John Mack - Newtown Supervisor
COVID-19 Category

Newtown Supervisors Approve #COVID19 Outdoor Sales & Dining Resolution

On June 24, 2020, the Newtown Board of Supervisors (BOS) approved a resolution "establishing guidelines and policy for outdoor sales of merchandise and/or outdoor dining for existing businesses in Newtown Township during the COVID-19 pandemic" (see the resolution embedded below or click here to download the PDF version.)

You might say this is opening a door that many businesses have already walked through. Several restaurants, for example, have already established their own guidelines (read, for example, "Solstice Restaurant Develops Health & Safety Guidelines for Dining Based, in Part, on Reopening Survey").

Nearby municipalities - including Newtown Borough, Doylestown Borough, and Middletown Township - have already passed similar resolutions weeks ago. Newtown's resolution was modeled after Montgomery Township’s resolution and in accordance with CDC guidelines.

The first iteration of the resolution was discussed at the June 15, 2020, BOS Work Session (listen to the discussion here). At that time, Supervisor Kyle Davis and I objected to a provision that would make it virtually impossible for most restaurants to allow outdoor dining on public sidewalks in front of their establishments. 

The contentious provision stated: "If a merchant proposes to use part of a sidewalk for outdoor sales of merchandise and/or outdoor dining, the merchant shall allow sufficient space for pedestrians and persons with disabilities to traverse the sidewalk while maintaining a minimum 6-foot distance between each person."

I contended that it would be impossible for the merchant to ensure a distance of 6 feet between diners and pedestrians walking on the sidewalk. This is clearly illustrated by the setup at the Green Parrot on North Sycamore Street (see figue below). The final resolution passed on June 24 excluded the 6-foot distance requirement (shown in bold text above).

Outdoor seating at the Green Parrot. Note that there is ample 
room for pedestrians to pass but they may not be 6 feet or
more from diners.
Health & Safety Still a Major Concern: Submit a Plan

Of course, the Township's primary goal is to ensure that the health and safety of citizens are protected. To that end, the resolution states that "Prior to using any outdoor space to conduct outdoor sales of merchandise and/or outdoor dining, a merchant shall submit a plan to the Township for approval which shall depict the exact location of any outdoor merchandise sales and/or outdoor dining facilities, and shall describe the safeguards being employed by the merchant to protect the health, safety, and welfare of its patrons and the public."

The resolution automatically expires within 90 days of its passage, but the term can be extended beyond that by a vote of the Board of Supervisors.

The Resolution

Posted on 25 Jun 2020, 01:04 - Category: COVID-19

Newtown Township Preparing to Help #COVID-19 Impacted Businesses Reopen Safely

I put forward the idea for establishing some kind of panel to advise the township on ways to help local businesses to reopen safely during the current and the next phases of COVID-19 restrictions at the May 13, 2020, Newtown Board of Supervisors (BOS) Zoom meeting.

The following 45-minute podcast features a recording of the resulting discussion. You can view the entire Zoom meeting here.

At a May 18, 2020, "Work Session" via Zoom, the BOS decided to "reconstitute" the dormant Economic Development Committee to assist the BOS in connection with economic development in Newtown Township and community and assist in the preparation and direction of the reopening of businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Committee shall consist of not more than 9 members, appointed by the Board of Supervisors, with the understanding that not more than three members may serve on the Committee who are not residents or own property within Newtown Township.

The three persons who are not Newtown Township residents or property owners must be employed and/or working in Newtown Township to be qualified. Of the nine members, one member shall be a member of the Newtown Business Association and one member of the Newtown Business Commons Association.

For more details regarding the term of office and mission of the Committee when it was established in 2017, download the original resolution here or find it embedded at the end of this post.

A few goals of the Committee as originally established, include:

  • Identify every business m the Township and maintain a directory of such information;
  • Identify strengths and weaknesses In various business sectors and ways to improve business sectors that are underserved;
  • Identify business sectors that are driving the economy in other areas and formulate a plan to attract those businesses to Newtown;
  • Conduct resident and business surveys through reasonable means available to the Township to help identify community needs and desires not currently available;
  • Identify economic incentives available through the Township, County, State and Federal government to attract development and redevelopment to the Township;
  • Corroborate with the Township Administration and Board of Supervisors to identify improvements in zoning, planning, permitting and other areas relevant to the advancement of business development within the Township;
  • Assist current and future businesses with understanding and complying with Township regulations to help bolster business activity and improve business relationships between the Township and the private sectors;
  • Any and all other reasonably related goals.

Note that the mission items will be updated to include work products - e.g. guidelines - related to COVID-19 economic recovery.

Apply to be a Member Now

Applications will be accepted until June 1, 2020. Please submit a letter of interest and resume to Olivia Kivenko, Newtown Township, 100 Municipal Drive, Newtown, PA 18940, or by email to oliviak@newtownpa.gov.

Posted on 21 May 2020, 01:15 - Category: COVID-19

Solstice Restaurant Reopening Survey: "We Care What You Think"

Perhaps you received the same email I did from Solstice Restaurant, which is located in the Village of Newtown Shopping Center. The subject was "We Care What You Think".

We are busy preparing the restaurant — updating our cleaning procedures, adding new service standards, upgrading our uniform specifications, and much more — to ensure the health and safety of our guests and team members once we are permitted to reopen our doors. But we're not stopping there, we'd like to know what you need to feel comfortable dining in the restaurant and ordering takeout. 

There was a link to an interesting online survey. Here are some of the questions and my responses/comments:

How likely are you to dine out once restaurants are permitted to reopen?

I chose "Undecided" because, duh, it depends on many factors, but especially on the specific safeguards that are in place. The following survey questions suggest safeguards that Solstice is contemplating.

Would you prefer to dine at a restaurant that took the temperature of guests before entering?

My response was "Yes." I'm assuming that Solstice will be using forehead scanners that can measure temperature remotely with minimal contact.

Find some best practices here.

knowing there will be a minimum 6ft distance between seated groups, how important do you consider the implementation of physical table dividers in the restaurant?

I am neutral regarding table dividers. Seems a bit extreme. In any case, the Italians - as always - have a creative solution. Pool tube hats! 

Would you prefer to dine indoors or outdoors?

I chose "outdoors." However, Solstice has a somewhat small outdoor dining area and other restaurants have no outdoor seating at all. This is where the Township may be able to help by issuing, for example, special event permits to allow blocked off portions of parking lots to be used for outdoor dining. However, there are safety issues that would need to be addressed. It will be something Supervisors may discuss at the May 18, 2020, Special Working Session.

Would you prefer a menu that can be disinfected between uses, a disposable menu, or a digital menu that launches on your personal phone?

I'm digital all the way! I have my iPhone and that should work just fine with a simple app or texting. Restaurants need to up their technology in order to survive. Especially, when the check comes (see my answer to that below).

Have you ever used a QR code?

Yes, of couse, even thoiugh it is a bit outmoded these days. Not sure what Solstice has in mind here. Perhaps it will have a video explaining each item on a prineted menu. You just use your phone to scan the QR code next to the item and voila! you get the details without waiting for the server to come over and tell you.

Would you prefer to use our silverware or disposable utensils when dining in our restaurant?

C'mon! This is not Taco Bell! If I go to Solstice and order a steak - which is on the menu - I'm certainly not going to get anywhere with a plastic knife and fork unless it's absurdly tender. Is it?

How important is it to you that we provide a form of contact less payment at the end of your meal versus a standard check with sanitized pen to sign?

YES, YES, YES! Get with it! European restaurants bring over a credit card reader, you insert your card and press the button. Pretty "contact less." However, I prefer Apple Pay so I do not even have to touch my credit card. However it is done, a slection of tip amounts should be included to make it even easier and more "contact less."

What would make you feel more comfortable dining at our restaurant?

When dining out, I feel I am more likely to get infected by employees than by other diners. Masks are fine, but (1) I cannot wear a mask when eating, and (2) even if employees and servers wear masks, the masks are not totally effective. Also, sometimes, masks are worn incorrectly. I've noticed several food vendors wearing masks with their noses uncovered. The image below shows how wrong that is!

You can take the Solstice Reopening Survey here.

Posted on 17 May 2020, 11:50 - Category: COVID-19

Newtown BINGO! We #SupportLocalBusiness

The COVID-19 pandemic mitigation efforts are having a devastating impact on Newtown area businesses including restaurants and retail shops that cannot “work from home” or do business online!

During this trying time, these establishments – many owned by local residents – need help generating business. That is why several Newtown area businesses decided to host a “contest” based on “Tempe Bingo” – a game designed to benefit local businesses: Newtown BINGO!

Here is the basic idea (details subject to change*):
  • 25 businesses will participate, each with a square on the BINGO GAME card.

  • Each business will promote the BINGO GAME on their website and link to the official virtual BINGO GAME card that residents/game players can download.

  • To play the game and achieve BINGO! players must order a meal or item of a minimum specific value (details TBD) from 5 businesses all in one row, column, or diagonal of the card. No player can claim more than one BINGO spot per day. Each player has two weeks to get BINGO!

  • There will be 3 winners will be chosen at random from among all who have achieved BINGO! Players must submit proof of purchases – e.g., printed receipts – to win.

  • Each winner is entitled to a free purchase of equal or lesser value based on the 5 purchases they made at businesses on the BINGO GAME card.

  • A GRAND PRIZE will be awarded for filling the entire BINGO GAME card.

There are NO out of pocket upfront costs to restaurant or player who participates in Newtown Area Restaurant BINGO! This contest will be hosted by East Coast Event Group.

Newtown BINGO! Launched on May 18, 2020

This is the official Newtown BINGO! game card for the period Monday, May 18, 2020, through Saturday, June 6, 2020. Download the card and begin playing now!

Official Game Card

Posted on 08 May 2020, 11:20 - Category: COVID-19

Rough Road Ahead for Newtown Township

“Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.” These are indeed extraordinary times with many businesses forced to close and millions of people out of work due the measures necessary to contain the Coronavirus pandemic. And municipalities like Newtown Township that depend upon business and job related taxes face financial difficulties if the shutdown continues and people do not get their jobs back.

It is unknown to what degree the COVID-19 shutdown will affect the Township's finances. Obviously, Earned Income Tax (EIT) Definition will likely take a hit due to the temporary or permanent closure of businesses. Real Estate Transfer Tax Definition will also likely be, or become, compromised as people brace for a potential financial impact.

In addition, charges for public safety (permits) may decline if building and construction drop off, and the township's Parks & Recreation programming revenue stream may be significantly less if the township has to cancel summer camps.

These are major sources of revenue that fund the day-to-day operation of the Township as well as projects such repaving roads, which may be cut back to save money.

Also, Keystone Collections, which manages municipal and school tax administration, collects local EIT Taxes. Keystone extended the Individual filing deadlines to match the State and Federal date of July 15, 2020. This delay in collecting EIT will also negatively impact Newtown Township’s ability to carry out needed services.


Meet Mack Monday, April 20, 2020, on Facebook

In this Facebook Live session, which will start at 1 PM Eastern time on Monday April 20, 2020, I will discuss items on the agendas of upcoming Zoom meetings of the Newtown Board of Supervisors and the Newtown Planning Commission.

Both these township meetings will be via Zoom and not available for the public to participate as an attendee. Rather, the public will only be able to send in questions/comments via email. I will discuss the details at this FB Live event.

Topics that I will discuss include: diversion of tax funds from road repair to cover the general expenses of the township (salaries, consultant fees, supplies, etc.), what Newtown Township can do to help local businesses, and the next step in getting approval to alter the Newtown area zoning code to allow for a Wawa or Wawa-like convenience store to be located in Newtown, Wrightstown, and/or Upper Makefield.

You can submit comments/questions during this event.

Access the live session here.


Given that many Newtown Township residents and non-residents who work in Newtown may be laid off for weeks, if not months, it is likely that Newtown will take a hit on EIT revenue in 2020. How much of a hit is uncertain at this time. But as little as a 10% reduction in EIT (see chart) could mean bad news regarding the township’s fund balance and consequent bond rating.

What You Need to Know About EIT

EIT is a tax for general revenue purposes in the amount of 1% imposed on earned income including salaries, wages, commissions, bonuses, incentive payments, fees, tips and other compensation received by residents of Newtown Township and by nonresidents of Newtown Township for work done or services performed or rendered in Newtown Township. This includes 1% of the net profits received from businesses, professions or other activities conducted by residents of Newtown Township and by nonresidents of Newtown Township. For Newtown, this tax represents 61% of the total General Fund revenue projected for 2020.

NOTE: 0.5% of Resident EIT goes to the township and 0.5% goes to Council Rock School District. The full 1% of Non-resident EIT goes to the township.
How Have You Been Impacted by COVID-19?

Given the fact that the Township heavily depends upon tax revenue from local businesses and the employees they hire, the closure of these businesses and the subsequent employee unemployment may have a big impact on the township’s financial health, delay major public improvement projects, and may even lead to a negative general fund cash balance.

To prevent that, as a Newtown Township Supervisor, I will continue to be called upon to make critical decisions in the coming weeks in response to this situation.

Consequently, it is important that I get feedback from local businesses and employees that have been impacted by COVID-19 to help me determine the likely worst-case scenario and make informed decisions to prevent that.

To get that feedback, I am hosting two COVID-19 Impact Surveys – one for local business owners and one for local residents/employees.

If you are a business owner, please take my COVID-19 BUSINESS Survey 

COVID-19 Business Survey

If you are/were employed by a Newtown Township business, please take my COVID-19 EMPLOYEE Survey 

COVID-19 Employee Survey
Another casualty of COVID-19: Open Government!

 

Posted on 10 Apr 2020, 01:38 - Category: COVID-19

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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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