John Mack - Newtown Supervisor
Summary of April 20, 2020, Meet Mack Monday via Facebook Live

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

This site is paid for and approved by John Mack: john@johnmacknewtown.info
The opinions expressed here are solely those of John Mack and do not represent the opinions of any other person or entity.
Campaign Websites by Online Candidate