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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.

Continue reading

How to support your troops in Lower Mac this month.

Happy Veterans Day. I have two reminders about how you can support our troops locally. But first I wanted to share something I saw this AM since it’s relevant.

The photo below has a story. Damon Knauss is an old friend. A local raised in Ancient Oaks and graduate of EHS. Please take a moment to read and appreciate this.

The story of this photo is a reminder of what our troops sometimes face on a daily basis during deployment. An important reminder since it's so easy to forget.

The story of this photo is a reminder of what our troops sometimes face on a daily basis during deployment. It’s from a very human perspective. An important reminder since it’s so easy to forget.

“These are the kids that kept me safe. Most every day for 4 months I had to walk through Kabul taking the same route to train our Afghan counterparts. This is a big “no no” in the military because the enemy can target you. However, that is the constraint of operating in a city. Everyday when I walked out that gate and saw these kids selling scarfs and trinkets I knew I was just a little safer. When they were not there, I knew something was not right and I was extra vigilant. I bought a lot of scarfs and trinkets from them, gave them clothes and socks that they desperately needed, and traded English words for Dari in little conversations as we walked together, but it is the little things that you think about later that make the difference. Several of these scarf sellers of Kabul were killed when the Taliban strapped a bomb on a young mentally retarded boy and sent him to the gate of our base to pose as a scarf seller. These young scarf sellers being fiercely territorial challenged him for being in their business area. As the young children argued, the child suicide bomber became nervous and detonated and killed the scarf sellers. Young children like these in Kabul saved the lives of an entire patrol. Service makes you see the world in a different way. I am proud of all those I served with, the people of Afghanistan who worked with us to make their country better, and most importantly those who made the ultimate sacrifice who will never be forgotten.” – Damon Knauss

 

This is a story of the very human perspective about what our veterans go through on a daily basis when on deployment. It is so easy to forget. Here are ways you can support our veterans locally this month.

Reminder 1.) Lower Macungie Township Troop Support Program. Now till Nov. 30th. Drop off point at the Lower Macungie Community Center.

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Reminder 2.) Don’t forget the Lower Macungie Township Historical Society Veterans program. Sunday at 2pm. Also the community center.

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I will pull the lever for . . (Federal & state races)

*This blog is about state and local government. Primarily my experiences as a Commissioner in Lower Macungie. I don’t like to ever distract from that. But as it’s also my personal blog I wanted to write my thoughts on tomorrow’s election. 

 

President of the United States
I won’t vote for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.
I’ll be miserable Wed morning regardless of the outcome. What I do hope is it’s a settled matter and the loser bows out gracefully without inciting anymore division. We have two of the worse possible candidates for President in our history. Worst imaginable. Both are the exact opposite of what the nation needs right now.

I won’t devote any space on my blog which is devoted primarily about local and state issues to either of these awful candidates. Instead I’ll post this link that sums up accurately my thoughts on Trump. For me Clintons flaws are obvious and well documented. Trump was the only Republican candidate I will not vote for who could have secured the R nomination. I want to explain that. I would have supported 15 of 16 other Republicans against Hillary Clinton had they secured the nomination. Even some holding my nose – any would have been a far, far better choice than Hillary and would have gotten my vote.

Faced with these two nominees – I will either write in Evan Mcmullin or select Gary Johnson. And say God help us weather this.


US Senate

If you are a SCOTUS voter right of center or even a moderate your Pennsylvania vote for Senate is the most important vote in the nation. Far more than your vote for President. (based on likelihood of Clinton winning PA) Your US Senate vote is mathematically more meaningful. The Senate race will be extremely close.

Remember this. President nominates, Senate Confirms. Again, President nominates and Senate Confirms. We get an activist judges if theSenate the same party as the President. For this reason alone – Pat Toomey must retain his seat. He may very well be the difference between a judge like Justice Sotomayor and a moderate Justice Kennedy.

Aside from that both campaigns spent huge amounts of treasure trying to paint their opponent as an extremist. Reality is this, one is far moreso than the other. While Pat Toomey is a grounded conservative – he also has a very long history of working across the aisle. He’s consistently pushed back against gridlock. And demonstrated time and time again that he’s very reasonable when it comes to understanding opposing viewpoints. In short, Toomey is one of the very best U.S. Senators we have. And, his seat is critical to ensure we do not get an activist judge.
I will cast a vote for Pat Toomey. And encourage you to do so as well. 

US Congress district 15
I will cast a vote for Charlie Dent.
 This is an easy choice.

State Representatives

 

In the 134th representing Lower Macungie and other local communities Ryan Mackenzie is running unopposed.

 

In the 132nd (parts of Parkland, West Allentown and other gerrymandered areas of the city) I would encourage you to vote for Ben Long. I know Ben and I’ll be working a poll for him for a few hours on election day. Ultra hard worker. Smart. Ran a very hard, totally clean and honest campaign. That is very rare nowadays. His focus was on individual one on one voter interactions. He pounded the pavement. The way it should be.
Ben has mostly right of center to moderate viewpoints on the issues. From that standpoint I think he would better serve the district in terms of working towards meaningful pension reform. A top priority. Additionally, Ben has done a lot of research on the issue of campaign finance reform. I trust he would be an advocate for reform. He’s also willing to tackle the gerrymanderer.

 

By running Ben provided a public service to residents of Allentown who for years didn’t have a functioning democracy since no one ever challenged the Democratic machine. A machine with well documented ethical warts and problems. Mike Schlossberg is a good guy. I don’t know him well but I’ve met him a few times. He’s always been helpful. But he’s a part of that same machine and that’s problematic.

 

To be 100% honest, while Ben does have some good real world experience with his family business – if he doesn’t win this – he will be an even stronger candidate in the future after he gets some more seasoning in the real world.

The problem here is that the incumbent is similar in that respect. I do not think Schlossberg has had a job outside of government. After school he worked for the county executive and then immediately a State Rep. He held other positions attained through connections but all very much related to government. Then when he ran, he did so as Jen Mann and the parties hand chosen successor.  Mike is associated with all the documented ethical issues and problems of the Democratic machine in the City. And most recently, the ghost voting issue was totally and completely wrong. This alone should disqualify him but the massively gerrymandered district he represents means he’s well protected.

 

131st.

In the primary I supported Justin Simmons opponent Bill Coyle. Mainly because Simmons brazenly broke a term limit pledge and therefore needed to be challenged. Justin prevailed. He’s a hard worker, relentless and at times when he feels the need to be – a nasty campaigner. He’s also an effective legislator.

That being said, in the general he will win by a large margin in another district gerrymandered to give a huge advantage. Although that doesn’t mean you discount his strength given his dominating primary performance.  If I lived in the 131st I’d cast my vote for Justin Simmons this year. Although if a conservative or blue dog Democrat ran for the seat I’d consider. (yes, they exist). 

As a sidenote, I admit I was turned off to Justin by the behavior of one of his staff members at a debate during the primary. I’ve never seen such un-professional, almost juvenile behavior. A real turn off and admittedly has since impacted my view on Simmons. Staff is a reflection of the candidate.

The  problem is compounded by the fact that in State Rep. races often lines are blurred between campaign workers/work and legislative workers/work. The rule of thumb should be: if your on the legislative payroll even if you also work on the campaign end of things you have an obligation to clearly 1.) build firewalls to make sure taxpayer dollars aren’t funding campaign activities and 2.) conduct yourself at a high standard at all times. Simmons needs to do a better job of delineating lines to his staff. From what I understand this was not an isolated incident.  


Attorney General. 
I will vote for John Rafferty. In light of the Kathleen Kane black eye it’s critical we get a squeaky clean AG. John Rafferty is that man as far as I know.  As a State Senator Rafferty has a impressive list of accomplishments. Particularly, his record is predictably strong in the area of legislation related to law enforcement. On the other end, it’s well known his opponent seeks to use the office as a spring board. We need to avoid that sort of person in light of the Kane debacle.

Auditor General. 
For Auditor General, I will vote for incumbent Eugene DePasquale. He is the one Democrat I will cast a vote for this year. As a State Rep. Depasquale was strong in the realm of transparancy. This for me can transcend policy differences. During his time as a Rep. he provided an ongoing report showing how he spent taxpayer dollars, for things such as office supplies and his district office lease.  He went above and beyond. This should be standard for all state office holders. He also co-sponsored the state’s new open records law. An important initiative. 
State Treasurer.
I will vote for Otto Voit. 

Statewide ballot question:
In plain English: Do you want to increase the retirement age of judges from 70 to 75 to appease a powerful judge who is 70 and wants to stay 5 more years. Please vote ‘NO’. To be clear since it hasn’t been. PA does have a retirement age. That is 70 years old. Personally, I agree with it as it stands.
To clarify again:

“yes” vote supports changing the mandatory retirement age from 70 to 75 for Supreme Court justices, judges, and justices of the peace.
“no” vote opposes this amendment to change the mandatory retirement age from 70 to 75 for Supreme Court justices, judges, and justices of the peace.

If the measure PASSES it would increase the state’s mandatory judicial retirement age from 70 to 75.

Here is a quote from State Rep. Justin Bloom that I think makes a lot of sense and sums up in part why I will vote “no”. “I am concerned that the constitutional checks and balances designed to protect our citizens from the excesses that inevitably arise when any one branch of government gets too powerful have become skewed in favor of the judicial branch, so I am reluctant to cede any additional privileges and powers to the courts.”

Drunken sailors . .

41% (and rising) of Pennsylvanians live in a municipality that is financially distressed. We have a problem in this Commonwealth with a boom/bust cycle of distress that’s well documented. It’s a pattern. Cyclical.

The 5 stages of municipal distress go something like this:
1. Low taxes with Greenfield Growth
2. Gradually rising tax rates and increasing demand for services.
3. Plateau of tax base with reductions in non-core services.
4. Insufficient taxes or tax base with reductions in core services.
5. Loss of tax base and distress

Lower Mac as most are is in the cycle. We are not in distress. Far from it. But we are in the cycle. The boom cycle. Stage one. Knocking on the door of stage two. (The prior board initiated the first property tax hike in over a decade. One that the current board in part rolled back at least for residential tax payers). Stage one for Lower Mac is livin high on the hog on a wave of greenfield growth. Developers pay for infrastructure improvements and the one time tax receipts roll in. Times are good. But it can’t last. Because land is a finite resource.

We are now tightly locked within the cycle. I wrote about this many times including this post in 2012. All the crystal clear signs are here.

In that post I wrote about 5 strategies we must employ to break the cycle. They were:

1. Requiring more bang for our taxpayer buck (ROI) on existing infrastructure. (value capture). Not accept anymore unfunded maintenance obligations associated with dumb growth.
2. Conserving farmland and green space with market mechanisms. Therefore reducing reigning in future liabilities.
3. Require complete cost benefit analysis of new greenfield projects. Don’t approve tax base drainers. Stop indirectly subsidizing bad development. 
4. Engage the community wholly in development and spending decisions.
5. Don’t issue new bonds until the townships current debts are fully paid off and limit what you bond for. Use cash. Cash is king.

I have been pretty disciplined and consistent in votes relating to above. I consider these combination of strategies as guiding principles. We’ve had some success with #1. We’re driving the convo.  Solid progress on #2. Our staff does a good job (relative to land use planning) on #4. Pertaining to #3 I voted against a major developer tax subsidy. Unfortunately it still passed, but we raised the issue and voters responded at the polls defeating a major subsidy supporter in a subsequent election.

#5 is now front and center. As the township is about to retire current debt in 2019 and since interest rates are historically low we’re hearing the siren song of bond financing for major discretionary projects and initiatives. This happens whenever debt is about to be retired and is amplified when rates are good. Everyones eyes get big.

When the sirens sing, the drunken sailors come out. 

Last night, I voted against an application for a new major bond. Since we’re retiring existing debt this is wraparound debt. My problem is it’s far too much. Way too large an amount of money. A municipality with our tax base can and should work towards breaking or drastically reducing the debt cycle with the lofty goal of operating 100% debt free. This in turn would help us break the documented boom bust municipal cycle.

For me this is personal. I am not going anywhere. My forever house is in this township. So I have no option but to think long term. I’ll be a taxpayer in this township 10 years from now. 30 years from now. (hopefully longer) We must to do a better job of playing the long game. This requires discipline.

This does not mean stop improving the community. This issue is different from the turf project. I did not believe in that project. It wasn’t a priority and not a good way to address needs from a cost benefit standpoint. On the contrary, I support the library expansion. There are just other ways to pay for an expansion. We need the new fire aerial (in large part because of proliferation of warehouses) And absent of mechanisms to make the warehouse industry pay for we have reserves for the purchase. With preservation? And as we’ve demonstrated for 2 years we can accomplish that without debt. Though I am a supporter of preservation, I did not ask for bond money for preservation. (The county is in a much different situation than we are. And they were very disciplined in the bond process) 

Lower Mac continues to live high on the hog because of greenfield growth. When new growth comes in there are short term advantages. But the problem becomes the new long term liability. The benefit of new growth is front loaded. Taxes are very low right now. The question is, is it sustainable. The goal is long term sustainably low taxes. We spend large amounts of money on discretionary items. And now another very large bond issue. I worry about what happens when we’re faced with one of the looming 10,000 lb gorillas. Any number could become issues. Police, fire, infrastructure. Already we’re facing down one in SCARP. When we finally land, and we will – we could crash hard. This isn’t speculation. It’s a fact. Underlying factor is availability of raw land. We’re running out. The only way to prevent the crash is to break certain cycles. One of those is the debt cycle.  A municipality with our tax base can and should break the paradigm and operate 100% debt free.

The “playbook” states – retiring current debt, rates low? Spending spree! There is a reason 41% of PA muni’s are in distress, the problem IS the playbook. Stop answering the siren call. Break the cycle. Don’t stop improving/making the community better. But get creative in funding. 

Coming 2017 – New larger recycling toters.

The details are yet to be worked out but every household with municipal trash service will get a new recycling toter automatically in what’s likely to be spring 2017. Househlds will automatically get the largest but have an option for a smaller. This is in response to issues where recycling volume in many homes exceeds capacity of the old containers. (too much recycling – a good problem for a community to have!) We have a high recycling volume in many homes exceeding the capacity of the current containers. At some point in the near future letters will be sent to residents that will provide further details.

The totes will remain the property of the township but will be dropped at homes. The exact timeframe still to be worked out. Watch for the letter and details in the upcoming township newsletter.

Residents will be able to opt for the smaller toter than the largest available. (pending availability)  Information on how to do that will be posted on the township website and newsletter.

These were paid for in part by a joint multi-municipal recycling grant that the township was awarded along with Alburtis and Macungie Boroughs. (they might have different protocol for distributing)

Here are the new Recycling toters. The green represents the current size. Blue and dark green are the new sizes.

Here are the new Recycling toters. The green represents the current size. Blue and dark green are the new sizes. The new large containers are 35 or 65 gallons. Much larger capacity but with wheels for easy maneuvering.

 

 

 

 

BOC Agenda preview Oct. 20th 2016

HERE IS A LINK TO THE AGENDA WITH DETAIL
All township BOC meetings are available on video online. (Budget workshops also)
You can also always watch all our board meetings live on Channel 66 RCN cable.

Here is your agenda preview for the Thursday Oct. 20th township meeting. The BOC meetings are the formal business meetings of the elected Board of Commissioners.

Announcements and Presentations:
Donation Presentation from Lutron to Emergency Services
– Presented by Andy Hines – THANK YOU! I wish more of our high impact commercial users would do the same.

HEARINGS & APPROVALS

Resolution 2016-23 – Land Development Approval for Signature Personal Care – The planning and zoning committee recommended approval at our last meeting. This is the old Lower Macungie Elementary School. It’s a proposal for a 1 story building that will house 80 memory care / personal care units. As a use it’s a good low intensity fit for the neighborhood. It’s also a decent design and the developer has worked with us on a number of design elements including addressing walkability issues offsite. A credit towards the recreation fee will be considered for off site walking improvements. This will result in a walking connection made from Spring Creek Rd. (existing trail adjacent to Rolling Meadows) to South Krocks Rd on both the North and South frontages of Lower Mac Rd. This is an important connection.

The only issue I have with this project was the lost opportunity. If this property must be developed this is a good fit. Problem is I don’t think it had to be. In fact I know it could have been prevented. Had the township known this property was for sale and available we would have strongly considered purchasing it. At least 4 Commissioners have expressed that point of view.

The price the district ended up selling the property for represents a deal in my opinion. We would have jumped all over it. This would have allowed the township to retain the playground as a public amenity and also to subdivide the school building and sell separately remaining intact. I think we could have gotten an addition public playground, preserved the school building and still found a low intensity user. There was zero communication from the district before state law required them to.

Unfortunately, because of this we never had the chance. While there were signs indicating (they are still there) that the millcreek district property was/is for sale there were none at any point in time on the elementary school. By the time the district was required to notify the township planning commission it’s intent to sell it was too late.
Too late for the township to have a conversation with the school board about purchase. In fact the planning commission came out with a letter opposing the sale in general. This is a summary. This is exceedingly unfortunate. 

Land Development and Lot Consolidation Approval for Spring Creek Properties Lot 9

This is one of the Jaindl settlement agreement warehouses. We are unfortunately bound by the agreements of the 2010 board here. The consolidated lot will be 75 acres. Proposed is a 875,000 SF facility with 170 dock doors.

The major concern I have with this project is preventing trucks from turning right off private Congdon Hill Rd. (the main entrance to multiple warehouses off Spring Creek Rd. into the Borough of Alburtis. I also have concerns with trucks using Mertztown road and Creamery Rd. west as shortcuts to avoid congestion on Rt. 222.

This is a spec building meaning we will know the user or truck routing until one is identified.

Related however, it was just announced recently that another warehouse off Congdon hill road will likely house Deka (East Penn properties) warehouse. See Morning Call article here. So the obvious concern is that trucks will use front street and state rd to get to the main topton manufacturing and related facilities. This being the last big superbox on the property, it’s our last crack at addressing global truck issues related. However, we are severely constrained by the 2010 settlement agreement. 

The Movie Tavern. Cleaning out the notebook.

Clearing out my notebook on the Movie Tavern (Trexler Business Center) – I hope this is helpful for folks to understand why I voted NO. The plan passed 3-2. This one was a long slog. It was unfortunate it turned out that way. It didn’t have to be but certain developer concerns about the impact fe were raised very late in the game. 

1.) First, I apologize I wasn’t able to blog more about this topic over the last few months. Problem was for the last few weeks of this issue we were under the implied threat of litigation. Unfortunately, at that point a blog meant to keep residents informed can be used against the township in a court. Once we have the threat or implication of legal action we lose some of our ability to talk freely about a subject. This is unfortunately reality. In cases of land development reviews words can be taken out of context, mischaracterized or misrepresented. I struggle with this. I’m often advised “not to blog so much”, but I fundamentally believe residents should know every piece of information I know. My blog let’s me clearly put my thoughts down “on paper” in writing. The free flow of information is critical to transparency.  Unless forced to I’m not inclined to ever compromise that. Hence clearing out the notebook now.

2.) I would have voted yes on the original resolution. The original resolution left a blank space for the amount of credits granted. During the course of consideration 3 credits were agreed upon by the planning and zoning committee and the township engineer and staff. These were negotiated during the course of public meetings. I felt they were fair and I felt they honored the intent of the traffic impact fee by addressing regional issues related to the project. The problem with the resolution presented to us the AM of the vote was that additional credits were granted. These were not subject to public discussion in a meaningful way.

3.) Credits, vs. contributions vs. impact fee monies. The impact fee – “Transportation impact fees are a funding mechanism permitted by the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (MPC). Fees can be assessed to new development in proportion to its impact on transportation networks—the traffic the development is expected to generate during peak commuter periods. Funds collected are used to improve roadways used by development-related traffic.” PennDOT impact fee guidebook.

That is the purpose. However, I believe the program the way it’s written has some severe flaws. In light of that I am OK with credits to appropriate off site improvements. Using the same definition of off site improvements as the impact fee program. And also gaining the same amount of monetary value as the impact fee program allows. No more, no less. This is very fair and very transparent.

Again, I had no problem with crediting or contributions in liu of impact fee. My problem is we gave additional credits beyond what was agreed upon during the course of public meetings. I also had issues with the credits themselves in that I feel strongly they don’t address issues that would have otherwise been addressed by developers at some point in the future.

4.) My structural problem with the last minute credits. The last minute credits were basically to fund a new driveway across the street (north side of the blvd.) that will connect Hamilton Blvd and Grange Rd. Now, there are benefits to this and that’s the reason why have it on the township official map. But the map gives us the tools to ensure this conversation happens at an appropriate time. That is in the future when it’s actually needed. (If and when the north side develops, remember the intent of the impact fee is not to address or otherwise induce future development). The problem here is this credit is unrelated to the Movie Tavern project. Further there is no timetable when it ever gets built. And it’s something we would likely secure anyhow based both on our ordinances, the official map and realities of any commercial project built on the north side of the boulevard. 

In my opinion, we gave away something that made no sense to do so at this time meaning we left money and value on the table that we should be using to fix existing issues. Not future issues related to more development. I actually believe the townships move last night will expedite and induce more “boxy” development on the north side since it will give future developers more public road frontage. I also question whether the township is obligating ourselves to essentially take ownership of what otherwise would and should be a private shopping center driveway on the north side. If this is the case it’s a strategic error.

5.) Procedural problems with the last minute credits. As mentioned above, there were a number of credits and contributions agreed upon in the course of public meetings. They were presented and vetted in public. They addressed the intent of the traffic impact fee ordinance. I had no problem with this. Issue was, that this still left an approximate 375,000 dollar hole. This hole was “plugged” apparently 24 hours before the final vote. I have an issue with that. So did my father Ronald R. Beitler. The two reasons above including both the structural and procedural issue with the “last minute” credit are why I voted NO on the resolution.

6.) The land development itself is good. I am 100% in favor of preservation and better managing growth. Problem here is this development is proposed in a location identified for growth. Other areas of the township not we are aggressively pursuing preservation strategy. And we’ve had successes. This was not a place that made financial or planning sense to do so.

I do wish this wasn’t another strip and pad project, but for what it is – much like Hamilton Crossings – it’s of a higher quality. I wanted to give specific credit to the Movie Tavern for working with us. They voluntarily upgraded many facets of the plan that will result in a better overall project. They also worked with us on a compromise regarding the tower height. Resident concerns were valid, and the Tavern addressed them. The developer also did work with us during land development although at times we had to push them a little harder. Everything was a negotiation. The Movie Tavern was easier to work with since they understood a better project was better for their business. It was less a negotiation and more working together to build something neat. They seemed to understand the vision we are trying to accomplish on the boulevard. That buy in was important.

7.) The Movie Tavern in and of itself was a good fit. While our job is not to pick winners and losers in terms of uses based on opinions. It is to vet projects based on objective criteria. In this case based on the objective criteria of traffic counts – the Movie Tavern was a much better fit than what otherwise could be built here. The reason is traffic counts generated are off peak. Nights and weekends. Again, the theater will not generate trips during AM or PM peak hours. This was a huge advantage to the township.

 

 

Lower Macungie Trick or Treat 2016

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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.

Scrutinize your local municipal budget.

Because you can. Because the higher you go up –  The tougher it becomes. The Federal budget? Forget about it. Typically well over 2000 pages. (Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” is 1,296 pages) The State budget? Still, extremely hard. Even the next level up, Lehigh County – your head will spin trying to make sense of a budget that is 20x the size of even a very large municipality like ours is.

And this isn’t a knock on those who work with those budgets. (at least not always..) Its just a size and scale thing. I think we have a very transparent county government right now, however just the sheer size and scale makes it tougher for a resident to vet their budget. And generally, the higher up you go the more higher likelihood of shenanigans.

This makes at face value and in theory local municipalities the most responsive level of government. And it’s true here in Lower Mac. In a reasonable amount of time you can go to the township building ask for the budget binder and literally see exactly where every single dollar goes. I’d say a pretty clear understanding can be gained in an hours time.

Now the proposed 2017 Lower Mac budget is large. No doubt about it. Afterall, we are 32,000 residents and 24 square miles. We have 29 parks, a large community center, library, pool, 131 miles of roads and millions of dollars of equipment and other assets to maintain those roads, parks and facilities. Even still in about an hours time you can look at the budget and get a very clear picture where your money is being spent. We strive to make the budget process as clearly transparent and user friendly as possible.

This is the size of the 2017 proposed budget Commissioners rec'd last week. It's large but still manageable for the average resident to vet. That's the beauty of local government.

This is the size of the 2017 proposed budget Commissioners rec’d last week. It’s large but still manageable for the average resident to vet. That’s the beauty of local government.

You have 4 major opportunities to participate in the process over the next 2 months. All in the formative stages before the first public reading.

October 5, 2016 Board of Commissioners’ Public Workshop #1 @ 7 p.m. (Primarily for LMT Departments and Community Organizations to justify their yearly requests)

October 19, 2016 Board of Commissioners’ Public Workshop #2 @ 7 p.m.

November 2, 2016 Board of Commissioners’ Public Workshop #3 @ 7 p.m.

November 17, 2016 First Public Reading of Budget Public Advertising for Inspection and Ordinance

Nov. 21 – Dec. 15, 2016 Further Public Inspection period.

So take a look. Ask me questions. In fact. Grill us. That is how local government is supposed to work. It’s the way it works best and the way it’s designed. 

How many acres of warehouses does it take…

…to equal the local tax base and job creation benefit of 1 manufacturing facility? 

Here is the math.

 

Mack Trucks - Lots of employees per acre of land at excellent wages. Manageable impact (well worth it for the excellent paying jobs) and good local tax generation.

Mack Trucks – Lots of employees per acre of land at excellent wages. Manageable impact (well worth it for the excellent paying jobs) and good local tax generation.


MANUFACTURING

Mack Trucks consists of 922,950 SF of floor area on 147 acres. The facility generates exactly 9,000 dollars a year in municipal property taxes. The employee counts fluctuate yearly, but they average around 1,850 employees annually. This year Mack is on track to contribute around *84,000 dollars in local services tax receipts. On average 100 of those 1,850 employees live in the township so we collect another 7,000 dollars in **earned income tax.

Property Tax – 9,000
LST – 84,000
EIT – 7,000
$100,000 yearly Lower Mac tax benefit
1850 employees over 147 acres – 13 jobs per acre.

All together Mack Trucks injects 100,000 dollars annually into Lower Macungie Twp. directly through tax receipts. 

The question here is how many warehouses on how many acres of consumed land (in our case prime farmland) does it take to match that amount of tax base generation and jobs?

Low revenue per acre paired with costly liabilities. Not a winner for the local government.

Low revenue per acre and few employees paired with costly liabilities. Not a winner for the local government.

 

WAREHOUSES
The answer is more than 5 buildings totaling 2.5M + SF of floorspace eating up nearly 200 acres of former farmland. Total property tax receipts on 5 properties analyzed are $45,000. On average all 5 buildings together employ about 600 people. Problem is many are part time or otherwise do not qualify for the 12,000 a year threshold in earnings for the township to collect the LST. Employee turnover is also very high. So the total LST generation for these 5 buildings is roughly $26,000. Of those 600 employees only a small percentage, 34 live in the township. We collect about $3,000 dollars in EIT from them total.

Property Tax – 45,000
LST – 26,000
EIT – 3,000
$74,000 yearly township tax benefit
600 employees over 200 acres = 3 jobs per acre of land.

All together 5 warehouses analyzed which eat up nearly 200 acres of land and generate a grand total of $74,000 dollars. 35% less than Mack on 35% more land. 

Conclusion
5 warehouse facilities eat up about 35% more land (in Lower Mac’s case irreplaceable prime farmland) but in total generate about 35% less revenue.

Jobs? That’s 13 jobs per acre for Mack Trucks vs. 3 jobs per acre for the warehouses. Mack generates over 300% more jobs per acre than the warehouses.

This is of course only one half of the equation. The municipal liabilities which aren’t as easily quantified but verifiable are exponentially more impactful with the warehouses.

Now, Mack Trucks is a powerhouse. That’s readily acknowledged. But what about other manufacturing facilities in the township? The numbers remain staggering. Similar numbers for special effects producer Smooth on. 350% more jobs per acre than warehouses and 170% more tax revenue generation per acre. And smooth has so little impact on it’s neighbors that it’s located within a neighborhood. (I live next to the facility and it’s an excellent neighbor) It’s outstanding tax generation numbers are also a credit to the companies very high wages. We get the added benefit of a company mentality and philosophy that encourages employees to live near the facility. Oftentimes within walking distance.

How about Victaulic? Situated on just 10 acres it employs over 150 employees locally. Again, over 350% more jobs per acre than the warehouses. And this little powerhouse generates over 125% more revenue per acre.

 
*LST Persons working in the township are assessed $52 for local services. Those earning less than 12,000 per year are exempt. 

** EIT Collected from employees who reside in the township. 1/2 of 1% of earnings. 

*** Property Tax – Lower Mac has a .50 millage property tax. 

 

Gerrymandering discussion Aug. 26th

Along with term limits including eliminating public pensions for elected officials, and campaign finance reform, districting reform (that is eliminating gerrymandering) is one of what I consider to be the 3 most crucial reforms needed in the state. When politicians draw their own districts, they manipulate the process to protect incumbents and discourage competition. This is what happens in Pennsylvania now. Politicians choose voters instead of the other way around.

I believe this discussion will center around SB 484. It’s a bi-partisan bill that would address the problem. It’s currently co-sponsored by two Lehigh Valley State Senators. Pat Browne (R) and Lisa Boscola (D).

The following is an informational program to learn more about efforts to reform. League of woman voters programs are always excellent.

Gerrymandering: How to create fair legislative and congressional districts in Pennsylvania.

Where: Unitarian Universalist Church of the Lehigh Valley, 424 Center Street, Bethlehem http://www.uuclvpa.org/directions.php

What: The plan is to have a short introduction to Gerrymandering (15 – 20 minutes) followed by a panel discussion on how to create a fair redistricting process in Pennsylvania. The panel will be moderated by Janet Little, president of the Lehigh County League of Women Voters. The panel includes:

Barry Kauffman (PA Common Cause) 
Carol Kuniholm (PA League of Women Voters) 
Senator Lisa Boscola (D-PA Senatorial District 18)
Representative David Parker (R-PA Legislative District 115)


They will discuss new legislation to create an independent commission to draw the lines. The program is sponsored by the Social Action Committee of the UUCLV and the League of Women Voters of Lehigh County.

For more information, the contact person is
Tom Ulrich FFF Series Coordinator
Social Action Committee 
Unitarian Universalist Church of the Lehigh Valley
Tel.: 610-882-1136
Email: tomulrich41@gmail.com