Not Include

My log of Supervisor-related activiies 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.

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

Meetings

In the month of October 2018, I estimate that I spent about 17 hours attending meetings, which was significantly less than the 34 hours I spent attending meetings last month. BOS meetings are “required” in the sense that I am expected to attend them in order to satisfy my duties as a Supervisor. These include regular bi-weekly public meetings, non-public Executive Sessions Definition, public Work Sessions Definition, and special meetings (see the list below).

“Other Meetings” I attended were optional. For October, 2018, these included:

  1. Planning Commission meetings: October 2 and 16, 2018
  2. Zoning Hearing Board meeting: October 4, 2018
  3. Finance Committee meeting: October 9, 2018
  4. Joint Historic Commission meeting: October 22, 2018

I spent 8.8 hours attending these optional meetings. In total, I spent nearly 33.7 hours in October, 2018, attending all the above meetings, preparing for these meetings, and traveling to and from these meetings. The following chart shows the breakdown of all my Supervisor-related activities for October, 2018:

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 account, and via phone and/or Facebook. For October, 2018, I spent approximately 9 hours (16% of my total logged hours) interacting with residents.

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

Disclaimer

When speaking with residents on issues that may come before the BOS in the future for a vote, I never express an opinion as to how I will vote because I may not have all the information. Needless to say, I also do NOT discuss any confidential information that is not in the public domain. These discussions with residents are meant solely to inform me of their opinions, not for me to give them my opinion. Or it is just to listen to complaints/concerns and to forward them on to the BOS if necessary

I spent some time nearly every day of the month in October working for you as Supervisor (see chart below). Not that I’m complaining! 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 01 Nov 2018, 01:41 - Category: Governance



What's Next for Ordinance Amendment to Allow Wawa on Newtown Bypass?... It's Complicated!

Recall from a previous post that on October 16, 2018, the Newtown Planning Commission sent back to the Board of Supervisors (BOS Definition) for revision the proposed OR zone ordinance Text Amendment Definition designed to allow a “modern, motor vehicle fueling center consisting of a convenience store with accessory motor vehicle fuel sales” (e.g., Wawa) on the Bypass (read "The Newtown Township Planning Commission Stymies Path Forward for Wawa - For Now").

Several residents wondered what the next steps are in the process and when will they be able to see the amended ordinance. I wondered as well and asked Dave Sander, the Township Solicitor Definition, to outline the steps at the October 24, 2018, BOS meeting. The short answer was "it's complicated."

The following video clip from the October 24, 2018, BOS meeting provides the definitive and a more detailed answer, which may or may not clarify things.

I jokingly suggested we needed a flow chart to visualize the steps. Of course, I went ahead and created my own flow chart! There may be some steps that I left out, such as the participation by the Wrightstown and Upper Makefiled Planning Commissions. We are currently (October 30, 2018) at step #3. As suggested by BOS members, the whole process can take many months, even years! 

Blue represents the stage when the public can finally get a glimpse of this amendment. 
Red represents the stage where there will be a public hearing for residents to
comment on the amendment before a final vote is taken. As of the beginning of
November, 2018, we are at stage 3 waiting for changes, input from the attorneys.

Posted on 29 Oct 2018, 13:33 - Category: Ordinances



$1.6 Million Available for Traffic Improvements BUT It Can't Be Spent!

Whenever new residential or business developments are proposed for Newtown, the impact on traffic is a major concern of residents (read, for example, “Newtown Board of Supervisors Shoots Down Drive-thru Starbucks” and “Super Wawa Survey Comments” and “Arcadia Green Development Hearings”).

In order to mitigate these concerns, the township collects traffic impact fees from developers to make capital improvements to accommodate traffic generated by new development. Eligible improvements include adjustments to existing traffic signals, new traffic signals, auxiliary turn lanes, etc.

Currently, Newtown has accumulated approximately $1.6 million in traffic impact fees but is unable to use those funds because it lacks an updated capital improvements plan, which is necessary for the use of those funds.

Traffic Impact Fee Advisory Committee (TIFAC) Needed

During the 2019 Budget presentation before the Board of Supervisors (BOS) on October 15, 2018, former Newtown Township Manager Kurt Ferguson brought this issue to the forefront. He discussed the urgent need to form a Traffic Impact Fee Advisory Committee (TIFAC Definition) in order to utilize the $1.6 million already collected from developers (see the video below).

As Mr. Ferguson mentioned, in order to utilize these funds, a transportation capital improvements plan must be prepared and adopted by the Board of Supervisors (BOS Definition) to the enactment a necessary amendment to the impact fee ordinance.  According to the procedures, provisions and standards set forth in Act 209, which allows the collection of impact fees, the township must create a TIFAC to develop the transportation capital improvements plan.

Is There a Need?

According to the PA “Transportation Impact Fees Handbook”, impact fees can be used for capacity improvements to accommodate traffic generated by new development, but not to address existing or anticipated deficiencies unrelated to the development.

“As a general rule,” according to the Handbook cited above, “for impact fees to be an effective funding tool, potential should exist for development of at least 50 to 100 residential units per year and approximately 50,000 to 100,000 square feet of non-residential development per year for a minimum of five years. Municipalities that are near build-out or do not expect significant growth due to current zoning, economic conditions, environmental features, or preserved lands generally do not benefit from impact fees.”

Currently, Newtown does NOT have a TIFAC and therefore it CANNOT utilize the $1.6 million dollars in the Transportation Service Area Funds ($470,682.79 in TSA1 fund plus $1.161,472.01 in TSA2 fund, according to the September, 2018, Treasurer’s Report) established as per Act 209.

The TIFAC must be comprised of 7 to 15 members. Although an even number of members is permitted, an odd number is recommended to avoid tie votes on recommended actions to the governing body. A minimum of 40 percent of the TIFAC must be made up of real estate professionals, developers (commercial and/or residential), and building industry professionals that live or conduct business in the municipality.

The remaining 60 percent must be residents. It is desirable to have people with municipal planning experience serve on the committee, such as people who serve on the planning commission and/or other committees. However, municipal staff may not serve on the TIFAC.

Planning Commission Can Act as TIFAC

According to the PA “Transportation Impact Fees Handbook”, a municipality may appoint its Planning Commission as the TIFAC, provided that the 40 percent requirement is met. “If this cannot be met, appropriate people must be appointed to serve as ad hoc voting members of the advisory committee when the planning commission acts as the TIFAC.”

The TIFAC will coordinate with professional traffic engineers and will assess existing traffic conditions throughout the Township, develop recommendations for potential traffic improvements – such as location of additional traffic signals, and develop impact fees for future development based on potential traffic improvements.

If you are interested in serving on this Committee, please submit a letter of interest and resume to Olivia Kivenko, Newtown Township, 100 Municipal Drive, Newtown PA 18940, by email to oliviak@newtownpa.gov or by fax at (215) 968-5368.

Posted on 27 Oct 2018, 01:24 - Category: Traffic



Summary of October 10, 2018, BOS Public Meeting

The following is a brief summary of the October 10, 2018, Newtown Board of Supervisors (BOS Definition) meeting based upon the official minutes of that meeting, which you can find here.

Crime

Police Report: Interim Police Chief Harris reported on the police activity for September: Calls for service: 1,423; 121 citations, 64 traffic accidents, 3 DUI arrests, 2 narcotics arrests, and a series of minor property crimes (for details, read "September 2018 Newtown Police Calls Report"). There were a few details on Swamp Road specific to commercial vehicles which yielded three inspections and two violations. In addition to resident requests, there was also a multi‐jurisdictional detail on Swamp and the Bypass and Durham and the Bypass. There were 34 commercial vehicles inspected which yielded multiple citations including one arrest for impaired driving and a few vehicles put out of service.

[I noticed that there were 9 speeding citations handed out on Swamp Road between September 20 and September 26, 2018. This compares with just one such citation made in the previous 8 months of 2018! I assume that this increased police activity on Swamp Rd was in response to residents’ complaints made at the September 12 meeting when PennDOT was here to answer questions about the safety issues of Swamp Rd. See video below.]

Ordinances

Conservation Overlay – Wrightstown Township: Establishing a Overlay Zoning Definition district for properties at least 50 acres and are now or will be subject to a Conservation Easement Definition in favor of conserving the property and limiting the use. Ag uses, accessory uses to a winery, would allow micro‐breweries, micro‐distilleries, art studios, etc. Motion for authorization for Jointure Definition to advertise for a public hearing before the Newtown Township Board of Supervisors passed 5-0.

Fireworks: Establishing consumer fireworks can be sold in PA, with restrictions to aerial displays. New use is “consumer fireworks facility” allowing for a permanent fireworks retail store as defined within a QAA (quarry) zoning district, in Wrightstown, and temporary seasonal structures for the sale of fireworks prior to holidays. Motion for authorization for Jointure to advertise for a public hearing before the Newtown Township Board of Supervisors passed 5-0.

Medical Marijuana: State legislature has required that all municipalities must provide for medical marijuana dispensaries and medical marijuana grower/processors. Dispensaries are to be treated as other commercials uses are treated; the grower/processors shall be treated as manufacturing uses. Dispensaries will only be located in the VC‐1 village commercial district in Upper Makefield, and provides for the medical marijuana grower/processors in the LI district in Newtown Township. Motion for authorization for Jointure to advertise for a public hearing before the Newtown Township Board of Supervisors passed 5-0.

Posted on 25 Oct 2018, 01:56 - Category: Board of Supervisors Minutes



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