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.


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.

Continue reading

2016 – Millage/Homestead by the numbers

*Relating to 2016 proposed budget – Under the proposed .50 millage and 50% homestead – by the numbers.

Of 11,610 households in Lower Macungie:
Around 90% of all households will see an overall reduction in their property tax bill over last two years since homestead program began.
(10,052 households)
About 50% of households will see tax bill reductions two years in a row.
(5894 households)
Approximately 10% of households will have a 0 dollar LMT property tax bill.
(1095 households)
About 9% (only those over about 345,000 assessed value) will see a small net increase since homestead enacted.
*%’s rounded & with assumption that 100% enrolls in homestead program.
**Household statistics from Lehigh County assessment office.

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Less taxpayer subsidies for warehouses.
So while 90% of households will pay less twp. taxes in 2016 then they were in 2014, Industrial warehouses which cause massively expensive township liabilities will pay a more proportionate share.
2014 Warehouse assessed at 24,000,0000 paid – $8000
2016 Warehouse assessed at 24,000,000 will pay – $12,000
Still far under the valley average, but a more proportionate share in line with impacts. Better positioning the township to deal with issues such as traffic, stormwater management and potential (should we have to) new police force.

No, liquid fuels does not pay for local roads.

At least not entirely at least. Not even close.

Liquid fuel money is a state allocation of gas tax distributed to municipalities based on a funding formula. Lower Mac’s most recent act 655 liquid fuel allocation was 785,000 (based on 131 miles of road, population of 30,633)
*We carry an additional balance year to year in this fund because the state limits very specifically what this money can be used for.

So, what does it cost to maintain 131 miles of roads?
Rough breakdown:
Salaries 1 crew chief and 8 crew members and 2 PT:                                 700,000
Road resurfacing:                                                                                        450,000
Other general: (emergency repairs, fuel, equip repair and rental)                  300,000
Winter Maintenance:                                                                                    176,000
Traffic control devices: (includes repairs, electricity, new systems)               100,000
Roads & Bridges line item: (includes crack sealing, line striping, milling etc) 750,000
Capital: (includes intersections, capital bridge repair and equipment)           700,000

Total costs: 3.1M

That is 24,244 dollars a year to maintain the road network per mile of road.

*Some of these costs include new systems so it’s not a true representation of the cost to maintain existing. It accounts for growth.  Even with zero additional roads (not the case, we are assuming and building more each year) these costs will rise each year.

**Now also understand that some of these costs are also paid for by other programs state or local instead of general or capital revenue streams. For example we have some traffic impact fee money banked. What I want is the THE number of the year to year township liability for each mile of new road. It may be higher or lower than I am sketching here.

Add to this on the 5 year capital plan we have 3.3 Million dollars in road related items including the Sauerkraut extension. 

Over the next year I want to understand this better. One of my goals. And hopefully and project of the budget and finance committee. To truly understand the costs of new development and building new roads / assuming new road maintenance liabilities we have to understand these numbers. Above is very rudimentary and an exercise in progress.

I asked my friend Rob Sentner who is a Supervisor in Upper Milford if they ever tried to quantify cost/mile/year. He answered with some excellent thoughts..

“Problem is we have all deferred repairs, tar and chipping is a band aid, nova chipping is a better alternative, the big thing that I think is missing is that some of the older non modern roads do not have the base to handle the weight capacities that they are being subjected to. (DUE TO INCREASED AND UNPLANNED FOR FREIGHT) Also a lot of the cross pipes are of corrugated steel and because of the liquid calcium and the ridiculous amount of salt that we now put on our roadways, the bottoms are failing. Try getting a DEP permit to replace a pipe……. so short answer Ron is I don’t know how you come up with an accurate number other than normal maintenance crack sealing, coating and plowing. I think the entire area is in for a eye opening cost to modernize our roadways to the kind of traffic and weight we are going to see. PennDOT seems to be having trouble keeping up to simple maintenance let alone trying to improve and enhance our roadways. add in the MS4 requirements coming our way you can forget about swale cleaning or any kind of discharging water to waters of the commonwealth.”

Vote tomorrow if…

…you took the time to prepare and did some research. If you feel confident your making a decision based on the individual merits of candidates. Then by all means please vote.

If you are planning on walking into a booth tomorrow and voting straight ticket (either direction) without having done the homework please don’t bother. Partisanship means very little in local elections up to and including the County. It shouldn’t be a team game.

If you are voting because of signs, because of a palm card you got in the mail or a robocall you rec’d I ask you to please take a little bit of time tonight or tomorrow morning and fact check what you read, saw or heard. Information is not always genuine. Both “teams” are guilty. Spin machines are in overdrive right now. Especially in Lehigh County. Good information is hard to come by.

To that end – I’ve tried to make an effort to try to write more about the County over the last year. I hope it’s been helpful to people. In Pennsylvania counties are truly the forgotten level of government. In local elections – Vote for people not parties. 

Here are some thoughts:

Lehigh County: Of all the local races tomorrow the one person I consider essentially important to be re-elected is Brad Osborne. In addition Amanda Holt has proven to be an extremely hard worker.

Controller: I’ve gotten to know Glenn Eckart over the last 2 years. He is a friend and I think he does a fine job in a row officer position that really should be a non-partisan watchdog. Now, Glenn is a party guy Republican. An old YR alumni. But he doesn’t bring partisanship into the Controllers office. He does a very good job.

East Penn School District: Number of good candidates. School district politics in East Penn as always is highly charged this year. . . For the most part I’ve learned not to touch it with a 10 foot pole.

All I’ll say about the race is I will NOT be voting for Charles Ballard. He’s been on the board a very long time. He supported the TIF with justification I didn’t agree with. He was also on the board when the deal was negotiated resulting in school district taxpayers paying the bill for a new road in Lower Macungie. It was and remains a terrible deal. School district money should not go to road construction. Time to give Mr. Ballard a voter term limit. He’s served a very long time. Time for someone else.

Allentown: As most did this year I followed Allentown relatively closely. Real shame what went down with the Mayor. It’s a dark cloud for certain. For the good of the city it’s time for mostly fresh faces. Suburban residents should care about Allentown. Healthy city cores are important for the entire Lehigh Valley.
City Council: Lou Hershman
& consider writing in Rich Fegely.
Controller: Steven Ramos
ASD: Consider CeCe Gerlach. She’s young, a very hard worker and always impresses. Don’t know her personally but she seems pretty independent minded. Had opportunity to hear her speak on a couple of occasions and was impressed. Also consider Scott Armstrong. Scott gets painted with a lot of labels. Most I don’t think he necessarily deserves.

Northampton County Council: Attended the Norco debate at Gracedale this year. And followed closely enough to think I have a relatively informed opinion. But caveat I don’t follow Northampton nearly as closely as Lehigh County.
District 3: John Cusick – Wonky. Smart. Sensible. My kind of candidate.
District 4: Scott Parsons – Workhorse. Sincere.

Other: Over in Lower Saucon an insane amount of outsider special interest money has been poured into a local race. It makes the outside money dumped into the 2013 Lower Mac race look like peanuts.  Disappointing. I don’t know enough about this race and the issues surrounding it to comment. I just hate seeing outside interests trying to influence a local race.


Lehigh County Budget notebook

Election time craziness.
First, as always during election time folks try to color conversations with hyper partisan lenses. Problem is over the last year most county discussions really were not partisan in nature. At least between the 9 County commissioners. 7 of which are Republicans who are not always on the same end of the ideological spectrum and 2 Democrats. I know this because I attend meetings. Not religiously. But enough to get a flavor. Ones I don’t attend I frequently watch online.

With this years budget? There was only 1 dissenter with an 8-1 vote.

Cumulative impacts.
Last years tax cut was derisively called a “happy meal”. This year a “pizza”. No matter what silly labeling each year the fact remains – after Don Cunningham’s (D) 16% tax increase of 2011 Lehigh County has since given either a rebate or tax cut 3 of the last 4 years. Just like small tax increases add up over time, so do small tax decreases.

Lehigh County tax cuts and rebates since 2011 increase.
2011 – Don Cunningham’s (D) 16% tax increase.
Since then over last 4 years…
2013 – Tax Cut of 3.0M. Rebate of 3.5M or a 44 dollar reduction
2014 – 0
2015 – Tax cut of 1.25M or 8 dollars for average homeowner
2016 – Tax cut of 2M or 14.21 for average homeowner

So yes, another “small” tax cut. But when you find “small” tax cuts year after year it adds up. And that’s just the County in a silo. Last year every Lower Macungie homeowner got a 19 dollar homestead break. For those at or under the median home value you will get your second in 2 years in 2016.

For some? It’s now a couple happy meals. For others? Maybe 2 tanks of gas. But for some the impacts are more serious. For ex. $40 helps feeds two seniors on fixed income for a weeks time. $40 helps a single mom feed a newborn for 2 weeks. It all adds up.

All told today? Just over 6 million in cuts over 5 years with zero measurable decreases in services. Sounds like a job well done to me.

“Rainy day/reserve fund”.
Commissioners have been criticized for “dipping into the rainy day fund to balance the budget”. Ok let’s examine that.

First, unlike Lower Macungie Township the County doesn’t have a fund balance policy. (Maybe they should consider one?) The next best measure is the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA). They recommend 20%. This budget maintains that. 106M budget with a 20%+ reserve fund. Including and prior to this year Lehigh County has either met or exceeded recommended reserves. Prudent financial management.

Other Counties already borrowing money because of state budget impasse.
Lehigh County is not. They may very well eventually have to depending on how long Harrisburg gridlock lasts. But to date it’s not been considered. Others counties have had to. This again demonstrates the excellent fiscal shape Lehigh is in.

I think the makeup of the current board of Commissioners is excellent. A very high functioning board under the leadership of Brad Osborne. The passed budget reduced taxes for the 3rd time in 4 years. The reserve fund is still at or above 20%. The counties bottom line finances are healthy.

In a climate where for better or worse “throw the bums out” is a rally cry.. In Lehigh County? I think stability is a good thing. Is there friction between the Executive and Commissioners at times? Yes. But isn’t that the way American democracy is supposed to work? As for the 9 Commissioners? I think the makeup of the board is excellent as it stands.


Infiltration and Inflow 101 – What residents need to know.

What: I&I stands for “Inflow and Infiltration”. In laymans terms this means an unwanted intrusion of “clear water” (stormwater or groundwater) into a sewer system. This can happen in a number of ways and often results in “sewage system overflows” (overflows).

Inflow and Infiltration sources

Inflow and Infiltration sources – Points where clearwater intrudes into sewer systems.

Why is this a problem: Sanitary sewer systems are designed to carry wastewater from toilets, dishwashers, sinks, or showers in homes or businesses to treatment locations.

Unwanted I&I that comes with an aging system adds unwanted clear water to sewers increasing the volume load.  This creates a strain. Clear water belongs in storm-water sewers or on the surface of the ground, not in the sanitary lines. An excess of I&I (additional clearwater volume) can lead to overflows during major storm events.

Overflows are a serious problem since it means untreated sewage is discharged from the system into the environment prior to reaching treatment facilities. This is why the EPA is very concerned. Note: This isn’t a Lower Mac or even Lehigh Valley specific issue. But a problem with aging sewer systems everywhere.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 1.01.42 PM

Why does Lower Mac have to be concerned right now? (and really almost every single valley municipality) Because of concerns about outflows in 2009, the EPA issued an “Administrative Order” to all the municipalities served by the regional sewer system in our area. The Lehigh County Authority provides that system to residents in Lower Mac.

Here is a very good overview from Pat Lester formally of the Morning Call:
Lehigh Towns could face EPA fines over missed deadlines for sewer work

The order requires municipalities to make significant and costly improvements to sewers to eliminate overflows.  EPA has demanded outflows be eliminated by 2014. That has not happened. As of right now LCA and certain LCA municipalities have requested an extension.

How big is the issue?
Lower Macungie Township has 121.86 plus miles of gravity fed sanitary sewers. The total mandated costs to eliminate I&I issues (the major cause of outflow) will be in total astronomical.

We have been paying for awhile now. And we will continue for the foreseeable future. For at least the next 5 years the township has budgeted 250,000 dollars a year to address the issue. Costs will continue to soar.

To date we have been able to pay for scheduled work without substantial sewer rate increases. This year Commissioners rejected a proposal to increase rates by 10%. To be frank the increase really could have been justified. And further to be 100% honest it’s going to be continuously tougher to avoid moving forward. There were some one time circumstances this year that allowed us to avoid rate increase this year.

Relationship to development:
A question needs to be asked. As clearwater is removed from sewer systems will capacity be increased? If so will this lead to sprawling outward pressure? Next, if so does LCA have it’s sites set on Berks County?

How about further up the South Mountain in Lower Mac? It’s my understanding that at times municipalities have paid for required I&I work with new connection fees. At some point we need a sustainable system. Sewer expansion is the number one driver of costly sprawl.

Basically, should a strategy involve – 1. Remediating outflows by addressing capacity issues. 2.  Paying for those repairs in part with new hookups. 3. With new hookups we create more capacity issues. And 4. Repeat… One can easily see the potential problem here.

I&I is just one part of the strategy.
Granted a huge part. And one mandated that we (Lower Mac) fix on our 120+ mile system. But LCA is also looking at other options to also address treatment issues. One possibility is spray irrigation. Another is expansion of Klines Island. These would be costs LCA passes onto township ratepayers. *UPDATE 10/28 I’ve found out that spray irrigation has been ruled out and that expansion of Klines island is most likely. Also to clarify Klines island or potential spray irrigation relates to treatment issues not conveyance. I&I is a conveyance issue.

Bottom line is this federally mandated remediation is going to be astronomically expensive. Much of the scope of the problem and cost to fix remains unclear. While Lower Macungie has been doing a very good job staying ahead of the issue, alot of what’s to come also depends on what  how our neighbors respond and how LCA handles treatment issues.

Another item looming with potentially large impacts is Pennsylvania Ms4 program. It is another important area that we as a community need to become more familiar with. Staff has already been doing an excellent job in preparing. I think now the local legislators myself included need to do a better job understanding. This will be the subject of another blogpost within the next 2 weeks.

Your 2015 Lower Macungie Township Tax Bill

Do you know what a mill is? Do you know how many mills of real estate tax you pay to Lower Macungie Township, Lehigh County & the East Penn School District?

How exactly the assessed value of your home (as determined by the County) and millage rates are used to compute your tax bill?

The word mill means a money amount equal to 1/10 of one cent. One mill is represented in decimal form as .001. Each year the three taxing bodies, Township, County and School District establish millage rates for the upcoming year.

Currently they are:
Lower Macungie Township – .33 mills (0.00033)
Lehigh County – 3.75 mills (0.00375)
East Penn School District – 17 mills (0.01721)

Lower Macungie Residents’ Tax Millage and Taxes

Your property values are determined by Lehigh County. That assessed value is multiplied by the millage rates above to determine the amount of tax you owe on your property. The chart below shows the values of three properties, what the assessed value is for each of those properties and the taxes you would pay to each of the three taxing jurisdictions.

Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 12.09.30 PM*Note: Lehigh County does not have an earned  income tax or other source of funding other than a property tax.

On your township bill you get an additional reduction. Lower Macungie Township instituted a Homestead reduction program in 2015.
This applies to all eligible households (must be owner occupied residential) enrolled in the program. (nearly 90% of eligible residents are enrolled). Currently the reduction is set to 25% of medium value.

This means all eligible households saw their assessments (for the purpose of calculating LMT tax bills) reduced by 58,000 since the median assessed value last year was 232,900.

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Okay, now that you have all the figures and see just how small a % of your tax bill goes to Lower Macungie Township, below are some of the services you get from the township for your dollars.

Public Works – Including maintenance of 131 MILES of township roads.

Winter road maintenance and materials * Yard waste collection – including free mulch recycling center * Road maintenance-crack sealing, asphalt repairs and materials * Storm sewer inlet maintenance * Street sweeping * Leaf collection * Asphalt paving overlays and materials for 131 MILES of township streets * Street and traffic sign materials, maintenance and replacement * Annual traffic line striping and all intersection markings * Traffic light installations & maintenance


Parks, Civic & Recreation
* Maintenance of 28! township parks * This includes 20 basketball courts,  17 baseball fields, , 15 tennis courts, 13 soccer fields, 5 volleyball courts *FREE public library, township community center *township pool.

An aggressive 30 million dollar 5 year capital plan.
Including items such as: A new aerial truck for the Fire Dept.* New Dump Truck and new 1 ton pickup and plows to further improve winter snow removal times among other benefits* New street sweeper* Video equipped van for monitoring sewer lines *continued addressing of federally mandated inflow/infiltration issues *Sauerkraut extension *Land acquisition and preservation *Park security cameras *Bridge repair

60+ township employees who:
Staff the pool, community center, run rec programs, pave the streets, mow the grass, administration and so much more!

This seems like a lot. But even this represents just a small fraction of the costs to run a township and the value you get for your tax dollars in Lower Mac and the efforts we make to stretch every dollar as far as we can.

The “but for” test & farmland preservation.

Part of my opposition to the Hamilton Crossings TIF was a belief the township could attract desired development along the Hamilton Corridor without taxpayer subsides.

The majority of Lehigh County Commissioners took a same tact. In hind-site they were correct. Because of that decision County taxpayers will benefit from 100% of the new incremental revenue.

This general criteria is called applying the ‘but for’ test. Meaning, but for a subsidy will a community get desired economic development. In the case of Hamilton Crossings, the answer was yes. Therefore the subsidy un-necessary.

What about applying the ‘but for’ test to farmland preservation?:

With farmland preservation we are dealing with another form of infrastructure. Industrial infrastructure. A type that supports a $17 million dollar economic activity for the Lehigh Valley annually. At that figure we are just scratching the surface. Soil in Western Lehigh Valley is special. Regionally significant in fact. It is a natural resource. Lehigh’s farmland preservation program places the highest emphasis on soil quality.

Farmland is irreplaceable. Once gone, it’s gone. Cannot re-create it. We cannot re-build or manufacture it.

“But for” someway increasing the counties funding allocation there is no mathematical way we can hit the Lehigh Valley Planning Commissions established target of preserving 25% of our available land. This is an indisputable fact. ‘But for’ the funding increase we will lose the land. We will lose this economic driver.

Percy Dougherty and Tom Creighton’s municipal match program is a smart way to increase funding. It’s something I support 100%.

In a climate where we need figure out ways to stretch county dollars further and further this program does just that. This year in particular the increase can be further justified since this would be a re-allocation of Green Futures fund money to in large part what it was intended for. It should not be used elsewhere. Honor voters wishes and apply it to permanent preservation of an invaluable Lehigh County natural resource.

"But for" compensating landowners market value for farmland development rights, we will not hit the LVPCs goal of 25% preservation.

“But for” compensating landowners market value for farmland development rights, we will not hit the LVPCs goal of 25% preservation.



#dothemath when making land development decisions.

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The 33 acre Kohler Tract in Upper Milford Township

If Lehigh Valley municipalities are serious about their long term financial resiliency we have to start doing a better job considering public costs of different development proposals. And do it beyond initial build out and 1st lifecycle of a project. This is called determining a cost of community service (COCS) ratio.

Upper Milford Township is starting to do just that with a 33 acre tract off Rt. 100Supervisors are doing the math in an effort to determine if preserving the parcel is better off financially for taxpayers over the long term as opposed to assuming additional permanent liabilities associated with a proposed build out scenario.

Basically it’s a return on investment calculation.

Here is the thought process outlined by one Supervisor so far:
“If the Kohler farm is sold for housing construction according to (Rob) Sentner, the cost to educate new students would result in a $2,276,000 school district deficit per year with a total indebtedness amounting to $45,520,000 over a 20-year time-span to educate the new students. All East Penn School District taxpayers would be required to pick up the tab for all those new students.”

“Alternatively, if the township purchases the parcel with as $2 million bond at four per cent interest, this would cost Upper Milford residents much less at $145,428 annually.”

Many residents have strong feelings that preservation makes sense from a quality of life standpoint. And that is important to consider. But there is also a very powerful financial argument.

Continue reading

Beautiful Drone Fly-over of Lower Macungie’s Kratzer Farm Park.

For best Prezi viewing make sure to click full screen.

This Prezi is to raise awareness that this large farm property in the middle of the township is public land. A lot of folks don’t know the township owns it or they don’t realize just how big it is.

We also want to let people know that currently there is a proposal in the 2016 budget to draft a master plan for the property. The goal would be to open the park up for more public access maintaining it as a large passive conservation park.

Some goals could be:

  • Maintain a significant portion in agriculture with permanent protection perhaps a local CSA
  • A greenway spine trailhead at the house and barn
  • A restroom facility in or near the barn
  • Interior trails around the perimeter and linkages to neighboring communities
  • ADA accessible fishing
  • Habitat
  • Permaculture demonstration site
  • A permanent historical nod to the townships rural history

What are you ideas?

Huge thanks to Fred Zahardrik for the Prezi & Jordan Oplinger for the Drone work, Film and Editing.

Youtube of just the drone footage.

Lower Mac Trick or Treat 2015

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Please be safe!

Halloween Safety Tips from safekids.org top tips

  • When selecting a costume make sure it is the right size to prevent trips and falls.
  • Decorate costumes and bags with reflective tape or stickers and, if possible, choose light colors. Since masks can sometimes obstruct a child’s vision, try non-toxic face paint and makeup whenever possible.
  • Have kids use glow sticks or flashlights to help them see and be seen by drivers.
  • Children under the age of 12 should not be alone at night without adult supervision. If kids are mature enough to be out without supervision, they should stick to familiar areas that are well lit and trick-or-treat in groups.
  • Popular trick-or-treating hours are 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. so be especially alert for kids during those hours.


Learn about LMT: Do you live in Brandywine, Penns Meadow, Rolling Meadows or Shepherd Hills? Did you know the 80+ acre Kratzer Farm is township public property? Click here to view a drone flyover video of the fantastic piece of open space.

What is sewer inflow & infiltration, why it’s important and what every township resident should know.

Breaking down your 2015 tax bill. What goes where?