John Mack - Newtown Supervisor

My BOS Meeting Survival Kit

This is how my work area looked at last night's Board of Supervisors (BOS) meeting. I call it my BOS Meeting Survival Kit. I especially needed it for last night's meeting, which was pretty boring.

Apart from resident John D., who attends every BOS meeting (kudos to him!), there was not a single resident in the audience aside from a few township officials*. 

At times you could hear a cricket chirp! Some day I will let one loose in the room to really test that. But you COULD hear the air conditioning!

Speaking of air conditioning, it's a little known fact that the Township employs AC and a couple of other things designed to keep Supervisors awake during such sessions.

The temperature in the meeting room is keep pretty low, even in winter months. So low that despite my desire to have a "shirt sleeves rolled up" and ready to work persona, I am forced to wear a jacket to keep warm. I'm told that when the room is full of people it can get pretty heated literally as well as figuratively. I can attest to the latter at previous BOS meetings, but there was no actual audience body heat at last night's meeting!

I've often thought of a better way to keep warm at these meetings: a flask of scotch! That, however, would be too obvious. Some day - and that day may never come - I might just have vodka instead of water in that bottle and no one would be the wiser!

The other means the Township has of keeping Supervisors awake is a bowl of candy in front of every member. Now, I like candy just as much as anyone, but like many people my age I need to keep my weight in check and I must worry about Type 2 diabetes (among other health issues). 

I have tried to wean Supervisors off of the candy by bringing in fruit to share with them. So far my efforts have not paid off and I have not shamed other members into bringing their own alternatives to share with colleagues. But at least 2 or 3 other members enjoyed one of the tangerines I brought in. I do not know, however, if that stopped them from downing a mini Hershey bar or Kit Kat.

Last night's BOS meeting was preceded by a 1-hour Executive Session Definition that began a 6 PM. This was not so boring - we had to discuss some very complicated employee contract and legal issues. TMI! Luckily, we have professionals who know how to handle the nitty-gritty details.

But the Township did not provide any food during that meeting, so I decided I needed to bring in some kind of half-way nutritious Asian-style snack mix. At least it had some fat and dietary fiber to go along with the sugar!

Budget Presentation

In closing, let me say that every Newtown BOS meeting is important - even the boring ones. Possibly the most important BOS meeting of the year is coming up this Monday, October 15, 2018. This is a Special Meeting at which the draft for the 2019 budget will be presented to the Board by the township manager and department heads.

OK, I know, budgets and financial discussions may not excite everyone, but this is an opportunity to learn where your tax money goes. To prepare for that meeting, I urge you to listen to the 2017 Audit Report and the Newtown Finance Committee Report here

The Budget Presentation is scheduled to begin at 7 PM, so you have time to have a quick dinner beforehand! Or you can be like me and skip the heavy dinner and bring your own BOS Meeting Survival Kit.


* I am exaggerating a bit. A young member of Eagles Troop 29 along with the Troop leader and a couple of friends/family members were there at the beginning of the meeting to present a plan for landscaping to beautify the existing Veterans Park sign at the Durham Road entrance. It was when they left that the meeting became a bit boring, at least until Chair Phil Calabro ripped the Zoning Hearing Board Definition a "new one" for postponing a hearing on the Sit-Stay kennel variance hearing.

Posted on 11 Oct 2018, 01:51 - Category: Governance



Glossary of Municipal Terms

MS4, PRD, LST, EIT, SALDO, Liquid Fuels Program, Impervious Surface, Sketch Plan, Conditional Use, Spot-Zoning, etc. These are just some of the acronyms and terms a Newtown Township Supervisor Definition has to learn to do his or her job.

Perhaps more importantly, township residents must understand these terms if they are expected to participate in local government.

To that end, I have put together a Glossary of Municipal Terms on my website (here), which is available from every page on the site (see the big blue button in the righthand column).

This is my personal glossary of terms that I believe are relevant to Newtown residents. Hopefully, it will help residents when they read the minutes of meetings or watch Board of Supervisors (aka BOS Definition) meetings on Cable TV.

This Glossary is more than a simple list of terms and definitions. It also includes links to related information and resources on this and other websites such as news summaries, blog posts, videos, podcasts, newsletter articles, etc. Therefore, it can also be used as an index to information on this site.

Whenever you see this button Definition on a page you will be able to access the definition of the term, acronym, or phrase immediately preceding it. 

I will continually add many new terms to the Glossary to make this a truly valuable resource. If you have any terms you'd like to see added to this Glossary, contact we via email: john@johnmacknewtown.info

Posted on 08 Oct 2018, 01:38 - Category: Communication



Summary of September 12, 2018, BOS Public Meeting

The following is a brief summary of the September 12, 2018, Newtown Board of Supervisors (BOS) meeting based upon the official minutes of that meeting, which you can find here.

Committee Reports

Joint Historic Commission - Toll House Commemorative Plaque: Mr. Mack reported that he had attended a meeting of the Joint Historic Commission (JHC) at which a Toll House commemorative plaque at Nina's Waffles was discussed. He asked whether the Township or Brixmor would be contributing to the sign. Mr. Lewis said that he believed Brixmor would be amenable to making a contribution. Followup: The JHC's plan has been to sponsor a historic marker at the toll house with its own funding. The sign, which is part of the Newtown Heritage Walk program, credits Brixmor for repairing and maintaining the toll house since purchasing the shopping center site from the previous developer and their recent renovation to reoccupy the structure as a commercial establishment. Brixmor will be installing the sign at no charge.

NOTE: Warren Woldorf, Chairman of the Joint Historic Commission, requested BOS approval for it to use JHC funds ($2,000 estimated) for an historic marker. The BOS voted to approve this expenditure at no cost to the Township at the 27 September 2018, public meeting.

Planning Commission - Arcadia Green: Chairman Allen Fidler reported that the Commission has discussed the plans for Arcadia Green, but as the applicant's engineer and traffic engineer were not available to answer questions, the Commission offered a few suggestions regarding the plans but did not make a formal recommendation.

Ordinances

Consideration of PRD Elimination Zoning Ordinance Amendment: Mr. Sander - Township Solicitor - explained that at the recommendation of the Bucks County Planning Commission, an ordinance is being circulated among the Jointure partners to remove the PRD use from the JMZO. Passage of an ordinance eliminating this use from the JMZO would not impact current applications. Mr. Davis moved to amend the JMZO to remove the PRD use from its permitted uses. Ms. Bobrin seconded and the motion passed 5-0.

For more details, read: "Newtown Township, Upper Makefield, and Wrightstown to Consider Deleting Planned Residential Development from the Newtown Area JMZO".

Noise Ordinance Amendment: Mr. Sander - Township Solicitor - reported that on the advice of former Police Chief Pasqualini and Code Enforcement Officer Martin Vogt, he is recommending that the Board advertise amendments to the noise ordinance. The current ordinance is subjective and difficult to prove or enforce. The proposed changes would delete subjective criteria. Ms. Bobrin moved to authorize advertisement of a noise ordinance amendment. Mr. Fisher seconded and the motion passed 5-0.

NOTE: In a 4 to 1 vote at the Sept 26, 2018, public meeting, the Board of Supervisors approved this ordinance amendment. For more information about that, read "Board of Supervisors Decimate Noise Ordinance".

Parks and Recreation

Veterans Park Flagpole: Township Manager, Mr. Lewis explained that the Board had included the purchase of the 50 foot flagpole and large flag in the 2018 budget. The new flag will be placed in the grassy area between the snack bar and Noah’s Playground. Mr. Calabro moved to authorize purchase of a 50 foot flagpole from Kotate Flags at a cost of $6500 for Veterans Park. Mr. Calabro and Mr. Mack questioned the location of the flagpole. Both would have favored the main entrance area on Durham Road. Mrs. Pawlenko said that the scout who built the entrance sign wall has been nationally recognized for his project. The new flag will be visible from this entrance. The motion passed 5-0.

Public Safety

Newtown Fire Association Extension through 2019: Mr. Lewis asked the Board to approve a one year extension of the Township’s agreement with the Newtown Fire Association for coverage from 6:00 PM to 6:00 AM Monday through Friday and on weekends, with a 3% increase. Mr. Mack moved to approve the proposed extension of the Newtown Fire Association Agreement through 2019. Mr. Davis seconded and the motion passed 5-0.

Police Report: Acting Police Chief Jason Harris reported that the department had responded to 1500 calls for service in the past month (August 2018), including 35 disturbances and a few vandalism complaints. The Department, along with fire and EMS, is participating in County wide training for responding to certain mass casualty emergencies. The training will insure that when multiple municipalities respond to the same emergency, the same protocols and procedures are in place so that the departments can easily coordinate and work together.

For more details, read "August 2018 Police Report".

Traffic

PennDOT Swamp Road Update: Gene Blaum, Ashwin Patel, Chuck Davies and Bob Graham of PennDOT were in attendance to review work already completed and some plans for Swamp Road. District Traffic Engineer Patel reported that PennDOT reviewed the crash history and found two clusters, at the intersection with Durham Road and at Twining Bridge Road, where accidents had been occurring. Restriping the center line to straighten curves and adding reflectors has been completed and new signage will be installed shortly. Mr. Sander spoke about the speed limits on roads where no limit has been set; the speed on Swamp Road, with the absence of a study, would be required to be 35 MPH. He asked to see the history of studies setting the current 45 MPH limit. Mr. Patel said that he would research this and would also take into consideration a new study, as requested by the Township or any data provided from a study commissioned using the Township’s own traffic engineers.
 

 

Posted on 05 Oct 2018, 01:07 - Category: Board of Supervisors Minutes



How's the Newtown Township Financial Garden Doing?

Budget season is upon us! The draft 2019 budget is currently being worked on by Newtown Township officials and will be presented to the Board of Supervisors (BOS) for discussion at a public meeting later this month. The public, as always, is invited to attend this meeting. Refer to the Events calendar to find out when this meeting is scheduled.

Meanwhile, two financial reports were presented to the BOS at the September 26, 2018, public meeting:

  • 2017 Audit Report
  • Newtown Township Finance Committee Report

The 2017 Audit Report

Edward Furman, a partner at Maillie, LLC, presented a summary of the 2017 audit to the Newtown Board of Supervisors at the September 26, 2018, public meeting. Furman's opinion can be summed up thusly: "As long as non-resident Earned Income Taxes are not severed, all is well in the Newtown Township financial garden."

Some Data

The following table is a summary of the 2017 Government Funds Revenue vs. Expenditures as reported in the 2017 Annual Audit. Refer to the complete audit here

 

Finance Committee Report

Jack Brod, Chair of the Newtown Township Finance Committee (NTFC), presented the Committee's first-ever report to the Newtown Board of Supervisors. The major point made by the NTFC is that the Township is "rapidly approaching [a] fiscal precipice." Some recommendations made by the Committee include the need for benchmarking, implementation of a multi-year planning and budgeting cycle, and increased public education and awareness of the Township's financial issues.

The Committee's Report

The September 20, 2018, report is based on a preliminary and limited analysis of Township budgets and financial documents by committee members. It represents the Committee's first attempt to identify:

  1. potential fiscal issues and concerns;
  2. needed benchmarking of township services, staffing, income and expenditures against other municipal governments and accepted standards; (3) possible implications of the fiscal issues we have estimated; and
  3. initial recommendations for future consideration and actions.

Download the complete report here.

Posted on 01 Oct 2018, 10:51 - Category: Finances



A Month in the Life of a Newtown Supervisor: Meetings, Meetings, and More Meetings!

My desktop at a recent BOS meeting

In the month of September 2018, I estimate that I spent about 34 hours attending meetings. This includes Board of Supervisors (BOS) meetings that I am required to attend such as Regular bi-weekly public meetings, non-public Executive Sessions, optional public Work Session meetings, and Special meetings (see the table below).

“Other Meetings” I attended were optional. For September, these included:

  1. Joint Zoning Council monthly meeting
  2. Newtown Fire Association monthly meeting
  3. Technology Committee monthly meeting
  4. Planning Commission bi-monthly meeting
  5. Bucks County Association of Township Officials Annual Fall Dinner
  6. House Democratic Policy Committee on EMS Recruitment and Retention Problems (read “Perry Warren & PA House Democratic Policy Committee Look at Ways to Recruit and Retain EMS Volunteers”).

One special “optional” meeting was actually a series of several meetings where I sat in on interviews with candidates for Newtown Police Chief. These interviews were done by outside consultants and Supervisors were invited to attend for observational purposes only. That was a whole day’s worth of meetings totally over 7 hours! Not every Supervisor can attend these kinds of meetings because they have outside jobs. I am able to attend these very important “optional” meetings because I am retired.

In addition to attending meetings, I also must prepare for meetings and spend time traveling to and from meetings. The following chart shows the breakdown of these activities for September:

In total, I spent nearly 60 hours in September attending meetings, preparing for meetings, and travel to and from meetings! It was a busy month. Not that I’m complaining – after all, I DO get paid about $345 a month before taxes!

Under “Activities” that are not meetings, I included time spent writing and answering official email from my johnm@newtownpa.gov account and interactions with residents and reporters in person or via phone and/or Facebook discussing official township issues.

What This Does Not Include

The above estimates do not include the many hours I spend keeping the public informed. I post information to this blog and website, for example. This includes writing a newsletter, creating and posting video clips from meetings, hosting podcast interviews, summarizing decisions made by Supervisors, etc. I also have a Facebook page, Twitter account, and Instagram account that I post to on a regular basis. I also curate content from local media that is of interest to Newtown area residents (see here). I estimate I spend about 2 hours every day on these activities!

Was September an unusual month? That remains to be seen. Coming in October is budget season, which I am told requires a lot of time and effort. Stay tuned – I intend to continue to keep a record of my activities and report back to you every month.

In conclusion, I must say that it's really an honor to serve the community! I've learned a lot and have met many fine people and volunteers who also put in a lot of time without any compensation at all! Thanks to everyone who help keep Newtown running and safe!

Posted on 29 Sep 2018, 01:02 - 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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