John Mack - Newtown Supervisor

Newtown Township Employee Salaries & Wages

The Bucks County Courier Times reports that it filed “60 right-to-know requests, seeking the total wages paid to all full- and part-time government workers in 2017” (read “To Be Revealed: What Local Government Employees Earned in 2017”).

Coincidently (?), American Transparency, a non-profit group that publishes OpenThe, sent right-to-know requests to many, if not all, PA municipalities – including Newtown Township – asking for a copy of the following records: “An electronic copy of any and all employees for year of 2017, (fiscal or calendar year). Each employee record should contain the employer name, employer zip code, year of compensation, first name, middle initial, last name, hire date (mm-dd-yyyy), base salary amount, bonus amount, overtime amount, gross annual wages and position title.”

Newtown complied with the request since it maintains these records and by law “it is not exempted in any way by the Right-to-Know Law… subject to redaction as permitted by the Law,” according to the Township Solicitor.

Other townships, however, have denied the request, contending they do not maintain the exact records requested. “I have denied more than my fair share of requests lately solely based on the fact that I have no report that includes every piece of information they are requesting,” says Heidelberg Township Office Manager. “I may have a report that comes close, but I'm not providing it because it is not what they are asking for. Is that a hardline to take? Maybe. If they wish to amend their request, that is fine. I would then provide the report that satisfies their request. But please don't be fearful of denying if you don't have it to give. Maybe if we all did that, they would stop asking.”

Well, that’s not a very transparent attitude, I must say!

So what wages and salaries do Newtown Township employees earn? You can easily find that information for 2018 in the approved budget published on the township’s website (here). I’ve summarized that data in the following pie charts.

As recently reported, Mr. Kurt Ferguson, Newtown Township Manager, will be leaving to become Lower Makefield Township Manager (LMT) on July 16, 2018 (read “Newtown Township Manager Kurt Ferguson Will Take Lower Makefield Township Manager Position in July”).

According to the 2018 Budget, Mr. Ferguson’s salary for 2018 is $138,940. He also receives an additional $10,000 as Finance Director (see Resolution 2018-R-7).

Numbers Are Not the Whole Story

Numbers alone, however, do not tell the whole story. For example, because Mr. Ferguson fulfills the role of Finance Manager at very low compensation level of $10,000 per year, the Township does not have to hire someone else at more than $80,000 per year to fill that role. This has saved an estimated $500,000 over the 6 years of Mr Ferguson's tenure. Keep in mind that Mr. Fergison works many additional hours every week without additional pay.

The following table from a Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors (PSATS) report shows the full-time hourly rates in 2016 for management and police employees in townships with populations over 8,000 (Newtown has a population of over 19,000).

These numbers are based on data reported by 72 townships. To compare apples to apples, you have to convert hourly rates to yearly salaries using the equation 37.5 hours per week X 52 weeks X hourly rate.

BTW, Newtown Township Supervisors receive an annual income of $4,125 per! For me that works out to be about $41.00 per hour to attend Board of Supervisors meetings. It does NOT include the many hours I spend attending other meetings such as meetings of Parks & Recreation, Technology Committee, JMZO, Planning Commission, etc. It also does not include the many hours I spend preparing for these meetings! This wage is set by law and it has been the same since at least 2015. I say it's time for an increase!

UPDATE: The Bucks County Courier Times, on June 8, 2018, published the salary data it has collected; read "Some Local Governments Reluctant to Release Employee Wages, Some Don't Keep Complete Records!".

Posted on 07 Jun 2018, 01:33 - Category: Governance

Super Wawa Survey Comments

Previously, I summarized comments from residents made at a public meeting regarding a proposed plan to build a Super Wawa on the Newtown Bypass (read "Residents Present Their Case For and Against a Super WaWa on the Bypass"). Here I summarize pro and con comments made by respondents to my personal Super Wawa Survey. Over 275 comments were collected. The following are just a few representative samples. Keep in mind that comments made online and in surveys do not offer any means to debate their validity or to offer counter arguments. 

DISCLAIMER: This is not an official Newtown Township approved survey. 

Comments AGAINST

Ambience/Open Space
  1. Newtown is over-developed now.  Enough is enough!  Leave some beauty, leave some nature
  2. Let’s not tarnish this ‘gateway’ area into Newtown!
  3. The small town feel is disappearing
  4. We have such little open space that we need to preserve what we have left.  Everywhere I look within Newtown and Middletown Township there are banks, coffee shops, and gas stations. We do not need a Wawa
  5. Keep the green and open look. Keep the area more historical looking.
  6. The whole area will be affected in a negative spiral.  It would open up the start of many more commercial businesses which we do not need here.  Just makes me want to seek out a different place to live as the quaintness of Newtown is disappearing....
  1. Proposed location of WaWa represents a traffic choke point at this critical intersection which serves as the gateway for both the Newtown Township and Borough. When asked at the township meeting of what benefit the WaWa would provide to the Township there was no answer. That is because the benefit of a WaWa at the gateway to Newtown vastly benefits the outside travelers coming off of I-95 at the expense of the negative impact to Newtown roads. Please challenge WaWa representation that the "prototypical design" discourages truck traffic. What are the details of there design that does that?
  2. Poor location with driveways on a curve with poor sight distance at a location that already experiences recurring queuing from the traffic signal at the bypass at this location. Heavy left turning traffic backs up to where this driveway will be located. Safety concerns.
  3. I want to clarify that I am not against a Wawa in Newtown. It would be a nice convenience. What I am against is it’s placement at a spot on the bypass that is already a traffic nightmare during morning and evening rush hour.
  1. The zoning was specifically chosen to keep commercial development from dominating the bypass. Do NOT change the zoning to allow this. Huge can of worms and terrible decision making.
  2. It gives the township nothing in exchange for a very favorable and profitable zoning change.
  3. I want to clarify that I am not against a Wawa in Newtown. It would be a nice convenience. What I am against is it’s placement at a spot on the bypass that is already a traffic nightmare during morning and evening rush hour.

Comments in FAVOR

Lower Gas Prices
  1. Newtown gas prices are among the highest in the area, due to a lack of stations in the general vicinity. All the local stations near the bypass are within the borough, limiting supply options and keeping demand high for township residents.
  2. Newtown may finally have gas prices that are not excessive.
Bring Business/Benefit to Newtown
  1. I believe it would help with bringing people to State and Sycamore Streets for the shopping destination. The Wawa would be a place that people stop on the way in and out of town. Similar to how the one in Doylestown works.
  2. Would be a great asset to the local community. It would bring in jobs.
  3. This will generate revenue from surrounding business (Optimal Sport health club, performance spine and sports medicine, Newtown rental center, star gas, centrak). If employees of these companies have access to a wawa, revenue would skyrocket. There is currently nothing around those businesses for a quick bite to eat on a lunch break.
  4. The industrial park employees thousands and this new Wawa would assist tremendously in supporting the needs of commuters to the park.
An Alternative to 7-11
  1. The 7-11 in town is a s#$thole
  2. What’s available at the 7-11 on Sycamore shouldn’t even be labeled “food”.
  3. It's too bad we can't get rid of the 7-ll on Sycamore St..WAWA is far superior in every category.
  4. Hopefully, it will detract business from the eyesore and public disgrace that is 7-11.
  1. I love wawa. We need this. Easy access to wawa gas and store. Great quick food. Newtown needs to get on board.
  2. It would be absolutely amazing to have such a great convenience store in town!! Please, please, please do it!!!!
  3. It's iconic to this part of the country
  4. I personally have been wanting a WaWa located in Newtown for as long as I can remember.
  5. Newtown needs to accept that it is the 21st century
  6. Wawa is life!
  7. I mean, it's Wawa!

Posted on 02 Jun 2018, 07:15 - Category: Development

Yardley Boro to Consider “Gun Safety” Resolution

According to a personal communication from Yardley Borough Council member Dave Bria, “On Tuesday, June 5, the Yardley Borough council will consider a gun safety resolution. I want to invite all of you to attend the meeting in support of this resolution. The vote isn't a sure thing… We must be sure our voices are louder and clearer than the opposition in order to sway these votes.”

The resolution quotes statistics from the Brady Campaign, which says “116,255 people in America are shot in murders, assaults, suicides & suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, or by police intervention” in America every year.

Hoping to change that statistic favorably, the resolution states “the Borough believes additional gun safety laws are needed to protect the safety and health of our residents and urges the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the United States Congress to enact laws to reduce gun violence, including:

  1. Preventing known and suspected terrorists, those convicted of violent hate crimes and those with a history of domestic abuse from legally buying guns;

  2. Ensuring that background checks are required on all gun sales, including online and at gun shows. In Pennsylvania, preserve the provisions of the Pennsylvania Instant Check System (PICS) which provides instant access to background records;

  3. Funding research into the effects of gun violence and gun safety technology;

  4. Requiring trigger locks on all firearms in homes where children are present;

  5. Requiring lost or stolen firearms be reported to law enforcement within 72-hours of the discovery of loss or theft;

  6. Banning access to bump-stocks;

  7. Banning access to assault-style rifles;

  8. Reducing the number of permissible cartridges in a clip or magazine.

Bria hopes that other Yardley Borough Council members will “go along with the sentiment in the room” and vote to approve the resolution, which was based on the resolution Solebury Township passed in 2016. Will Newtown be next to consider a similar resolution?

UPDATE - June 11, 2018: Yardley’s gun safety resolution received “yes” votes from four council members, with two members abstaining and one member absent from the meeting. New Hope and Solebury both passed similar gun resolutions in 2016, while Lower Makefield and Middletown discussed but did not pass resolutions in previous years. An identical resolution will be considered by the Newtown Board of Supervisors on June 13, 2018 (find the agenda here).

Posted on 31 May 2018, 01:49 - Category: Resolutions

Got Potholes, Broken Street Light, Dead Deer on Road? Who You Gonna Call?

One item on the agenda of last night’s Technology Committee meeting concerned “Resident Reporting Methods.” One of the missions of this committee is to “improve communications between the Township and its residents” (find the mission statement here).

A committee member wondered if residents were aware of how to report a specific issue such as a pothole to the Township. “If you call the main number and you have to go through several cycles before reaching the pothole people,” he said, “that would not be good.”

Actually, there is a better way to communicate with the Township to report a specific concern. It’s an online form that residents can use (find it here). You need to enter your name, street address and email address, then select one of the following problems/concerns:

  • Pot Holes/Road Issues
  • Street Lights
  • Traffic Lights
  • Hit Deer/Animal
  • Wild Animal(s)
  • Business License
  • High or Overgrown Grass
  • Excessive Noise
  • Work Without Permit
  • Uncleared Sidewalks in Snow Conditions
  • Other

Depending on your choice, you will get further instructions and/or be asked for more information. For example, if you select “Wild Animal(s)”, you will be presented with a new form that asks for the location of the animal and type of animal. Finally, you’ll be asked to provide additional information, if necessary.

After completing the form, you get this reassuring message: "Your comments and concerns will be directed to the appropriate departments within the township. If necessary, a representative from the department will be sure to follow up with any questions they have based on your submission."

The website is responsive and adapts to a mobile format so it can be used on cell phones. But is there a better technology that can be used instead or in addition to this? How about a mobile app? What if the Township had a Twitter account and residents were able to send direct messages through Twitter to the township?

These are the sorts of questions that the Technology Committee is designed to answer should the Supervisors request it.

Posted on 30 May 2018, 10:15 - Category: Communication

Improving Communications Between Newtown Township and Residents

One of my goals as a Newtown Township Supervisor is to improve communications with Township residents. That is the main purpose of this blog. It’s good to know that my efforts have not gone unnoticed. Yesterday, for example, a member of the Nextdoor community website - where I often post information of interest to Newtown area residents - sent me a personal note: “I think your (sic) a terrific Supervisor to keep us informed!” That person made my day.

More important than posting to my website is the work I have done in conjunction with the Township staff, Technology Committee volunteers, and contractors to improve communications and access to public information. Some of the small steps toward my goal include the following.

  1. I revised the mission statement of the Technology Committee to include “improve communications between the Township and its residents” (Resolution 2018-R-11, March 28, 2018).

  2. Newtown Board of Supervisors (BOS) meeting agendas previously stated at the top: “Please Turn Off Cell Phones During Meeting”. I thought that would discourage residents from using their phones to record the meetings. Consequently, I requested that this phrase be replaced with “Please Silence Cell Phones During the Meeting.” My request was granted. This should apply to all agendas of public meetings. 

  3. Related to that, at the March 14, 2018, BOS Meeting, I noted – and the Township solicitor confirmed - that residents can video record ALL public meetings, including Zoning Hearing Board meetings. Audio recordings are also allowed.

  4. At the Mar 28, 2018, BOS meeting, I noted that there was an unnecessary delay in publishing minutes of meetings. The process involved approving minutes at the following meeting and then signing the approved minutes two weeks later at the next meeting – a total of more than four weeks after the original meeting. Now, if there are no changes, the approved minutes are signed and posted about two weeks after the meeting. If corrections need to be made, the Township administrative assistant posts a temporary copy of the minutes, which is then replaced with the corrected copy.

  5. Related to that, very early on in my tenure in January, 2018, I requested that the posted minutes be converted to searchable PDF format. This was quickly implemented and every PDF version of minutes going back two years have been converted. Using a PDF reader, you can now search the minutes after downloading. You can also copy and paste sections of the minutes, which I do all the time. See for example the summaries of minutes posted to this blog.
Newtown BOS Website Video Streaming Improvement: No More Pixelation!

Now I can put another small “feather in my cap.” Finally, the quality of the streaming video of BOS meetings on the Township website has been improved and is now on a par with online videos of other townships. This is something I have been pushing for since taking office in meetings with the video contractor and the Township Manager and at BOS meetings. The "before and after" screen grabs below clearly show the improvement.

Another issue is indexing the video to allow viewers to jump to different sections of the video by clicking items on the agenda while playing the video. Lower Makefield Township (LMT), which uses the same streaming video vendor as does Newtown, includes this useful feature. LMT’s streaming video page showing the index to the video. Viewers can click on an item in the agenda such as “Contract for New Manager” and jump immediately to that portion of the video (see screen grab below). Since Newtown’s video page lacks this feature, it is very difficult for residents to view the sections of BOS meetings that they are most interested in seeing.

Now that Lower Makefield has stolen our Manager (click on “Contract for New Manager” here), I want Newtown to be competitive, not only in having great management but having great communications capabilities. The above accomplishments and suggestions are small steps in that direction, but there is still much to be accomplished. Stay tuned!

Posted on 25 May 2018, 10:37 - Category: Communication

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