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Dear Neighbor,

This is my blog for news and information on my hometown Lower Macungie Township! In January 2014 I was sworn in for a 4 year term as township Commissioner. I am humbled and grateful for the support of Lower Macungie Residents. We prevailed in the 2013 election running a grassroots campaign that focused on quality of life and fiscal sustainability through smart growth. The election was another referendum on the unpopular development decisions and “dumb growth” policies of 2009-2013.

As a lifelong resident of Lower Macungie and a local business owner I am proud to serve as Lower Macungie Township Commissioner. This is my blog. It serves as a record of 2 years of advocating for A Better Way to Grow. Here you can find information on local concerns, letters and op-eds I’ve written outlining my thoughts on various issues that affect our community.

Please browse the site. Use the search bar to find my thoughts on the issues facing Lower Macungie and the surrounding community. I welcome questions and comments always. Dialogue is so important and what I hope to bring to the table as a Commissioner.

Ron Beitler
Lower Macungie Commissioner serving a 4 year term

Want to keep taxes low? Preserve Open Space.

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Large contiguous tract of farmland in Lower Macungie Township

(Submitted as LTE to LMT Patch and an abbreviated version to EPP)

Preserving open space with a smart growth plan reduces costs for infrastructure and services, therefore over the long term reducing the need for tax increases. Farmland and open space generate no traffic, create no crime, needs little fire protection and places no new students into our school system.

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Why does cable TV get corporate welfare pass?

Why does cable TV get a free pass for the corporate welfare sales tax exemption they get?  I follow almost every single State Rep. on Facebook. When you do that you quickly see that a lot of the “foot soldier” reps post the same identical things verbatim at the same exact time. This weeks ‘theme of the week’ post includes this:

“During his budget address today, Gov. Tom Wolf asked to add sales tax to your basic cable TV bill , movie theater ticket purchases and digital downloads.”

This excerpt post was from Rep. Hahn’s page. But as I said it’s posted virtually verbatim on at least 25 state Rep’s walls. Naturally, it spurred lots of anger. Very effective politically. But again, I ask why does cable get the corporate welfare pass? Cable companies enjoy an totally arbitrary sales tax exception that steals a quarter of a billion dollars from taxpayers a year.

I think they get the pass because it fits nicely into a populist political narrative. Very effective. People are frustrated. Every reason to be.

We’re not served though by a dumbed down & poorly worded question. A better question would beDo you support closing corporate welfare loopholes in exchange for dollar for dollar property tax reduction“. If that’s the question than for me the answer is YES.  I 100% support closing corporate welfare tax loopholes.

It’s perhaps a less politically expedient wording since it’s a more complicated narrative. Doesn’t fit into a nice concise bullet point or immediately illicit angry responses. It does though more closely reflect actual issues at play. The question is how do we shift revenue away from property taxes without increasing the net revenue we send to Harrisburg?

What I hope this isn’t, is a money in politics thing.  I suspect it is. Cable TV is a dying business with an ultra powerful lobby. The fact there is no sales tax on cable TV is arbitrary corporate welfare. Do the math. . So in this post Rep’s try to cash in on populist anger with the added benefit of not upsetting corporate masters. (To be clear not accusing Marcia Hahn of take cable TV lobby money. This goes way above her. This falls on leadership who give the marching orders) A theme in alot of my posts about state Gov. is that leaders from both parties are generally guilty of serving special interests. Who represents us?

For the record, to be clear so this can’t be misconstrued: For me this is not about more and more and more revenue. I do not believe we need more revenue to fix a number of PA’s issues. We’re NOT an ATM for Gov. Wolf. I think we desperately need to shift the burden away from property taxes in dollar for dollar swaps.  Closing corporate welfare loopholes is one way to do that. Problem is it’s a complicated conversation and doesn’t fit tidy in a pandering post and could upset big $$$. This is a reason why HB76, property tax elimination keeps swinging and missing.

Also raising the PIT without property tax reduction is certainly an issue. But the little throw in line about movie tickets, cable TV and digital media is populist trolling.

Related: I try to write about Lower Mac issues in depth and detail. Sometimes I get down into the weeds. That is because I have faith in voters intelligence. Lower Mac residents haven’t let me down. We have sophisticated voters.  State Rep’s should take some shots at having more detailed conversations instead of cutting and pasting. Don’t be afraid of the tough conversations. I think voters appreciate it.

Peak Warehouse

Morning Call posted a story today “Upper Macungie to push for new I-78 interchange to relieve truck traffic

“We’ve got to get another interchange in here,” township Supervisor Kathy Rader said. “In the next 20 years, they expect freight to double in this area. … The statistics are staggering.” – UMT Supervisor Kathy Radar

I generally agree. This interchange is critical. It must happen. We’ve built ourselves into a corner. But in order to avoid repeating the same mistake it must happen with the following caveats:

1. Warehouses and warehouse developers that generate the need and count on the free flow of freight should contribute to design and construction. Sounds like that’s happening to an extent with design. This offsets fact these businesses are a net drain on local economies. As I often say relating to muni budgets these land developments are fiscal parasites.

2. Zoning must be in place in combination with a farmland preservation strategy to prevent the area around any proposed intersection from building out in the same fashion as Rt. 100. 

What can’t happen is for a new interchange to induce even more warehousing further westward. This would totally negate any benefits aimed at freeing up Rt. 100.

Think of roads as a system of pipes. In the day and age of GPS more so than ever before congestion will flow to where it’s least backed up. Rt. 100 is now a severe kink in the pipe. For this to work a new interchange must clearly be the path of least resistance. If we allow sprawling growth to surround a new interchange we will be having the same conversation 20 years from now. We have to stop the induced congestion cycle. Any new intersection must be accompanied with growth boundaries.

Break the cycle.

Break the cycle.

We have to break the cycle. A new interchange should be built for the purpose for handling existing traffic on Rt. 100. It can not be seen as vehicle to induce even more warehouses west of Fogelsville. This also relates to capacity on Rt. 22. We are already spending a BILLION dollars on the current widening project. The next induced widening may be impossibly expensive. Therefore we must get land use under control.

We have reached peak warehouse. We’ve built ourselves into a corner. The next steps will determine our quality of life relating to traffic, air quality and safety moving forward.

And yes, this fundamental problem relates to Pennsylvania’s highest in nation gas taxes.

PASenate votes to reduce the size of legislature

This week the Republican-controlled PA Senate voted 43-6 to reduce the House’s ranks from 203 to 151.  (HB 153 spons. Knowles) Back in May the house did the same. Currently, at 253 members (combined), our state legislature is the 2nd largest in the country. It’s also one of the most expensive. 

Reducing the size of the house is something I generally support along with other essential reforms including term limits and elimination of the state pension for elected officials. Initiatives that altogether are aimed at reducing the states 60 billion dollar operating budget. Term limits and pension elimination go hand in hand, since once you enact term limits you by default eliminate the sentiment that going to Harrisburg is a career. Term limit pledges unfortunately can be broken. As we’ve seen recently in our area. Mandated term limits protect politicians from human nature and convoluted justifications to make a career out of it.

I support a paid legislature but to me the pension equals a career. Going to Harrisburg to serve is a calling not a vocation. State legislators should be paid salaries but only equal to the median income for the district represented. Today, PA legislators are, you guessed it.. among the highest paid in the nation.

203 is arbitrary.
There is no magic in the number 203; in fact the final number of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives is the result of a map drawing mistake made in 1968. The number that matters is 100,000. Over that amount of voters represented districts lose local flavor.
This proposed reduction would keep State Representative districts under 100k.
  (amount each represents) Right now districts stand at about 60k. Which again, was arbitrary. The proposed reduction would bring them up to around 85k. Only a 15k increase. Still in my opinion a manageable number. At this number constituent services would be maintained at a high level. High quality constituent services is the main benefit of a paid legislature. Basically we should seek a significant difference between the 250k (# a Senator represents) and the number a Representative does.

To do this requires a change of the state constitution. It’s a long process requiring both chambers approving an identical measure two years in a row. If this happens again next year the decision would go on the ballot as a statewide referendum.

Here is how local officials voted:
Senate: Boscola (D) & Browne (R) in favor of reducing size.
General Assembly: Mackenzie (R), Simmons (R), Day (R) in favor of reducing size and Schlossberg (D) against reducing size.

Update: 1/28
Having worked with both our local state Rep. and local State Sen. office I have seen no difference in the quality and level of constituent service provided. Even though Sen. Browne’s office represents 250k and Rep. Mackenzie’s 60k. Both staff’s do an outstanding job.
Question – Do you see any difference?

Also an at large county Commissioner represents about 70,000 people. So a state rep. office represents less today.

Presidential Primary.

I am supporting John Kasich for President of the United States.

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 3.14.01 PMIn fact, I plan on spending 3 nights in New Hampshire volunteering for him. I will also be helping in PA with petition gathering along a number of other Lehigh County folks.

Over the last few months honestly I sort of meandered a bit exploring a number of candidacies. I flirted with Rand. Didn’t agree with him on everything but find him sincere. Most recent with Ted Cruz. Cruz is flawed but is the smartest candidate in the entire race. Other side of coin I can say I never liked Fiorina or Jeb. End of the day I ended up where I started. Firmly in the Kasich camp. Couple points:

  • “Establishment” & “Rino” lost all meaning. This explains. But overuse of the terms is easy to understand.
  • Pathetically 14 percent of Americans approve of our Congress. Locally? Scandals left & right. Folks make careers out of it in Harrisburg accomplishing nothing but collecting pensions. This relates to above. Easy to get frustration. So how can I support Kasich? A career pol? Easy. While I agree with “throw the bums out” and I really do. Difference is, in a climate where almost universally elected official approval ratings are in the toilet for incumbents, Kasich maintains high marks in fickle Ohio. Ohio voters re-elected Kasich in 2014 in a landslide with 64% of the vote. When you find someone with a record like his. With consistent approval ratings across the board. You’ve found someone special. You reward it. You promote them.
    What about the people who know him best? Let’s compare two seated Govs in the race: 
    John Kasich – 59% approval by OH voters – 10th best in nation as %.
    Chris Christie – 40% approval by NJ voters – 5th worse in nation as %. 
    *Both have seen state poll numbers go down since Presidential campaigns which is common as party politics becomes more polarized.
  • John has refused to for the most part to engage in carnival barking. Negative campaigning of course goes back to our founding fathers. But this year particularly the primary has been ultra juvenile. (thanks to one candidate in particular) John has for the most part avoided that. Instead keeping message positive and focuses on issues and results.
  • John Kasichs foreign policy views seems to align with my worldview IF you read between the lines. What attracted me to Rand was his contrarian views on this topic. Here is an interesting read on Kasich to glean some good information. The American Conservative – Kasich: Rising and Realist?

Other Primary thoughts:
The Trump has changed the narrative forever. Not necessarily totally bad. But end of day he is a sail. Which way is the wind blowing with whatever audience he is talking to on that particular day. He is not a conservative. Not really anything. He’s a populist. On the campaign trail, populist rhetoric serves as a distraction by design. Distraction from substance. Trump is one huge distraction. Credit where it’s deserved though. In a narrative that slams politicians, Trump has indeed shown a mastery of campaigning. His strategy is brilliant. He’s a master opportunist. Very smart.

Sarah Palin is a total embarrassment:
Her endorsement ‘speech’ of Trump was stunningly awful. Even worse maybe was her stereotyping and self serving politicization of PTSD as an excuse for her son’s domestic abuse charges.

To contrast take Ben Carson and the way he handled the tragic death of a staffer last week. When Carson learned a staffer died in a van crash he immediately suspended his campaign, made one public statement and stayed silent for 24+ hours out of respect. How does Palin deal with serious family issue? Immediately look for the closest camera and mic to cash in and score some cheap political points. Fundamental difference in character.

Do you have an Ash Tree on your property? If so PLEASE READ.

QUESTION:
Do you have an Ash Tree on your property? If so read carefully.
Unsure? How to identify an Ash Tree.

THE ISSUE:
The emerald ash borer is a half-inch long metallic green beetle. Larvae of this beetle feed under the bark of ash trees. Their feeding eventually girdles and kills branches and entire trees. Lower Macungie carried out an ash tree survey and found about 1,100 of them along the streets of township developments. Recently we have completed a management plan. Information on the public meeting is below. Since the Ash borer is coming to the Lehigh Valley. Residents have to prepare.

Because dead ashes are so dangerous to cut down, arborists charge steep fees to remove them. So while the cost of prevention can be steep, it’s cheaper in the long run. It’s critical we as a community stay ahead of this issue. 

Morning Call – Warning to Lehigh Valley: Prepare for the Ash Borer

The ASH Borer!

The ASH Borer!


WHAT CAN YOU DO – ASH STREET TREE PROGRAM:
Lower Macungie Township will hold a public meeting on February 22, 2016 at 7PM at the Lower Macungie Community Center, 3450 Brookside Road.
See link below. The purpose is to inform residents of the emerald ash borer, an invasive bug species killing 99% of ash trees. The program will include information on a street tree removal and replacement program. Residents facing the expense of ash tree removal and street tree replacement are encouraged to attend.
More information: LMT FACEBOOK GROUP

Lower Mac – Agenda Preview 1/21/16

Link to agenda with detail.

Last meeting video –1/4/16 – reorganization. 

Announcements & Presentations:
Dr. Harry R. Carter – Lower Macungie Twp. fire study.
The study will be previewed tonight by the consultant.  Having had the chance to read through it once, I wanted to share one paragraph. While the study identifies a number of growth related concerns – specifically unplanned growth west of Rt. 100 – The opening paragraph is something all residents should be extremely proud of:

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 3.55.50 PMA power point summary of the study including an outline of concerns with growth is here on agenda detail link.

Hearings & Approvals: 
Mack Truck parking lot expansion – Specifically this plan is pretty basic. So I want to talk more in general.

The township is very proud to have the primary manufacturing facility for Mack Trucks. Although the news recently has been of layoffs, those who follow Mack closely (I have relatives who have worked for Mack over the years including my dad) know that the business has always been cyclical. The good news is this parking lot expansion signals continued investment in the Macungie Plant. And a renewed commitment to the Lehigh Valley.  The layoffs are disappointing for many in the short term but investments in the facility are a great long term indicator. Hope is when the rebound comes and history tells us it will – the employment numbers will reach new record highs at the Macungie plant.

 

Ordinance amendment for East Texas – I posted this on my FB page earlier this week: “The question I’ve gotten the most is about the smooth-on parking lot. First understand today the parking lot is zoned for development under the current ordinance. Smooth on however doesn’t want to development the max # of units they are allowed to today. (that is a good thing!).

There is a sketch plan the township has seen. The plan proposes under 20 units + a daycare. That is less than what they could develop today ‘by-right”. Their intention isn’t to shoe-horn as many units as they could. Smooth-on is very conscientious as to what made sense for the neighborhood.

The other big benefit right now is that today the parking lot is over 70% impermeable surface. The plan actually reduces impermeable surface to under 35%. The reason is that the units would mostly be clustered around and facing a very large central green area.

The other part folks should understand is why Smooth-on wants to do this. The parking lot (and tunnel under Lower Mac Rd.) was built for Daytimers when it had 1000 employees working 3 shifts. At the time they needed all the new parking. Smooth-on today only has about 200 employees. And they don’t plan to grow much larger.

So Smooth-on wants to build some units but only for their employees only. The idea is that folks have the option of living right across the street from where they work. This actually reduces daily car trips into East Texas if employees lived out of town. And it will always be far less than what daytimers was at peak. Or what if could have been again if another larger company bought the property.

In my opinion smooth on has a neat old company town mentality. If anyone has any questions or would like to see the sketch plan let me know.”

Aside from ensuring any parking lot development is township serving, this exercise is primarily about preserving the character of the Village.  We want to protect the villages unique sense of place. This is the oldest neighborhood in the township aside from maybe Wescosville.

Here is an article from the morning call 

Here is a portion of the letter we rec’d from the LVPC. We also got positive letters from all our municipal neighbors who responded.

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 4.02.42 PM

 

Rt. 100 study- Another critical presentation tonight is under the Engineers report. A few months ago we authorized a study of the Rt. 100 corridor. This is so we can better prepare for – and deal with past deviations from the comprehensive plan that occurred by the prior board – and also plan for future build or no build scenarios on certain sites. This demonstrates in alot of ways the costs of certain types of sprawling development. It also reinforces the need to targeted preservation whenever possible.

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List of State Roads in Lower Mac

As always please let us know about issues on TOWNSHIP roads. Esp during the predicted snow events.

 

But remember many roads within the township are PennDOT and therefore within their jurisdiction. In which case for faster responses you should contact PennDOT directly.

This is a full list PennDOT Roads within Lower Macungie Township:

Alburtis Road
Brookdale Road
Brookside Road
Buckeye Road
Butz Road
Cedarbrook Road
Cedar Crest Boulevard
Chestnut Road (Between Hensingersville Rd and Alburtis Boro)
East Texas Road (Between Brookside & Lower Macungie Rd)
Hamilton Boulevard (Route 6222)
Hensingersville Road (Btween Chestnut and Mountain)
Hill Top Road Indian Creek Road
Lehigh Street
Little Spur
Long Swamp Road
Lower Macungie Road
Mertztown Road
Minesite Road
Mountain Road
Riverbend Road (Between Cedar Crest and Little Spur)
Route 100
Schantz Road
Spring Creek Road
Trexlertown Road
Walnut Street (Between Brookside and the Boro of Macungie)
Weilers Road (Between Spring Creek and Brookdale)
Willow Lane

Please visit these additional links for more snow information!
FOR SNOW EMERGENCY INFORMATION VISIT THE TOWNSHIP WEBSITE. www.lowermac.com

LMT SNOW GUIDE

WEATHER EMERGENCY RULES

#‎planswl‬ – Thoughts on 2 day charette

How has Southwest Lehigh County (SWELCO) changed in the last 10 years? What will Southwest Lehigh County look like 25 years from now? Where should new development occur?What kind of development should it be? What will happen to existing neighborhoods and local character?

SWELCO includes Emmaus, Lower Macungie, Macungie, Alburtis & Upper and Lower Milford. Together we are beginning a process to determine the answers to these questions and more with the development of a new comprehensive Plan.

I attended 3 small groups yesterday and caught the end of another today. Here are (just a few of many!) key takeaways from my perspective:

1. Always interesting to hear from the farmers who were well represented. Its important to not only preserve the soil (an irreplaceable natural resource) but also ensure we give farmers the tools they need to keep farming market viable. Critical for a place like Lower Mac where large scale farming is probably no longer in the cards. However, smaller scale and different types definitely still are. This means CSA’s, vegetable production, agri-entertainment, etc. There is a future for farming in Lower Mac. It just won’t look exactly the same as it has in the past. It’s a change for sure. But in my opinion an exciting one. Huge topic over the next year.

2. Density. There are still some who snap-back against density. For the most part however folks acknowledge that targeted density is OK in appropriate (key appropriate!) locations. In Lower Macungie Twp. that is Hamilton Blvd corridor. A place where taxpayers already made significant key and costly investments in infrastructure. Density is how we cash in on those investments. Density in other poor locations like for example west of Rt. 100 will cost taxpayers over the long run.

3. We (the SWELCO region) have to better consider cost of municipal services. Meaning, when a zoning area or land development is proposed we must #dothemath to truly quantify if a particular plan or change makes financial sense for a resilient tax base. I worry that the township has lost some balance with our % of warehouses. We are more than shouldering a fair share. We now need to quantify the liabilities and work towards counteracting by attracting more productive, high quality and property located development to “balance the books” so to speak. It’s not enough to chase economic development. We have to instead foster productive economic development. We need an economic gardening mindset on the Boulevard. An incremental approach.

4. Transportation. One of the most popular sessions both days. For obvious reasons. Our problems are well defined. Sprawl has led to what I call a system of “traffic sewers” or a hierarchy of roads that funnel all traffic our volume to the highest classification roads as opposed to a more efficient grid system. Now, this is in some ways the nature of the beast in suburbia. The problem is (or opportunity rather) is not to double down on your typical “solutions” mostly dealing with band-aid fixes and endless capacity increases. (which actually induce more traffic) This is both inneffective and also vey expensive.

Lastly, Freight of course is now our new reality. And focus of much intense discussion. Not something easy to encapsulate. Of all items talked about the toughest to solve.

Are you interested in these issues? Do you want to have a voice in the conservation?  Please consider attending and contributing your ideas at the January 14th public meeting for plan south west Lehigh.Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 11.09.56 AM!

Lower Mac Christmas Tree Pickup

FYI: Christmas trees will be picked up by Waste Management on your normal trash collection day (by separate truck) for 2 weeks beginning January 4th through January 15th, 2016.

Trees will not be accepted if they are in plastic bags, bound with twine and/or have any ornamentation on them, including lights. If you wish to remove your tree before or after the scheduled collection, it can be taken to the Yard Waste Recycling Center at 5536 Indian Creek Road. The same rules regarding ornamentation apply. Wreaths should be placed in with your trash, they cannot be recycled due to the wire.

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