John Mack - Newtown Supervisor
The opinions expressed here are solely those of John Mack and do not represent the opinions of any other person or entity.
At least 40 Newtown Township residents attended the two-and-one-half hour December 9, 2020, Newtown Board of Supervisors (BOS) Zoom meeting and many expressed their concerns regarding the increase in taxes and spending proposed by the preliminary 2021 budget. For some, this was the first time they have participated in local government affairs.
Ash Kamath, mentioned a petition signed by over 700 residents and submitted a list of questions about the budget he hoped could be answered. Find the petition and many emails sent to supervisors opposing the tax increase here.
Steve Demeglio, representing the “Newtown Taxpayers' Alliance,” urged supervisors to cut spending. “A 133% increase is the wrong solution while increasing spending,” said Mr. Demeglio. He suggested that costs for responding to false burglar alarms should be paid by homeowners involved. He also asked about the profitability of Police coverage of Wrightstown. “Simply too much spending,” concluded Mr. DeMeglio.
Frank McCarron questioned how the expenditures in the 2021 budget is $14 million when the consultants recommended $13.4 million. “What does that mean for future years,” he asked. He also mentioned the grant application for hiring additional firefighters for weekend coverage. What are we doing in the meantime? He had several recommendations.
Michael Della Rocca noted the concern of previous speakers regarding the “trajectory” the township is on with regard to this budget. Mr. Della Rocca just retired from a career of municipal and state government consulting and over the past year he has worked with over 100 different organizations. “I can’t think of one,” said Mr. Della Rocca, “that is approaching its planning for next year from a baseline of continuity and increased costs.” Specifically he challenged supervisors make some difficult and hard decisions on reductions to be made.
Listen to the comments from these residents and others here...

The Bucks County commissioners do not plan to raise taxes to cover a $12 million deficit in the county budget for 2021,and will use available federal CARES ACT funding to help bridge the gap.
But, that infusion of cash must be used this year on allowable pandemic-related expenses. By using the federal money now, it will allow the county to carry over $20 million from its general operating fund balance into the 2021 budget, officials said.
The general fund balance will balloon from $30 million to "north of $50 million," county Finance Director David Boscola told the commissioners during a Zoom public hearing on the $467 million budget Wednesday night.
County Commissioner Director Diane Ellis-Marseglia said that since so many residents have been economically affected by the pandemic this year, she hoped the taxes could remain at the current rate of 25.450 mills or $25.45 for each $1,000 of assessed property value.
"I hope we don't need to do a tax increase, to put this on the shoulders of taxpayers this year, " she said.
The county commissioners are expected to adopt the final budget at their next public meeting, 10 a.m. Wednesday. That meeting will be held at the Bucks County administration building in Doylestown, but in-person capacity is limited. The meeting will be live-streamed on the county's Facebook page.
John Mack's Insights:
NOTE: THIS IS NOT ABOUT NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP'S PROPERTY TAX INCREASE. Nevertheless, this is good news because 17% of Newtown Township's residents’ property tax goes to Bucks County. Read "How to Calculate Your Yearly Newtown Township Property Tax."  
Meanwhile, over 400 residents have signed a petition to oppose the preliminary 2021 Newtown Township budget and there is a call for a Newtown Taxpayers Alliance to oppose this and "any other insanely high township tax increases in the future."  
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The owner of the Newtown Athletic Club says he plans to stay open despite Gov. Tom Wolf's suspension order on gyms set to take effect Saturday.
Jim Worthington, owner of Newtown Athletic Club and Horsham Athletic Club, said in a statement on Facebook that his gyms have had no identified community spread out of more than 200,000 check-ins.
"We believe that we are doing more service to our community if we remain available for them to continue their exercise and healthy lifestyle regimes – which in the end, according to the science, are among the best lines of defense against COVID-19," he said.
Pennsylvania reported 258 new deaths from COVID-19 on Thursday, breaking the record of 220 deaths set the day prior.
It's not clear how the state plans to enforce the gym closure order. Patch has reached out to state health officials for clarification on potential repercussions.
John Mack's Insights:
Question: How did Mr. Worthington determine that there is no community spread of the virus among his members?  
As per the notice posted on the official Newtown Township home page, you can submit a complaint about any business in violation of COVI-19 restrictions to the PA Dept of Health using the online COVID-19 Complaint Form.

Even the most optimistic assumptions about the course of the pandemic point to fiscal consequences for states and local governments that “would be the worst since the Great Depression” and take years to dig out of, Dan White, director of fiscal policy research at Moody’s Analytics, concluded.
The squeeze at the state level reverberates in urban, suburban and rural counties in nearly every corner of the United States, and officials are making piercing choices.
In Kansas City, Mo., with a municipal budget of $1.7 billion, the city manager has asked each department to draft a plan for cuts of more than 11 percent. That could mean laying off 200 police officers from the 1,300-member force and 180 firefighters and emergency medical technicians, said Dan Fowler, a City Council member.
To avoid layoffs, the city is cutting the pay of higher-level employees by 10 percent* and requiring most other employees, including police officers, firefighters and emergency responders, to take 26 unpaid furlough days — one every two weeks — next year. The move amounts to a 10 percent pay cut, and comes on top of six furlough days imposed on the city’s roughly 4,000 employees through the end of this year.
State and local employees make up roughly 13 percent of the nation’s work force.
Jerome H. Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, and many economists have warned that reducing state and local spending will further drag down a weak recovery, as it did after the Great Recession. Spending by state and local governments accounted for about 15 percent of the nation’s economic activity, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, part of the Commerce Department.
John Mack's Insights:
* The Preliminary Newtown 2021 budget provides a 3% increase in salary for all staff members with much higher increases for some managers and directors. Here's what I said at the November 10, 2020, Board of Supervisors meeting:

"Today is the 245th B’day of the U.S. Marines! As one Marine veteran resident told me at a Zoom meeting yesterday, Marines have a phrase: 'Officers Eat Last.' That is a sign of 'selfless leadership.' It is why I favor a 3% increase limit for ALL staff, including department heads. It’s the right thing to do, especially during these times when people are being furloughed, laid off, or working for lower wages due to COVID-19."
Recruitment for a study into the long-term health effects of PFAS exposure in Bucks and Montgomery counties should start this spring.
Officials with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) are hoping to have 1,000 adults and 300 children exposed to the suspected carcinogen near Warminster, Warrington and Horsham.
The chemicals contaminated public and private drinking water wells for decades from firefighting foams used at nearby active and former military bases.
Researchers were able to provide more details on eligibility during a Dec. 3 public Zoom meeting announcing the potential expansion of the study area since July.
The primary focus will be in residents living near some of the most heavily contaminated wells in the three townships, a population of roughly 32,000 people in 12,000 households.
Wells in Bucks and Montgomery counties were among the most contaminated sites tested in the country four years ago, with some having nearly 100 times more than the EPA’s 70 ppt limit.
Researchers will directly contact certain residents in those areas once a study site office is established and operational in the spring.

Due to the ongoing situation involving coronavirus/COVID-19, the Newtown Township Police Department is once again asking for the public’s assistance regarding reporting  non-emergency services for the following circumstances:

To file non-emergency police reports (fraud complaints, minor property damage, ID theft, lost property, etc.), Please call our 24/7 non-emergency line at 215-328-8524 and ask for an officer to call you or you can email us at during normal business hours, Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 4:30pm. An officer will contact you back to obtain information and document the incident.
We ask that you refrain from visiting the police department if you are sick, have or had a fever or other associated symptoms. We strongly encourage the use of phone and/or email reporting for non-emergency matters. If you have symptoms and are on location at our headquarters, please utilize the “red” phone outside our building and an officer will advise you of proper procedures. Do NOT enter the building! 
We are taking these measures to assure the health and safety of our officers and their ability to continue to provide the highest level of protection for our residents. Thank you for your continued support!
John L. Hearn Chief of Police

The Newtown Area Jointure (the joint municipal zoning consortium comprising Newtown Township, Upper Makefield Township, and Wrightstown Township) is in the process of updating the Newtown Area Comprehensive Plan, which was last updated in 2009.
See 2009 Newtown Area Joint Comprehensive Plan
The is the Jointure's primary land use policy document that sets goals and objectives, and a vision for future development and growth. The Comprehensive Plan (CompPlan) sets the foundation for land development standards, including subdivision and zoning laws. 
The plan is periodically reviewed in order to make sure it reflects the most current needs and views of the community. To review and update the CompPlan, the Joint Zoning Council (JZC) hired the Bucks County Planning Commission (BCPC).
The Jointure would like to hear the views of as many residents as possible and is committed to ensuring the community plays an active role in developing the policies that will help shape the development in the Jointure for the next ten years and beyond. To that end, the BCPC hosted a Citizen Survey.
At the December 3, 2020, JZC meeting, BCPC Planner Jeremy Stoff reviewed results of the Citizen Survey. The summary of the results focused on Newtown Township responses can be found here. The full results - including responses from all three municipalities - will be included in the final updated plan.
See the summary here...

A significant number of Pennsylvania municipalities are considering applying for a state program for the severely financially distressed, while those already in the program appear to be weathering the coronavirus pandemic better than expected.
In March, many city managers, mayors, and experts feared that 16 municipalities already enrolled in a state financial recovery program called Act 47 could suffer the most dramatically as the statewide economic shutdown undercut tax revenues.
But many have remained stable and are braced for fallout from the current surge, while others in better shape before the pandemic are faring worse.
A survey of 430 municipalities conducted this fall by the Pennsylvania Economy League, a civic leadership nonprofit, found that 23 townships, boroughs, and other local governments said they may now apply for Act 47 status as a result of their current financial pressure.
The Act 47 program considers requests from municipalities that are struggling financially and decides whether they are qualified for a formal, state intervention with oversight that restructures debt, reins in costs, and bolsters tax bases.
About 40% of the surveyed municipalities said it’s too soon to tell just how bad the fallout from the pandemic will be, said LeeAnne Clayberger, CEO of the Pennsylvania Economy League.
In addition to the 23 municipalities that disclosed that they may request Act 47 status, another 38 said that they are likely to apply to participate in another state program, the Strategic Management Planning Program, which also assists with financial planning, according to the Pennsylvania Economy League survey.
More than half of those surveyed also saw or expected a decline in earned income tax, which is deducted from workers’ paychecks. Amusement tax, along with fees collected from parking and the use of other community facilities, have also taken a hit as events are canceled and restaurants and bars rein in service.

In West Chester borough in Chester County, officials proposed a 2021 budget with a 32% property tax increase because of a more than $2 million shortfall. In Newtown Township in Bucks County, officials in October proposed a draft budget that included a 178% property tax increase for 2021.
John Mack's Insights:
NOTE: Newtown Township has revised its proposed 2021 budget. The property tax increase was cut to less than 100% by reducing revenue, NOT by decreasing expenses. The reserve fund is projected to be 6.8% of expenditures - dangerously low, IMHO.

In April, 2020, the Board of Supervisors “re-allocated” the 1.0 mill real estate tax slated to be used to borrow money to repave more than 5 miles of roads in 2020 to cover General Fund expenses - a drastic move in anticipation of an Earned Income Tax (EIT) revenue shortfall of 8-11% due to the COVID-19 shutdown of local businesses.

That shortfall, however, never materialized. According to Keystone Collections, which collects EIT, comparing earned income collections for 1/1/20 – 8/31/20 vs 1/1/19 – 8/31/19, Newtown Township specifically is up about $258,000.00 or 4.8%.  
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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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