Comments on recent article.

I wanted to comment further on this article and issue. Lower Macungie commissioners oust zoning board chairman, citing philosophical differences.

First, Bill Royer is a man I greatly respect. This was neither political nor personal. It was a hard decision for me. One of the toughest I had to make last 3 years.

But bottom line is this. Because of a recent Zoning Hearing Board decision yet another very large and very impactful shopping center is one major step closer to reality.

That development is proposed on a severely constrained and dangerous section of the bypass. A road already strained from recent development. The special exceptions and variances granted by the zoning hearing board to the developer without any acceptable justification were substantial.

Fairness is important but the scale and impacts of a project have got to be taken into account.

Again, Mr. Royer is a gentlemen. Someone I respect. But I need to make decisions based on what I think is in the best interests of the township. Not anything else. We’re at a crossroads because of poor land development decisions made by prior boards over the last decade. The zoning hearing board has to be on the same page as the rest of the township. When there are philosophical disagreements the only recourse we have is in appointments. The zoning hearing board is a totally independent body.

The 2017 budget. Explaining my vote.

Here is coverage of this years budget vote.

I found myself in the position of voting “No” on the budget again. Despite finding myself in this place two years in a row, it is not a position I like, seek or expect to find myself in two years in a row.

However, as it is the biggest decision we make over the course of a year – and understanding I shouldn’t expect to ever be 100% satisfied when on a governing body with reality of “5 cooks in a kitchen” – I found myself again in the familiar position of having serious issues with major components.

Below, is explanation about items I couldn’t get my head around to support. I felt it’s important I share this in detail.  I’d be happy to answer questions as always. or shoot me a comment below.

1.) Unanswered bond questions relate to fiscal strategy. The initial proposed budget reflected floating an “up to” 9M dollar bond. A menu was provided to us in our budget binder giving us options to consider various bond amounts/lengths paired with tapping into the general fund balance at various levels to fund 9M of capital projects. As of adoption, these amounts/details were not decided. Therefore huge decisions were left up in the air and unresolved.

2.) Credit vs. Bond. There was also consideration for establishing a line of credit in lieu of a bond. I was far more comfortable with this since a line of credit allows us to take advantage of great rates but without obligating us to spend X. (X being undetermined). I preferred this flexibility. This would allow us to debit “as needed”. Also preserving the option of “not needed at all”. Since as we know government projects are extremely susceptible to a sort of “vision creep” once a bond is floated. Meaning, it leads to seeking out projects to spend ‘X’ amount of money once your essentially obligated to spend ‘X’. Rather then a real demand/need being the driving force.

3.) I do not support increasing our yearly debt payments. I do not want to – even for a short period of time – increase the yearly debt service we pay now. Some scenarios would do that. So again, not having that locked down is a problem.

4.) A changed open space funding strategy. I supported a build up of the general fund reserve over the last few years for a very specific reason. That being, as part of a comprehensive open space preservation strategy. We are able today, to consider on a case to case basis opportunities as they arise. This flexibility is important. For example, right now we are considering the purchase of the Shep. Hills golf course development rights. Because of our substantial “cash” on hand position above and beyond our fund balance requirements we are able to retain the ability to move relatively quickly.  In all things cash is king and cash reserve gives us the greatest flexibility. Recently we also agreed paid for a new ladder truck with reserves. Doing so we took advantage of additional savings. Using reserves (cash) is often times preferable to debt. Drawing down our savings/cash position imo actually reduces our ability to react quickly to land preservation opportunities. This budget proposed at some yet undetermined level that we transfer funds from the reserve to pay for a gymnasium project.

5.) I support library expansion. But the project quickly grew beyond that scope. While I support a library expansion of some sort since it is a demonstrated need – as with all bond funded projects the conversation experienced a very rapid “vision creep”. It very quickly expanded from a discussion of matching library funds (for let’s say 250,000 dollars) to secure a grant opportunity for funding a major 5 million dollar community center expansion. I was not ok with the speed this discussion morphed. We had some long term planning activities exploring full gym expansion, but never did I think it was going to become a debt serviced item in the 2017 budget. The amount of money we are considering to spend now should be put to referendum.

6.) Sewer rate increase stinks. It is an unfunded mandate. Although the sewer rate increase is unfortunate, it had nothing to do with my “no” vote. As explained in the morning call article, this is an unfunded mandate put on us by the EPA. This is unfortunately reality. One that every community is dealing with. The increase was an unfortunate necessity. The entire board however did push back on the initial request of 20% in favor of 15%. To ignore this would have been irresponsible. Here is additional information.

7.) This years budget again contains no tax increases. 3 years ago we were able to reduce property tax bills for the majority of residents. It’s in my opinion this stability should remain the case for the foreseeable future if we are able to lock down our spending and stabilize revenue. But we have to strategically plan to avoid the common pitfalls.

I believe we can do this while still making key investments to improve our community. Part of a comprehensive strategy to keep spending stable is to break the debt cycle or at least significantly reduce it. Or at least challenge in a meaningful way the status quo. With our current debt expiring in 2019 we had a golden opportunity to do this and we didn’t. Instead we opted for the standard “playbook” of wrapping our debt around for wants not needs. This is an “everyone does it” type issue. I challenge the assumption we have to carry debt at all. We can’t expect to do the same thing every municipality does and then expect a different result. 41% of PA municipalities are distressed. Many more are on a track towards. Something is broken that few are addressing. The debt cycle I believe is one of those things.

The problem is adherence to the playbook. This is why such a high % of Pennsylvania municipalities find themselves distressed. Everyone falls into the same cycle. We are not distressed. Far from it. Living off our growth in ways. But I’d like to keep it that way after the growth slows. I’m interested in breaking certain cycles. We have a number of serious timebombs in this community. Police protection, fire protection, mounting public liabilities related to warehousing. There is a good chance we are going to have to deal with one or more in the next ten years. And it won’t be a choice whether or not we address them. It’s likely we’ll now be doing so carrying the burden of this bond which could reflect increased yearly debt payments. I’m not convinced we had to. So we’re weakening our long term position which will only compound with future issues that we know are coming.

41% of PA muni’s are distressed. Why?

Lower Macungie Trick or Treat 2016


Please be safe!

Halloween Safety Tips from 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.

What are those new cameras on Hamilton Boulevard traffic signals?

So, what are those new cameras on Hamilton Boulevard traffic signals?

The cameras being installed along a sequence of signals on the Boulevard are part of the hardware package for the townships new traffic adaptive “smart” system. It’s not yet activated but will be later this summer.

They will be used by the automated adaptive system to “sync” green light and turning lane phases corridor wide. Each signal will communicate in real time via a wi-fi system to coordinate traffic flow.

Here is a very nice overview of a similar system.

Lower Macungie Agenda Preview – 6/18

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 before issues are settled. One of my biggest issues with the Jaindl debacle was folks didn’t truly understand what was happening until it was “too late”. This is one mechanism to avoid that. I hope people find it useful. 

Trexler Business Center
The issue is we have a grandfathered application under an old shopping center ordinance. Since the original application the plan has changed but the applicants argue not enough to require a new submittal under the current shopping center ordinance. (which is much better)

The second iteration of the sketch is improved from a traffic standpoint, but I worry that we have less leverage to improve the internal design of the overall plan under the old inferior ordinance.

The goal is to have all new shopping centers in the township at the same level of quality or preferably even better than Hamilton Crossings. The problem here and what we have to consider tonight is whether or not we are legally obligated to consider the plan under the old ordinance. And also if Mr. Jaindl is willing to commit to working together to improve the current plan. It’s my opinion there is alot of room for improvement.

Here is the sketch:

The question is whether this plan is fundamentally different from the original submission.

The question is whether this plan is fundamentally different from the original submission.

Here is an abridged list of items I’d like to see addressed summed up in 4 categories:

  • Improved context sensitivity with Hamilton Blvd as outlined in the corridor vision study.
  • Much improved pedestrian Interconnectivity with the project. Walkability is more than just the physical sidewalks.
  • Amenities package on the same level as Hamilton Crossings
  • Assurances that the traffic improvements will remain as in the sketch


Jaindl & Liberty Building Permits.
This one is a complicated one to sum up. I will try to do so succinctly. Basically the issue is as a requirement of the Spring Creek Properties settlement agreement all traffic improvements on Spring Creek Rd. are to be in place BEFORE certain permits that trigger additional traffic are issued. Originally Mr. Jaindl requested flexibility on that issue. Over the last couple days there has been a flurry of updated memo’s. I would have been hard pressed to support the original memo since it represented a fundamental departure from the original settlement agreement designed to protect the community by ensuring the roadways can handle traffic BEFORE development takes place. Staff also expressed serious reservations. Making sure improvements are built before truck traffic comes from warehouses is a lesson we learned the hard way over the last few years at Schoeneck & Rt. 100.

This will be an interesting discussion tonight. It boils down to if our professional staff – legal, planning and engineer are comfortable with the latest iteration of the proposal. The fundamental question being – Does this protect the township from unfinished improvements? They were not comfortable with the original proposal. It remains to be seen if staff is with the latest proposal. This issue has been fluid all week. As commissioners however our duty is crystal clear. That is to make sure the intent of the settlement agreement remains intact and rock solid. I will rely heavily on our internal legal, planning and engineering experts to make that determination.

Plan approval for Liberty at Millcreek.
This is approval for two very large warehouses off Millcreek Rd. on what is now Air Products property just off the bypass. Most of this project is un Upper Macungie and unfortunately (inexplicably..) they have this area zoned for Industrial. I’d have no problems with Industrial the same scope as Air Products but this isn’t the best location for a warehouse since our area is over-saturated.

Unfortunately, since this is largely in Upper Macungie it is out of our control. I am very nervous about these two warehouses but we are left with very little leverage. Fortunately, I do place a good amount of faith in Liberty properties. Though I disagree with the land use in this location, I am happy it is Liberty developing the property. They have been great to work with. It’s important they get this right as it will be an industrial warehouse in the middle of our boulevard.

Schoeneck Rd. long term maintenance of stormwater controls.
To sum up we are being asked by a developer to take long term maintenance responsibility for stormwater controls. I have concerns with this as it represents a long term financial responsibility for taxpayers. This is a fundamental problem in the township. Over time we are accrusing more and more long term responsibilities to maintain systems that will increase in cost over time. We should be very careful taking on even more we don’t absolutely have to. 

Authorization to advertise 7871 Mtn Rd. in Agriculture security zone.
A step to preserving 50+ acres of farmland off mountain Rd! Purchase of these development rights will be done entirely with county money. Inclusion in the townships ASZ is a step in the process. This land will forever be permanently preserved. The first 50 acres of I hope a couple hundred over the next 10 years.

Brake retarder study on Rt. 100
This is a resident request that I support 100%. This is one of a number of items we have to get a handle on as truck traffic is going to essentially double in the township. The study will hopefully result in a prohibition of brake retarders on Rt. 100.

If your not familiar it is this sound: (:23 seconds) Jake brakes is using the engine to brake a truck. It’s a safety feature for stopping on long hills. It saves the mechanical brakes. Problem is sometimes truckers abuse them and utilize them on flat roads near residential communities.

Lower Macungie Agenda Preview – 2/19

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 before issues are settled. One of my biggest issues with the Jaindl debacle was folks didn’t truly understand what was happening until it was “too late”. This is one mechanism to avoid that. I hope people find it useful. 

Farr Tract Rezoning Request:
This property located at Lower Macungie Rd. and Cedar Crest Rd. is currently zoned S Suburban. The applicant is seeking a text amendment to allow restricted over 55 as a condition. The developers have submitted a sketch plan that calls for 142 homes on 54 acres at the northwest corner of Cedar Crest and Lower Macungie Road.

Both the Planning and Zoning Committee (PZ) and Planning Commission (see letter below) have recommended rejecting this request. I sit on the PZ. My views reflect that of the planning commission on this issue. 

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 1.47.01 PMCommunication
Resident Donald Richards writes asking for an ordinance to control distribution of free newspapers like the merchandiser. This is something we’ve talked about recently. The problem is when people are away these papers stack up as a tell-tale sign the house is empty. Also in the winter the papers often get buried under snow… then when you go through with a blower it jams up the intake. These are just a couple of examples on why we should take a look at this issue see what we can do. Maybe evaluate what other communities do.

Dept. Matters
Approving the Southwestern Lehigh County Plan Inter-municipal agreement. I support this. 
The plan is a non-binding document created 7 years ago in a joint effort by Emmaus, Alburtis, Macungie, Upper Milford & Lower Macungie.

This original Plan was funded by grants. The Comprehensive Plan is intended to establish overall policies for the development and conservation of the Southwestern Lehigh County Region over the next 15 years. This Plan is not by itself a regulation, but is intended to provide the policy direction for changes to the municipalities’ development regulations.

Recently there has been consensus to update the plan. This was largely necessitated because Lower Macungie has significantly deviated from the plan.  The biggest example of course was the Jaindl development debacle and rezoning of 700 acres of ag protected land to Industrial, Strip Commercial and Residential.

Manager Report:
The manager will be requesting moving forward Quarry Park Synthetic Field Turf Project and NPDES permitting. I voted against inserting this project into the budget and have been vocal in opposition. More information here. I think it’s important to to invest in our parks but I don’t believe this is the most cost effective way to do it.

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Municipal pensions face 7.7B in debt. Why is Lower Mac not on the list?

Recent headline in the Morning Call: Municipal pensions in Pennsylvania facing combined $7.7 billion debt

All surrounding municipalities are on the list with Macungie listed as ‘not distressed”, Alburtis, Upper Milford and Upper Macungie as “minimally Distressed” and Emmaus Borough as “moderately distressed”.  The level of distress relates to debt vs. assets in municipal pension plans.

The reason Lower Macungie is not only un-ranked but also not on the list at all is because our pension plan is a defined contribution not a defined benefit plan.  Therefore we do not have the actuarial issues of determining funding liabilities. In a defined contribution system participants gets back what was put in for them each year, plus, hopefully, some earnings rather than losses. The issues of “fully funding plans” don’t apply.

Basically, Twp. leaders decided back in the late 1970’s to head down the defined contribution plan route as a cheaper way to pay employee benefits. To put it mildly, we lucked out thanks to those old dutchies. 🙂 

For now our situation is stable. One of the biggest ways this could someday change is if and when the township creates a local police force. For example: The pension plan Upper Macungie Township created when it formed its 22-member police force in 2012 is already carrying debt of about $2.2 million dollars putting it in the minimally distressed category.

As the Morning Call article states “Bills being circulated in Harrisburg, new municipal police, fire and nonuniform workers would have a corporate-like “cash-balance plan” that guarantees a smaller rate of return of 4 percent on contributions made by employees and employers.” If something like this passes before we ever have to change our police or fire protection arrangements it would benefit us immensely.



Defined Benefit Plan (distressed plans)

With a Defined Benefit employers pay a specific retirement benefit based on salary and years of service. The most common formula to calculate benefits is based on the employee’s earnings at the end of the worker’s career. The problem is the employer or government bears funding and investment risk. As is the case in many PA municipalities these can (most oftentimes) create crippling unfunded liabilities that get worse over time. This puts the whole system in jeopardy for newer employees. 

Defined Contribution Plan (Lower Mac)

Defined Contribution (DB) plans provide a means for both employees and employers to contribute a steady stream of revenue into the participant’s retirement account.

Plans generally allow participant-directed investments and vest (or allow employees to receive benefits) sooner than DB plans. Benefits are also portable, which is becoming more important for workers in today’s evolving marketplace where the average worker may switch jobs and even careers multiple times over the course of a lifetime. While DB plans are managed collectively, employees have ownership of defined-contribution retirement plans and choice over their retirement investments. Since they are fully funded up front, this prevents pension obligations from sneaking up on future generations of taxpayers and allows for more stability in budgeting. 

Thank you to Township Volunteers

Thank you to all township volunteers and welcome to our newest. Below is an overview of appointments from last night to various Boards & Commissions.

In a Commonwealth like Pennsylvania local Gov is designed to be hands on. Commissioners aren’t elected to go off to far away places like Harrisburg and DC to make decisions for us. Locally, every resident has the opportunity to get involved directly. Attend meetings, talk to elected officials who are also neighbors, circulate petitions etc. Can’t attend in person? Watch mtg video at YOUR convenience. Prefer to read? Review minutes online. Best of all you can volunteer like the folks below and get involved directly.

In Lower Mac we have a deep bench of qualified applicants. We have wait lists. Great problem to have. Many more qualified applicants than vacancies. Most recently to address this we’ve created additional ad-hoc positions on the Public safety Commission and are considering others. This to ensure that people who want to be involved have the opportunity.

Thank you to everyone who last night we appointed or re-appointed:

•Charles Sabo & Fred Zahradnik appointed to the Environmental Advisory Council. Sabo is an emergency medical technical for St. Luke’s. Zahradnik is owner of NetCrafter Solutions.

David Wieder reappointed to the Building Code Board of Appeals. Wieder is vice president of Burkholder’s HVAC.

•Ann Bartholomew reappointed to the township’s planning commission. Bartholomew is a retired author, writer and book designer and also an active member of the historical society. Ann quite literally wrote the history of the township. Purchase Ann’s history of Lower Macungie Township here.

•Keller Kline is an attorney and former township commissioner reappointed to the Zoning Hearing Board. Richard Ward also reappointed as an alternate. Ward is a senior vice president of Alliance Advisors LLC, also served on the Public Safety Commission.

•Four reappointed to the Public Safety Commission: Scott Forbes, the chairman; Michael Dattilio, vice chairman; Elizabeth Ackerman & Tony Alsleben. Forbes has background in telecommunications and business served on the board for five years. Dattilio is a Hellertown Borough police officer. Ackerman is a corporate sales manager at Bear Creek Mountain Resort. Asleben is an Allentown police officer. In December we also appointed to new members. Mark Spengler is a teacher at Emmaus High School and Dr. Janine Mathesz a fmr. assistant principle at EHS as an Ad-Hoc member.

Volunteer boards & Commissions include: (visit for more info)
The Audit Advisory Board
The Environmental Advisory Board
Emergency Management
Historical Society
Library Board
Planning Commission
Public Safety Commission
Vacancy Board
Parks and Recreation
Building Code Board
Zoning Hearing Board – What is a Zoning Hearing Board?
And of course everyone has the opportunity to RUN FOR OFFICE!



Don’t forget you can put your Christmas trees out curbside

discarding-treesUPDATE 1/12


***Due to unforeseen circumstances there are delays in curbside Christmas tree collection this year. We appreciate your patience and expect final collection the week of January 19th. If you have any questions regarding collection of trash, recycling or Christmas trees, you are urged to call Waste Management at 800-869-5566 – be sure to mention that you are part of Lower Macungie’s Municipal collection. You can also drop off your trees at the township Yard Waste Recycling Center at 5536 Indian Creek Road. See winter hours below.


Christmas trees will be picked up by Waste Management on your normal trash collection day (by separate truck) during the weeks of January 5th and January 16th, 2015. Trees will not be accepted if they are in plastic bags, bound with twine and/or have any ornamentation on them, including lights. If you wish to remove your tree earlier, it can be taken to the Yard Waste Recycling Center at 5536 Indian Creek Road. The same rules regarding ornamentation apply.


Wild Cherry Lane Bridge Closure


Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 3.35.20 PMOver the weekend the contractor hired to do rehab work on the Wild Cherry Bridge discovered additional concerns with the beam structures that were not caught on previous inspections.

As a result additional beam replacement must be done.

It was agreed today by all parties that in the interest of Public Safety we will close the bridge immediately and until further notice. The contractor is on site and ready to start work after the Holidays as soon as a plan of action and design is coordinated between them and the township engineer.