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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. Brian Higgins and I 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)

By preserving open space via a well thought out smart growth plan we reduce costs for infrastructure and services, thereby 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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2014 Lehigh Valley Planning awards

Tonight had the pleasure of attending the 2014 Lehigh Valley Planning Awards. Thanks to William Ahlert/HDR Engineering for the table and the great company of some folks from RenewLV.

The inaugural award ceremony is an initiative of new(ish) LV Planning Commission Dir. Becky Bradley. The event was held at Lehigh’s Iacocca Hall high above Bethlehem and was packed with attendees able to take in one of the best views in the Valley.

The purpose was to celebrate projects, plans, policies and people who show exemplary scholarship, leadership and inspiration in planning and implementation. Recognizing exceptional initiatives is important. As we know the Valley continues to grow at a rapid pace. Because of this we have our share of mundane, cookie cutter and plain old bad projects resulting from a lack of vision. That is exactly why it’s important to celebrate those leaders, builders, architects and engineers who build and lay the groundwork for special projects and initiatives. There is great stuff happening in the LV and it needs to be celebrated. Doing so hopefully leads to emulation by other communities.

It’s a goal of mine that LMT’s East Texas Village Center Project will warrant consideration at the 2015 awards in the community ordinance category.

Some highlights: 25 honorees and winners in 9 different categories. The projects below are ones stuck out to me the most as being really great. Take a minute to check out the links to learn more about them.

Community plan category
Borough of Portland Comprehensive plan.

Open Space Project 
Nevin Park Revitalization, City of Easton
Lands at Kirkland open space preservation, Upper Mount Bethel
Prydun/Mickley Farm Acquisition, Whitehall Township

Revitalization Project
Iron Works Site Master Plan, Catasaqua

Transportation project
West End Allentown Streetscape

Multi-Municipal Cooperation
Slate Belt Regional Police Commission. Borough of Pen Argyl, Wind Gap and Plainfield township.

Land Development
PPL Center Allentown

Video-Tony Cimerol

#LVawards2014 #B!LV

 

Leaf collection schedule

Barring complications with weather, equipment or emergencies, Lower Macungie leaf collection will begin October 20th and go through until November 28th. Unfortunately, the township doesn’t publish the order of neighborhoods and precise time and dates.

Here are some FYI’s.

  • Leaves must be raked to the edge of the road into long narrow rows (windrows) not more than 18 inches into the road.
  • Leaves not placed as described or leaves left around parked cars will not be removed.
  • Do not mix dog waste, branches, twigs, rocks, shrubbery, grass clippings or plastic bags in with leaves.
  • Do not place tarps over your leaves.
  • *Curbside leaf collection does not apply to commercial/industrial properties, condominium developments, manufactured home communities, apartment developments or any other properties that are not part of the townships municipal trash collection.

leaf

The 2014 RenewLV Summit for Smart Growth and Sustainable Communities

RenewLV will be hosting the Lehigh Valley’s second annual Summit for Smart Growth and Sustainable Communities on Friday Dec. 5th. This will be a one day conference from 8am-2:25 at the Hotel Bethlehem. Last years conference had over 150 local leaders in attendance.

Topics include: Smart Growth, sustainability and more efficient and responsible local government.

Here are some of the main questions that will be tackled:

  • How can we preserve open space while supporting job creation and economic development?
  • How can we prevent costly sprawl as an unintended consequence of regionalized water service?
  • How do we strengthen our cities and suburbs?
  • How can we promote regional cooperation between neighboring municipalities?

I’m very excited to be moderating one of the two main summit panels titled: Land use, open space, farmland and water. Panelists will include members of private sector business, developers, professional planners and representative from county ag and LCA board.

The cost of the summit which includes two meals is $65 dollars per person. For more information and to register visit renewlv.org.

Conference sponsors include: PPL, Just Born, Sam Adams, HDR, Embassy Bank, Brown Daub, Lehigh Valley Health Network, St. Lukes, Spillman Farmer Architects, Morris Black Designs, Norris, Mclaughlin and Marcus, Hanover Engineering and the Sustainable Energy Fund.

RenewLV was launched in 2005 by community leaders in response to a Brookings report that highlighted concerns with: 1.) Sprawling Development and 2.) an antiquated and fragmented system of local government. RenewLV addresses these challenges — a declining urban core, disappearing open space, fragmented local governance — by bringing together a broad range of perspectives and expertise.

Every neighbor & LVPC opposes Rt. 100 rezoning on BOC agenda Thursday

This Thursday the Board of Commissioners will consider a rezoning request at the corner of Rt. 100 and Spring Creek Rd. The owner of the property has requested a zoning change from Semi-Rural to Commercial. This is the property where currently trucks are stored. (a grandfathered use). The owner has not told the township what specific use they are seeking.

Over the past 2 weeks the township has received letters from 3 neighboring municipalities and the LVPC. Macungie, Alburtis and Upper Milford all basically say the say thing. Pump the brakes on this rezoning until regional planning partners can get our heads around the traffic issues that will be associated with current and pending development projects along the Rt. 100 and Rt. 222 corridors. No one has said outright that this property should never be rezoned. But rather that now is not the right time to consider it.

 

Borough of Macungie signed by Chris Boehm - Manager

Borough of Macungie signed by Chris Boehm – Manager

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VBLOG – Lower Mac Quarry Park: Understanding the 1 time windfall

How does a township justify a property tax increase (first in a decade) and then one year later include in a proposed budget line item of a 3.3M to fund a proposed synthetic regional field at Quarry Park? The answer lies primarily in 3 one time windfalls that led to one time additional monies this year. They can be categorized as:

-Real Estate Transfer Taxes
-Hamilton Crossings Recreation Fee money
-One time budget transfer of a surplus from the Solid Waste Fund. (refuse bills)

Whether or not spending this money on synthetic fields is the right decision is a topic for later this week. Here were some initial thoughts I had.

This video deals with explaining the 3 sources of 1 time money that led to a discussion about spending 3.3M at Quarry. Before we discuss spending or NOT spending the money it’s important to understand how we got it.

 

Chuck Marohn’s new book: A world class transportation system.

So excited for Charles Marohn’s new ebook “A World Class Transportation System“. It’s a short ebook but nonetheless a great value at 2.99 on Amazon. You’ll finish it in one night.

As a member of strongtowns I got an email tonight with my free copy. I jumped right into it. Out the gate the very first sentence is so spot on. This book deals with transportation but you can take the first sentence and apply it to so many issues we face in this nation.

America is having a one-dimensional discussion on *fill in the blank. The central question – how do we get more money to continue with our current approach – fails to adequately explain why our current approach has left us lacking funds in the first place.

 

*Applies to education, transportation… you name it. This is the fundamental problem in America. I highly recommend this book and also Marohns first “Thoughts on Building Strongtowns” to any elected official struggling with the status quo and soul searching for answers.

 

 

Quarry Park

Last night at the first budget workshop the Board of Commissioners (BOC) for the first time since the plan was unveiled engaged in a dialogue about the 3.3M quarry park proposal. It’s safe to say at this time Commissioners Higgins and President Conrad seem to be in favor of the 3.3M line item. Myself and Commissioner Brown expressed reservations. Commissioner Lancsek was quiet and did not speak directly on the topic. Here is the express times coverage. 

I outlined the project in my agenda preview for the 9/18 meeting when the concept plan was first unveiled

I spent two weeks since conducting what I felt was essential due diligence meeting with: Township manager and staff, fellow Commissioners, LMYA President, Township Parks & Recreation board and many residents.

I am comfortable saying at this point I do not support the budget item as proposed today. There are number of factors why. Neither the Parks Board or LMYA has come out saying turf fields are an immediate priority. I also believe that expenditures of this magnitude warrant more than just a few weeks of public discussion. And lastly, I prefer these sorts of big ticket concept plans being funded incrementally over time in phases. This way we can install an improvement, gauge it’s success and then if warranted continue to execute the plan by funding more improvements. It’s safe to say considering an expenditure of this magnitude in such a short time frame would be unprecedented.

Additionally, it’s important to understand that for a long time now the twp. has been VERY supportive of our park system. Over the years we have made significant investments on an annual basis. We continue to do so year after year. In fact on average since 2003 the township has spent 333,000 dollars a year on park land improvements.This doesn’t include: Staff, LMYA & Lazors contributions, the township parks programs ect.

I challenge anyone to find another Lehigh County municipality who consistently spends on average more per year than Lower Macungie. I contend today the greater need for the parks system isn’t land improvements but rather addressing ongoing maintenance and staffing issues. For years now the parks board has requested additional dedicated parks staff. Personally I take that a step further and believe we need a FT or PT manager position specifically for parks. There is some logic in considering this a pre-requisite to building a regional athletic complex. Administration of a new complex was a concern raised by LMYA and the Parks Board.

 

That being said, it is important to understand where the money has come from allowing this conversation at all. Primarily it is the following one-time sources.

 

  • A transfer of money from the solid waste fund
  • Real Estate Transfer Tax Associated with Jaindl Warehouses. To date we have collected 120,000 with another 60,000 expected soon totally 200,000. This is from the first 3 of 7 warehouses associated with the Spring Creek debacle. There is a possibility for up to 4 more though only 3 so far have come through land development.
  • Hamilton Crossings Recreation Impact Fee. (in lieu of orginally proposed bypass ballfields) Approx 600,000

 

These include but are not limited to items such as:
Playing fields, upgrades and courts for: Basketball, Tennis, Pickleball, Baseball dugouts
Playground equipment, Parking areas, Pavillions, Pool Slide and other pool improvements
Crosswalks, Ampitheater, Fences, Bathrooms, Hills at Lockridge community center
New gym floor

This is just a small sampling of the many items improved or built over the last decade or so. I support continuing this level of spending on our park system augmented with developer impact fees whenever possible.

Alternate Proposal & Priorities

Lastly, at the end of the meeting President Conrad challenged those who expressed concern to “bring alternative proposals to the table on Oct. 29″. I found that a bit alarming since it almost reflects a philosophy that since we have extra money this year we should quickly figure out a way to spend it. I disagree with that thinking. 

There is another alternative. That is not spend the money at all this year. Again, we do not have to spend the money. Politicians so quick and eager to spend public money is a part of the problem with gov’t at all levels.

But Conrad has asked for alternative proposals. If the board insists on spending this money then here is a list of items I prioritize higher.

1. Open Space Acquisition. There is a mandate for this. I ran very clearly on a preservation platform defeating 2 incumbents by large margins. Secondly, the 20/20 visioning plan, the Parks Comprehensive plan and other webpage surveys all show an overwhelming majority supports open space preservation. I believe open space preservation is a strategy we must employ to keep taxes low over the long term. I outline that here.

2. Infrastructure improvements. The ACT 209 plan identifies intersections that are failing under current conditions and also ones likely to fail under future development. Not having to spend money on certain major capital improvements directly relates to item number 1. But there are a number of problem intersections today. Brookside and East Texas Rd. & Brookside and Indian Creek are two. These are two priorities for me.

Above represents 2 areas unrelated to park improvements that I see as higher priorities today. All these items have been the topic of extensive conversation over the past few years. However, since Conrad requested I am prepared to propose a specific alternate plan relating to this years budget which would include:

1. Budgeting the Hamilton Crossings Rec Fee money to lights at Quarry in 2015. This in my mind represents a responsible start to exploring upgrading Quarry. I support spending all the collected recreation fees on Quarry. This is approx 600,000. The responsible way to fund a comprehensive plan is  to do so incrementally over time. This sets the wheels in motion to get our regional field, but to do so in a more fiscally responsible way.

1a. Expanding the Quarry Turf concept plan to a full comprehensive plan for the whole park including a dog park. This ensures more residents benefit from Quarry upgrades.

2. Budgeting for a Dog Park in 2015. This is a relatively (compared to turf plan) low cost item. This is also an item that has been “on the radar” so to speak for nearly 2 years. The Parks Board has had a dog park point person for well over a year. There exists a resident group that expressed support for the project and a Facebook group with over 100 members who are actively lobbying for a dog park. Approx 25,000

3. Budgeting for either a FT or PT parks manager to hold an admin role. I consider this a pre-requisite to any major expansion of our park system. Esp any expansion that would enter us into the realm of managing regional parks. This manager should be hired and in place before construction of any admin heavy uses like regional park or dog park.

4. Open space preservation “lock box” of Jaindl funds. “Banking” the approx 200,000 (with potential for up to 500,000 upon build out) in one time real estate transfer taxes gained Jaindl warehouses to an open space preservation fund. I feel very strongly about this. This is money generated from the loss of 700 acres of farmland. All Commissioners including those that supported the rezoning expressed “regret” at losing the land. So I see this one time money associated with that project as a chance to recapture open space in other areas. To me, this is a no-brainer. After having lost 700 acres, a goal should be to preserve 700 acres elsewhere. The recent EAC whitepaper identified some potential targets. This includes 4 tracts with the potential to be developed with over 1,100 units. This would roughly equal about 3,500 new residents.

Surplus. Planning for fiscal sustainability. The remaining money should not be spent this year. It should be held over undesignated in surplus until the board sets it’s policy on the homestead exclusion which I proposed in January as a way to reduce the tax burden of homeowners through an assessment reduction. At that point, we will have a much clearer picture of the township finances moving forward.

The above plan addresses long standing needs. Sets the Quarry plan wheels in motion, but “pumps the brakes” on spending 3.3M+ in one budget cycle. It also sets us up to be able to manage a regional facility in the future. And lastly, by “banking” the rest of the surplus it allows us to understand the impacts of the Homestead property tax assessment reduction. This will allow for a clearer picture of township finances moving forward. 

 

 

The street light fee.

Last night in the first budget presentation an elimination of the ornamental street light user fee was proposed in the managers cover letter. This was stylized as a “tax reduction.”

Problem is, here is how the street light program works today. Residents who want a street light have to get 70% of homeowners in their neighborhood to agree and sign a petition. If this happens the township ok’s the installation. These residents who want the ornamental lights then pay the fee. This covers the electric costs. Currently, residents who do not have streetlights pay nothing.

Questions:

  • This year electric for the street lights cost 250,000. This was 100% paid by the user fee. If we eliminate the user fee that means we need to make up that 250,000 in the general fund. Essentially, that means everyone including those who not have lights will now be paying for them. QUESTION: Is that a tax reduction? Or is it a gimmick…Are we in fact considering swapping a direct user fee paid by those who benefit with a new backdoor liability paid for by everyone?

    Link to information on current township street light program.

  • If this happens, do we have a plan to install streetlights in every single neighborhood without them that wants them?
Should everyone pay for streetlights or should users pay directly?

Should everyone pay for streetlights or should users pay directly?

Lower Macungie Township Agenda Preview 9/18/14

FYI –  In these previews I may indicate thoughts on an issue, but it in no way means my mind is set. During a critical hearing for the Jaindl issue, a Commissioner spoke before public comment outlining he was voting to move forward the project regardless of what people said during public comment. That was wrong. Public debate was circumvented when the Commissioner indicated his mind was made up.

My hope is by blogging I open the door for conversations. One of my biggest issues with the Jaindl debacle was folks didn’t truly understand what was happening until it was “too late”. I plan on doing everything I can to make sure residents have background information on issues. This is one mechanism to do that. I hope people find it useful. Please contact me at ronbeitler@gmail.com if you have any questions or concerns about any issues.

Here is the Agenda with Detail

Hearings: Plan approval Trexlertown Shopping Center. This is a pad site that will be next to the Giant gas station. This is a project that was a part of initial concept but never built. The likely user will be the People First Credit Union which will move to this new facility that will include a drive through. The existing credit union will be an expanded state store. 

Announcements and presentations – QUARRY PARK PROPOSAL – This will be the big agenda item tonight. Please bear in mind this will be the first time I have seen this presentation and also the first time it’s presented in public. I have no opinion on this now other then I need more information.

First some background information. A few weeks ago we budgeted 3,000 to hire a consultant D’huy engineering to come up with a concept plan for quarry park centering around the installation of lights and turf fields.

Tonight’s presentation is that concept plan. (IT IS JUST A CONCEPT NOW) This was moved forward since these improvements were identified as part of the recently adopted parks and recreation comprehensive plan.

Here is an outline of what’s in the proposal:
QUARRY PARK ATHLETIC FIELDS 
PROPOSAL SUMMARY

  • Lower Macungie Township has hired D’Huy Engineering to develop a plan for Quarry that includes artificial turf and lighted fields. The cost was 3000.00. This was a recommendation of the adopted Parks & Recreation plan. (I supported creating the concept plan)
  • Lighted, turf fields are suggested in the Township’s recently completed Parks & Recreation Plan. The Board made the decision that Quarry was best location to explore these options. (I support this notion)
  • The proposed project scope includes:
    • (2) artificial turf fields for lacrosse, soccer, field hockey and football where the current flat fields are located- between baseball fields #1 and #2;
    • Lights;
    • Walking path around perimeter of fields and park;
    • Expanded parking;
    • Renovated comfort station/concession/storage building
  • A third field, including a combination multi-purpose field and a baseball field where Quarry #1 is located was proposed, but considered for a future phase due to cost.
  • The rough budget is $2.7 million:
    • $700,000 from the Hamilton Crossings development
    • $2 million from ??
  • Primary partner/users could be LMYA, but the Township would rent the fields as well, including to:
    • School District for after school use
    • Elite/select/tournament teams
    • Tournaments
  • Project could be part of a larger project involving purchase of the adjacent Muse Tract for development of a sports complex; (This is something I support as this would take developable property off the market while also compensating the landowner. This parcel is currently zoned Ag-Protected.)
  • Hoped for benefit from this development is to move some uses from smaller neighborhood parks to one regional park at Quarry.
At this point I have many questions. Again, remember this is a concept plan. How do we pay for this? What do residents think? What is LMYA’s position? What we know now is we have 700,000 of developer recreation fees. This money must be used for recreation. I think this is a good way to spend it. We have a robust youth sports program in LMYA. Survey after survey shows residents desire for park facilities. This being the case, there are long term cost and benefits of field turf & lights. Mainly, this revolves around being able to use the field after dark and also not having to rotate the fields. The concept plan is a good idea. BUT….The million dollar question of course is how do we pay for the rest of this?

The other big note for tonight is that Bruce Fosselman our township manager will present the first draft of the 2015 preliminary budget This is step one in a LONG budget process that will take us from now until the end of the year. Step one is presentation of the managers proposed budget. From now until the end the budget will be scrutinized at a series of budget workshops. . I will post the budget workshop dates ASAP.

Lower Macungie Trick or Treat 2014!!

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Remember, It’s a cold hard fact… On average, children are more than twice as likely to be hit by a car on Halloween than on any other day of the year. But it is COMPLETELY avoidable! -

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.