The following are a few notable accomplishments of the Newtown Board of Supervisors (BOS) in 2020.
It’s been such a terrible year that a new definition of accomplishment is needed. For example, merely surviving seems like an accomplishment.
Nevertheless, I am proud to have served the community to the best of my ability during difficult times that required difficult decisions to be made to secure the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the township. I am sure my fellow BOS members feel the same. With your support and input, I look forward to a prosperous and safe 2021 New Year.
NOTE: How much do you agree or disagree with the following Board decisions/actions? Please take a 5-minute survey to tell me. DISCLAIMER: This is not an official Newtown Township Survey. It’s purpose was solely to inform John Mack, a Newtown Supervisor, of residents' opinions.
Appointed First Person of Color as Supervisor
Board members voted 3-1 at a special meeting on January 8, 2020, to appoint Democrat David Oxley to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Linda Bobrin.
Oxley, 36, will serve through 2021 by virtue of the appointment but would have to run and win in that year's election to retain the seat.
Mr. Oxley brings to the Board extensive expertise in financial management combined with business development experience and volunteerism, which are perfect qualifications for taking the lead in the Board's effort to work with consultants, residents and the business community to solve the township's deficit spending problem.
Oxley said he will "work hard to keep the township safe, especially for our youth. I want to help keep Newtown Township family-oriented and promote growth, though we don't want to grow too fast."
Appointed Kevin Antoine to Newtown Human Relations Commission
At the August 26, 2020, BOS meeting, supervisors appointed Kevin Antoine, Bucks County Community College’s Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, to the Newtown Human Relations Commission.
Mr. Antoine has more than 16 years of experience in diversity and inclusion, non-discrimination and civil rights compliance with state and federal laws and regulations. "I believe my breath of experience and knowledge will compliment the duties of the commission," said Mr. Antoine in his application letter.
Held the First Ever Police Town Hall Meeting
A the June 10, 2020, BOS meeting, the Board directed Newtown Township Police Chief John Hearn to host a public “Town Hall” meeting where police officers and the community - especially residents who feel they have issues with the police - can get to know one another and have a meaningful dialog. Read more about the meeting in the August 2020 issue of Newtown News Update.
Established a Single Newtown Fire Chief
At the October 29, 2020, BOS meeting, supervisors approved the appointment of Newtown Chief Glenn Forsyth as chief of the all volunteer Newtown Fire Association and the Newtown Township Emergency Services Department (career firefighters) effective Jan. 1, 2021. It is the first step in bringing the two departments together as one. More…
Related Content: “The Volunteer Newtown Fire Association is at a Turning Point”
Repaved 3.5 Miles of Roads
Approximately 3.5 miles of roads were repaved in 2020 despite the fact that 1.0 Mill of revenue (approximately $350,000) dedicated to roadwork was diverted to the General Fund in anticipation of a EIT shortfall due to COVID-19 restrictions. The following roads were among those repaved in 2020:
- Swamp Rd (from the Bypass to Sycamore St)
- Fountain Farm Ln
- Newtown Gate Dr
- Penns St
- Upper Silver Lake Rd (From Newtown Yardley Rd to Vera Ave)
- Silver Lake Rd (between N. Penns Trail & L. Dolington Rd)
- Newtown Yardley Rd (Patch Paving between Tara Blvd & N. Penns Trail)
Rejected Arcadia Development Settlement
At the December 22, 2020, BOS meeting via Zoom, supervisors refused to vote on a settlement offer from Arcadia to build 60 homes on Buck Road and Newtown Bypass. Dozens of residents were able to attend this meeting and make their voices heard.
The appeal against the “Mandamus” decision will move forward and it is hoped that the township will be successful in overturning that decision.
Denied Toll Brothers Twining Bridge Road Application
A conditional use application by Toll Bros for a cluster development on 158.07 acres located in the CM Conservation Management district was denied by the BOS at its August 26, 2020, meeting.
Applied for a Grant to Extend Lower Dolington Road Trail
Although the Township received funding last year for the Lower Dolington Trail (LDT; read “Newtown Township Gets Grants to Build Lower Dolington Road Multi-Use Trail”), it did not receive all of what was requested to finish the trail as planned. Therefore, the Township applied for a DCED Multimodal Transportation Fund Grant, which has a zero percent match. With this money it will be possible to complete the LDT or another trail segment in the Comprehensive Plan.
Approved EAC Comprehensive Plan Recommendations
The Newtown Township Environmental Advisory Council (EAC) prepared a set of recommendations to the Planning Commission for consideration in the development of the next Newtown Area Comprehensive Plan. The Board approved submitting these recommendations to the Joint Zoning Council to consider as part of the new 10=year Newtown Area Comprehensive Plan. See the recommendations here.
Approved E30 “Curative Amendment” to Zoning
At the September 23, 2020, BOS meeting, supervisors approved the E-30 amendment to the Newtown Area Zoning Ordinance that would allow a combination gas station/convenience store use in various locations in Newtown, Wrightstown, and Upper Makefield (the "Jointure"). The amendment imposes several conditions such as a limit on the number of fuel pumps, prohibition of a drive through window, etc.
While this amendment will apply to all new applications for such a use in the Jointure, it does NOT apply to the application submitted by Provco to build a Wawa on the Newtown Bypass. That application precedes the curative process.
Passed “Love is Love” Resolution
At the March 11, 2020, BOS meeting, Newtown supervisors passed a “Love is Love” resolution in support of LGBTQ + minority youth by a unanimous bipartisan 5-0 vote.
Many interested parties were present and made impassioned pleas in support of the resolution, which establishes February 15 as Love is Love Day in Newtown Township. More...
Mastered BOS Zoom Meetings to Allow Resident Participation
On December 9, 2020, the Newtown BOS held its first Zoom meeting that successfully enabled residents to attend and make comments. The December 22, 2020, meeting had over 90 participants. This is an important milestone because the township will be using Zoom for several months to come. In fact, it may be the way to go because more people will be able to attend these meetings than live ones.
Prior to that, the township had been reluctant to allow residents to participate for fear of being "zoom bombed." Read Newtown Supervisor Zoom Meetings Not Open to Residents.
Hosted The Newtown Township Citizens Survey
As part of the comprehensive multi-year financial management plan (see next item), the BOS approved a citizens survey that asked residents how satisfied they were with the township services and to identify the two TOP priorities that the township should focus on for attracting new business. 545 responses were collected, including over 300 open-ended comments.
Almost two-thirds of citizen survey respondents were women and over 70% have lived in Newtown Township for over ten years. Nearly two-thirds (72%) are 45 years old or older. Half report that their annual household income is over $100,000 and 75% have a bachelors or higher education degree. Only 18% work in Newtown. See the survey results here.
Developed a 5-Year Financial Plan
At an August 17, 2020, Work Session, Steve Wray of ESI provided the BOS with a 144-page detailed report and presented a slide summary of that report that explained the purpose of the Strategic Management Planning Program.
Wray reviewed the services Econsult performed along with key findings and recommendations, projections, financial history, a revised financial forecast and a recommended approach for developing the 2021 budget.
Related Content: VIDEO: “A Critique of ESI Financial Report”
Established The Economic Development Committee
On June 10, 2020, the BOS approved the appointment of 7 applicants to establish the Economic Development Committee (EDC).
Soon afterward the EDC began looking to identify specific industries (life sciences, biotech) to attract to Newtown Township. Supervisor David Oxley has taken the lead in talking to Bucks County officials about attracting biotech firms to Newtown.
Related Content: PODCASTS: “Ideas for Bringing New Businesses to Newtown”
Approved a “Contentious” 2021 Budget
These budgets, however, continued a trend of deficit spending according to the Newtown Finance Committee (see VIDEO: "Thoughts on Newtown Township's Deficit Spending"). If that trend continued, warned ESI consultants, the township’s reserve fund would be depleted by 2022.
Faced with that possibility, on December 22, 2020, the BOS approved the 2021 budget, which includes a 3.99 mill increase in municipal property taxes (about $160 per year for the average homeowner). This decision ensured a healthy reserve fund, which is a definite accomplishment in terms of the financial health of the township. It also keeps Newtown's municipal property tax among the lowest in the region (see chart).
Some expense items were cut from the preliminary budget, including hiring a new code enforcement officer, one police vehicle, and a new police building study. The final approved budget, however, includes hiring 3 new police officers and continues full funding for Parks & Recreation programs, including summer camp, among other things.
May the new year bless you with health, safety, and happiness.Read More...
Posted on 29 Dec 2020, 01:35 - Category: Governance
I've been keeping track of how Newtown Township supervisors voted on motions before the Board of Supervisors (BOS). The following is the BOS voting record for 2020, based on the approved minutes of meetings.
NOTE: This is NOT an official record of votes. Some very minor motions, such as to approve minutes, bills lists, etc., may not be included. Please refer to the BOS meeting minutes for the official voting record of each meeting.
Other BOS Voting Records
Download a PDF version here.Read More...
Posted on 14 Sep 2020, 01:36 - Category: Governance
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.
Other firehoses include:
- E-30 "Curative Amendment" - not even the lawyers can get all the information straight no matter how hard we press them!
- Jointure Comprehensive Plan - I have matrices to fill out, survey data to review, input from the Environmental Advisory Council to read carefully, etc., etc.
- 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
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.
- “A Fiscally Stable Newtown is Good for Business & Vice Versa”
- “How Satisfied Are You With Newtown Township Services?”
- Econsult 5-Year Financial Plan July 21, 2020, Public Zoom Meeting
- ESI COVID-19 Financial Impact Report
- Newtown Township Anticipates More Than $1.3 Million Budget Shortfall Due to #COVID19
(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 email@example.com. 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.
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?
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.
- “Residents Urge Newtown Supervisors to Abide by Spirit of Conservation Management Zoning Ordinance”
- “Newtown Supervisors Declined to Vote on Toll Brothers New Plan for 45 Homes to Be Built in Conservation Management District Along Twining Bridge Road. What's Next?”
- “Toll Bros Trash Original Plan for 41 "Luxury" Homes That Included a "Community Septic Field." Submits a New Plan with 45 Homes and Connection to Public Sewer”
- [Video] “Residents Dissatisfied with Notice by Toll Bros of Conditional Use Hearing”
Meet Mack Monday via Zoom
Monday, August 24, 2020, 7 PM
Main Topic: Toll Bros. Twining Bridge Road Development Plan
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.Read More...
Posted on 11 Aug 2020, 01:38 - Category: Governance
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").
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.
- Diversion of tax funds from road repair to cover the general expenses of the township (salaries, consultant fees, supplies, etc.),
- 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
- 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.
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.
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>
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
- 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.
- 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:
- Sign forgiveness - The Township can relaxe signage rules at least temporarily to help businesses promote to residents; and
- 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 ResultsRead More...
Posted on 21 Apr 2020, 01:56 - Category: Governance