John Mack - Newtown Supervisor
Governance Category

(UNOFFICIAL) 2020 Voting Record to Date of Newtown Supervisors

I've been keeping track of how Newtown Township supervisors voted on motions before the Board. The following is the voting record for 2020 as of September 14, 2020, based on the approved minutes of meetings. I will update this page when I have more data.

NOTE: This is NOT an official record of votes. Some very minor motions, such as to approve minutes, bills lists, etc., are not included. Please refer to the BOS meeting minutes for the official voting record of each meeting.

Download a PDF version here.

Posted on 14 Sep 2020, 01:36 - Category: Governance

Dealing with Newtown's Issues is Like Drinking Water from a Firehose!

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you are well aware that us Supervisors have a lot on our plates lately. Information is coming at us like water out of a fire hose!

I for one am being bombarded by email - just reading all the email and responding takes hours - and comments from residents on a number of issues that I need to review and re-review in order to make decisions when the time comes.

To keep up with all the information I receive, I spend between 20 and 30 hours per month reviewing information and interacting with residents. This does not include the time I actually spend at meetings, whic can add another 20 hours per month.

Take the Toll Bros project as an example. I have dozens of comments, emails and data from residents regarding that proposal and have yet to collate all those into a meaningful, easy to digest list of points in favor and opposed. This is how I process information so that I can inform and explain my decision regarding this project and other matters that come before the BOS.
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Just minutes before the Feb 26, 2020, Toll Bros hearing began, supervisors were handed this thick stack of "Exhibits" that included site plans, results of flood plain study, stormwater management report, transportation impact assessment, review letters from our Township Engineer, etc. It should be no surprise, therefore, that I did not read every document from end to end in that pile of exhibits! It just is not humanly possible. I have to question how Supervisors can ask intelligent questions and make the right decision under such circumstances. In fact, in the end, NO decision was made! A decision is expected to be made at the August 26, 2020, Supervisors Meeting.

A post shared by John Mack Newtown Supervisor (@johnmacknewtown) on


Other firehoses include:

  1. E-30 "Curative Amendment" - not even the lawyers can get all the information straight no matter how hard we press them!
  2. Jointure Comprehensive Plan - I have matrices to fill out, survey data to review, input from the Environmental Advisory Council to read carefully, etc., etc.
  3. Econsult Solutions comprehensive multi-year financial management plan (see here)

I'm not complaining. It's what I signed up for and was elected to do. I appreciate all the help I get from knowlegeable residents who are very involved in the issues that may impact them directly.

What I miss is having residents attend public Board of Supervisors (BOS) meetings. Meeting and hearing from residents in person invigorates me, whereas Zoom meetings are mostly boring, frankly. The problem is that our Township does not yet allow residents to attend BOS Zoom meetings. Hopefully, this will change (for more on that, read "Newtown Supervisors May Open Up Zoom Meetings to Residents").

So, basically, I am asking for more firehose water from residents! Anyway, thanks for listening.

 

Posted on 13 Aug 2020, 01:02 - Category: Governance

Upcoming Board of Supervisors Meetings

Usually, in August, the Newtown Board of Supervisors (BOS) meet only once because members may be out of town on vacation. But with COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, meetings via Zoom have become the norm, which means members can join meeting even when away from home. 

This month (August 2020), the BOS will meet three times - two regular meetings and one "work session" where no official decisions are made. The first regular meeting was held on August 5. The following two meetings are scheduled going forward:

BOS Work Session via Zoom

Monday, August 17, 2020, 11 AM

Expected agenda items:

(1) The Newtown Township Board of Supervisors engaged Econsult Solutions, Inc. (ESI) to develop a comprehensive multi-year financial management plan, will include recommendations to improve operational efficiency and promote fiscal stability in Newtown Township. Part of that plan is hosting survey of Newtown residents and local businesses about the quality of services provided by the township.

The consultants will present a summary of the results of these surveys and give the supervisors a progress report on the multi-year financial plan.

Related Content:

(2) The Newtown Fire Association (NFA) will present details about a new fire engine the NFA plans to purchase in 2021 and how they will finance this purchase. A 2018 Fire & Emergency Services Study commissioned by Newtown Township recommended that the NFA replace Engine 55-1 - a 750 Gal, 16- foot roof, 28- foot extension, with over 111,000 miles be replaced by a 75-foot quintuple pumper/aerial unit. For more on this report read “Newtown Township Releases the 2018 Fire and Emergency Services Study”.

The following video clip from the January 23, 2019, BOS meeting features the author of the study answers to the many questions posed by the Supervisors. 

The final agenda for this meeting and Zoom information will be available on the Township’s website by the close of business on Friday, August 14, 2020.

Public comment will also be taken via e-mail before and during the meeting at comments@newtownpa.gov. All public comment must contain the commenter’s name and address and will be read aloud.

BOS Regular Session (LIVE)

100 Municipal Drive, Newtown

Wednesday, August 26, 2020, 7 PM

SEATING IS LIMITED TO 20 PEOPLE – get there early if you want a seat!

Expected agenda item: Main Topic: Toll Bros. Twining Bridge Road Development Decision

The Newtown Township Board of Supervisors completed hearings on a conditional use application (“Application”) submitted by Toll PA XVIII, LP involving the development of land located along Route 413 (Durham Road) & Twining Bridge Road proposing the construction of 45 new single-family homes on approximately 150 acres. At this meeting, the BOS will make its final decision regarding this conditional use application.

The Plan

A full copy of the conditional use application is available for public inspection during regular Township business hours at the Newtown Township Municipal Building, 100 Municipal Drive, Newtown, PA (215) 968-2800.

This meeting was requested by Toll Bros. who originally agreed to wait until the first live meeting for a decision. In the 10-minute audio snippet from the July 22, 2020, BOS meeting embedded below, Board members discuss when and under what conditions - via Zoom or live public meeting - the BOS will make its final decision regarding the Toll Bros conditional use application. Also discussed were the following questions: If via Zoom, will the public be invited to attend? Is there a possibility that Toll Bros will "bypass" the BOS and submit a "by right plan"? How many housing units are possible under a by right plan? 

Mack's Newtown Voice · Toll Bros Discussion at July 22, 2020, Newtown Supervisors Meeting

At the August 5 meeting, the consensus of supervisors was that it was important for residents to submit comments in person, which would not be possible via Zoom. Consequently, it was decided that the August 26 meeting will be live.

Many people have already submitted comments that were read at the Aug 5 meeting or sent directly to Supervisors. One resident had this to say about the current "conditional use" plan versus a possible "by right" plan:

The community has been told that if the current plans are not approved Toll Brothers can sue to reverse the decision or develop the land “by right”, both of which are supposedly a worse situation.  To be very honest, this is false threat.  The reality is that the current plans ARE the worst-case scenario.  What could be substantially worse than wiping out 65 acres of farmland by building 40+ homes, while simultaneously eliminating all views of current open space and replacing it with a largely inaccessible and hidden “open space”?  We need to stand up for what is right for our community and not settle for less based on some perceived threat.

Related Content:

Meet Mack Monday via Zoom

Monday, August 24, 2020, 7 PM

Main Topic: Toll Bros. Twining Bridge Road Development Plan

You MUST Register to Attend

Login details will be sent to you via email or text to your cell phone a few days before the meeting and again on the meeting day. I reserve the right to screen potential participants in order to prevent Zoom "bombing" by anonymous people/hackers with malicious intentions.

DISCLAIMER: This is not an official Newtown Township meeting. It is hosted by John Mack to learn more about issues of concern to Newtown Township residents. The opinions expressed here are solely those of John Mack and do not represent the opinions of any other person or entity.

Posted on 11 Aug 2020, 01:38 - Category: Governance

Summary of April 20, 2020, Meet Mack Monday via Facebook Live

Usually, I host a "Meet Mack Monday" live in-person event each month, usually the 2nd Monday of the month before the first Newtown Board of Supervisors (BOS) meeting. Because of restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I have not been able to host a live event since March 9, 2020, and there hasn't been a public BOS meeting since March 11, 2020.

But a lot has been going on and already decided upon by the supervisors since then. Also, the first-ever special "remote" public meeting of the BOS will be held on April 22, 2020, at 1 PM. This meeting will be via Zoom with public participation via e-mail only as allowed by Senate Bill 841 recently signed into law by Governor Wolf (read "Gov. Wolf Signs Senate Bill 841 to Provide Flexibility to Local Governments and Businesses").

April 22, 2020, BOS Meeting

The Newtown Board of Supervisors (BOS) will hold a special meeting on Wednesday, April 22, 2020 at 1:00 PM. The Supervisors will meet via the Zoom remote meeting platform.

The public will have real-time access to view the meeting on television on the Newtown Township Local Government Channel (channel 22 for Xfinity/Comcast and channel 40 for Verizon FIOS).

Public comment will be taken via e-mail both before the meeting and during the meeting via email at comments@newtownpa.gov All public comments must contain the commenter’s name and address and will be read aloud.

To help residents prepare for this meeting, I decided to host a "remote" Meet Mack Monday event via Facebook Live on April 20, 2020. The following is a synopsis of that meeting.

Click on the image to access the video of my FB Live Meet Mack Monday
event posted on April 20,2020. Or click here.
Topics Discussed
  1. Diversion of tax funds from road repair to cover the general expenses of the township (salaries, consultant fees, supplies, etc.),
  2. 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, and
  3. What can Newtown Township do to help local businesses?
Diversion of Tax Funds

Most of the agenda of the April 22, 2020, meeting of the BOS is dedicated to publicly ratifying decisions that have already been made via email by supervisors. Relevant agenda items are:

  • Rejection of the 2020 Road Program Bids
  • Authorization of the Engineer to draft a “new” Road Program
  • Resolution allocating 1 mill of Real Estate Tax from the Debt Service Fund to the General Fund
  • Disaster Declaration related to the COVID 19 virus

In March, the Township Manager, Micah Lewis, sent an email to the supervisors asking them to individually approve a “drastic measure”; i.e., a significant reduction in the 2020 road program and to allocate the special 1 mill tax revenue for debt reduction to the general fund.

Normally and specified in a resolution passed by the BOS back in January 2020, that 1 mill was dedicated to repay debt - specifically a 3-year loan of $1 million that would have allowed the Twp to repave about 5 miles of roads in 2020. The 1 mill tax collected each year would allow the township to pay back the loan over a period of three years. That won't happen now. Instead, the plan is to use solely PA liquid fuels (definition) money to pave perhaps 1-2 miles of roads.

According to our solicitor, this action was perfectly legal because the Township declared a disaster emergency, which authorizes it to exercise certain powers “without regard to time-consuming procedures and formalities prescribed by law.” These powers pertain to “the performance of public work, entering into contracts, the incurring of obligations, the employment of temporary workers, the rental of equipment, the purchase of supplies and materials, the levying of taxes and the appropriation and expenditure of public funds.”

It’s difficult for me to argue with a lawyer regarding the legality of diverting a DEDICATED tax for use other than what it was dedicated to – in this case to repay a loan to pave roads.

In any case, I think this is a case of the citizens bailing out the township rather than vice versa because the township budget "anticipates a limited balance for contingencies" - a perennial problem, which we need to fix.

Deficit Spending

Jack Brod, former member of the Newtown Township Finance Committee, offers his observations regarding the preliminary 2020 budget at the November 23, 2019, Newtown Township Board of Supervisors meeting. Brod pointed out that the proposed 2020 budget projects $12 million in revenue versus $13.1 million in expenditures, for a deficit of $1.1 million. He noted that the reserve funds are dwindling and suggested that at some point it will no longer be possible to draw from the reserve in order to make up for budget deficits.

It would be good to know in more detail exactly what impact the COVID-19 lockdown has had on the collection of EIT to date and what the projected impact would be going forward.

ESI Consultants hired by the Township have come up with some numbers and presented 3 scenarios to supervisors. In the worst case scenario, if the Township does not make any adjustments to expenses, a 15% reduction in EIT and 10% reduction in other revenues will result in a negative General Fund cash balance position; i.e., NOT GOOD.

Each scenario assumes NO EXPENDITURE REDUCTION. It should be noted that the township has already identified expense reductions such as … Eliminating Part-Time Public Works Employees and other cost-saving measures.

Dwindling Reserves

The budget continues a "multi-year pattern" of deficit spending, said Brod. The General Account is "essentially a reserve fund that the township has been tapping into to offset the difference between revenue and expenses." He cited the year-end reserves in the General Fund for the years 2016 to 2020 (projected). The numbers are plotted in the following chart>

April 21, 2020, Planning Commission Meeting

The Planning Commission of Newtown Township will hold a meeting on Tuesday, April 21, 2020 at 7:30 PM. The Planning Commission will meet via the Zoom remote meeting platform. As with the BOS meeting, public comment will be taken before the meeting via email at comments@newtownpa.gov. All public comments must contain the commenter’s name and address and will be read aloud.  A digital copy of the meeting will be available on the Township website.

E-30 Ordinance - Convenience Store/Fueling Station

This proposed “curative” amendment (read "Newtown Passes Joint Municipal Curative Amendment") to the Newtown Area Joint Zoning Ordinance is the only item on the Planning Commission (PC) agenda. There are a number of details that the PC will review and make recommendations to the BOS about.

The PC has discussed various iterations of this amendment in other meetings, but this is the final iteration being considered by the Planning Commission of all three municipalities – Newtown, Wrightstown, and Upper Makefield.

Previously, the Newtown Planning Commission made several specific recommendations for modifying the amendment such as:

  • Eliminate eat-in dining
  • Limit fuel pumps to 8 and permit up to 4 charging stations
  • Specify hours of operation and limit to 18
  • Make sidewalks a requirement

For more on that, read "Discussions of E-30 Zoning Amendment."

My Two Cents
  1. The use is now a special exception instead of a conditional use in all three townships – this means that the Board of Supervisors does not approve the use, but that is left up to the Zoning Hearing Board, which in my opinion, is not accountable to residents.

  2. The ordinance was revised to limit the number of pumps to 6 and the fueling stations to 12, whereas the Newtown Planning Commission recommended 4 pumps and 8 fueling stations, which is most common for other gas stations in the township.
What Can Newtown Township Do to Help Local Businesses?

Many local businesses are having difficulty coping with and surviving current COVID-19 restrictions. It is important for the Newtown community – including township officials – to do all it can to support our local business. In order to understand the needs of local businesses during these trying times, I am hosting a COVID-19 Business Impact Survey. You can see a summary of results at the end of this post.

Some ideas include:

Create an online/social media database of information about businesses with information about how they are carrying on business during the transition period. This was an idea put forward by my fellow Supervisor Dave Oxley and also suggested to me by a resident via Nextdoor who suggested using volunteers who are technically savvy.

The Patch maintains a useful listing of local businesses that are currently open, open under special conditions, or closed. Included are phone numbers, notes about hours of operation, pickup or delivery options, and suggestions for how to help the business. Find that list here.

Meanwhile, I am maintaining a list of Newtown Township/Borough restaurants/eateries that are open for business even if it's for limited service such as curbside pickup on certain days for limited hours. Find that list here.

Invite businesses to attend BOS meetings to give supervisors and residents a report on how they are doing and suggest ideas for how the township can help.

Devote one or more screens on the township cable TV channel to promoting local businesses and publishing an article in the township newsletter advising residents how they can help local businesses.

The last question of my  COVID-19 Business Impact Survey asks “What is your most pressing need right now? How can local government help?” Here are just two suggestions:

  1. Sign forgiveness - The Township can relaxe signage rules at least temporarily to help businesses promote to residents; and

  2. Rent forgiveness - Supervisors could invite Brixmor to address the BOS regarding what it may be doing to help Village at Newtown Shopping Center tenants get back to business as usual.

Any other ideas out there??

Newtown Business COVID19 Survey: Summary of Selected Results

Posted on 21 Apr 2020, 01:56 - Category: Governance

Newtown Township Board of Supervisors 2019 Accomplishments

The following are some notable accomplishments of the Newtown Board of Supervisors (BOS Definition) in 2019. I am proud to have been involved in these decisions along with my fellow BOS members. I look forward to a prosperous and safe New Year!

Enhanced the Health & Safety of Residents & Employees

Approved the Employment Agreement for a new Police Chief: Chief John Hearn came on board in March 2019. [Read "Meet Newtown Township's New Police Chief"]

Awarded 2019 Liquid Fuels Road Program to Harris Blacktopping, Inc. in the amount of $706,596.20 for resurfacing of 2.73 miles of roadways. [Read "Newtown Accepts $706K Bid to Pave 2.7 Miles of Township-owned Roads This Year"]

Advocated a Lower Speed Limit on Swamp Road. In a May 2, 2019, letter, Ashwin Patel, Senior Manager of PennDOT's Traffic Engineering and Safety Division, notified Newtown Township that PennDOT will be lowering the speed limit on Swamp Road between the Twining Bridge intersection and the intersection of Pennswood Dr. [Read "PennDOT to Lower Speed Limit on Section of Swamp Road"]

Renewed Agreement with Newtown Fire Association (NFA). The 2020 Budget includes $175,100 to support the all-volunteer NFA.

Authorized Newtown Township Complex Emergency Action Plan (EAP). The purpose of the EAP is to ensure staff is trained and prepared for any critical incidents that may occur.

Approved the purchase of emergency vehicle equipment: Ford F-250 from HAVIS, Inc. through COSTARs in the amount of $21,382.57.

Authorized purchase of an F-550 dump truck and an F 350 pick-up truck equipped with lights, snow plows and salt spreaders through the Co-Stars program at a cost of $130,320.

Protected & Improved Our Environment

Approved Pollution Reduction Plan: After extensive public comment, the Township submitted a revised Pollution Reduction Plan to the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The DEP required a reduction in 10% in sediment runoff over 5 years in order to qualify for a renewal of its Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4 Definition) permit. [Read "Newtown Township Revises Pollution Reduction Plan After Hearing Resident Comments"]

Passed a Native Plant Resolution: Affirming that native plants are better adapted to local soils and climate, the board of supervisors unanimously passed a resolution at the August 14, 2019, meeting saying that "every reasonable effort" will be made to plant native species on township-owned property. The measure also states that the township's Environmental Advisory Council (EAC) will do everything "to educate and empower" the public to help transition private properties to include native plants. [Read the resolution here.]

Approved Planting of Native Trees in Roberts Ridge Park: Township Manager Micah Lewis – who was trained as a landscape architect – endorsed the plan, which the supervisors voted unanimously in favor of. [For details, read "Newtown Township Approves Residents' Plan to Plant Native Trees in Roberts Ridge Park"]

Red outline outline the proposed meadow area.
Supported Sensible Development

Supported the Revitalization of the Newtown Village Shopping Center: Approved several new restaurants including Chipotle Mexican Grill, Bomba Tacos & Rum, Iron Hill Brewery, MOD Super Fast Pizza, and Solstice Restaurant. [See details here and read "Parking & Traffic in the Village at Newtown Shopping Center".]

Authorized Update to Comprehensive Plan: Approved Bucks County Planning Commission to undertake the Joint Comprehensive Plan Update. The township also passed a resolution that authorizes the submission of an application to the Municipal Assistance Program (MAP Definition) for a matching grant available via the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development to be used for the purpose of updating the Plan.[For background, read "It’s Time for Newtown Township to Update Its Comprehensive Plan!" and See details here]

Opposed Durham Road Development: For the first time in a long time - maybe the first time ever! - the Newtown Township Board of Supervisors voted to send the Township Solicitor to a Zoning Hearing Board meeting to oppose the awarding of variances to a developer. [Read "Supervisors Oppose Variances for 27 Townhouses on Durham Road".]

Practiced Fiscal Responsibility

Passed a 2020 Budget Without Raising Taxes

Applied for and won a matching DCED $40,000 Matching Grant to assess the township’s financial condition and develop a Five-Year Financial Plan. [More here.]

Supported BCATO Definition resolution to lobby state lawmakers to restore municipalities' ability to adopt and collect a mercantile or business privilege tax in Townships that specifically elect to adopt such tax.

Advanced the Well-Being of Citizens

Supported BCATO Definition resolution to lobby state lawmakers to require licensed real estate agents to disclose municipal zoning and what is allowed within 1000 feet to a prospective purchaser.

Applied for a Grant for a Lower Dolington Road Multi-use Trail. [Read more about that here.] Subsequently, Newtown Township was awarded $125,000 from DCED ($0 match requirement), and $250,000 from DCNR Definition(50% match required) for a total of $375,000. The award amounts do not equal the requested amounts, however the Twp may be able to supplement the amount with additional grants - or alter the scope of work to stay consistent with the awards. [More here].

Took a Step Toward Building a Newtown Creek Bridge: Supervisors passed a resolution in support of exploring the feasibility of building a footbridge over Newtown Creek at the location of the historic trolley bridge between Frost Lane and Durham Road.

Posted on 04 Jan 2020, 01:29 - Category: Governance

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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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