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.

 

 

 

 

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. 

Sen. Casey addresses Wal-mart impacts on local communities

Sen. Casey – Wal Marts and other box stores strain local resources. 

When you develop a property you are not entitled to unlimited or unreasonable usage (waste) of public municipal resources paid for by tax dollars.

Our Lower Mac Wal-Mart, has for years been a considerable strain on police resources. This is well documented locally. (2013 Morning Call) Wal-Mart seems to rely on police to provide basic security at considerable cost to taxpayers. While every resident and business is entitled to call police for help or to report a crime it’s obvious Wal-Mart exploits this. 

Not only do we face financial impact, but safety as well. When police are spending excessive time at one business they are taken away from other duties.

Similar issue, in 2013 we instituted a nuisance ordinance for excessive fire alarms. We did this after our Fire Dept. reported ] 30% of emergency calls from commercial users were false alarms. Same principle. While every business is entitled to fire protection, there came a point where excessive calls constituted a public nuisance. After enacting the ordinance along with corresponding fines we immediately saw a drop in false alarms. I believe if Wal-Mart had to pay for excessive call volume for totally preventable retail crimes we would see the retail giant suddenly become much more proactive with prevention.

Here is what Sen. Casey had to say in a letter penned to Wal-Mart President Doug Mcmillon

“I write to request that Wal-Mart conduct a review of its internal security protocol to ensure adequate security staffing and procedures at stores in Pennsylvania and around the country,” Casey wrote. “Of course, police protect and serve every member of our communities, but the significant volume of calls from Wal-Mart stores raises serious questions about whether the company’s current security infrastructure effectively deters crime without overburdening local police departments, many of which already operate on stretched budgets.”


According to the article, a Wal-Mart representative said the retailer plans to meet with Lehigh Valley elected officials and police in coming weeks to discuss security measures. I have asked to be kept informed and to be a part of this meeting if possible. I made a phone call to Sen. Casey’s office this AM. 

 

 

 

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.

Watch Lower Meetings Live on RCN starting tomorrow.

Another step in the right direction transparency wise. There is now one less excuse not to follow your local government here in Lower Mac.

Lower Macungie commissioners taking meetings to live TV

We’re going live! Proud to be the first Valley municipality to take this step. Tomorrows meeting (6/18) will be the first broadcast live in real time on RCN cable at 7pm on channel 66. Here is a link to the agenda. Best of all costs us nothing thanks to RCN.

Can’t watch tomorrow? No worries, meetings are repeated on a regular schedule on the public service government channel. And as always, you can watch the meetings on your own schedule always at the township website and youtube. Link to the LMT youtube channel.

Other muni’s do it live on webcast (Easton SD and Northampton County Council) but we’re the first to do it on TV! Each year more and more webcast. (What are we waiting for EPSD!!)

We hope to get the broadcast on Service Electric Company soon also. Let’s get it done Service Electric!

Lower Mac to talk official map as preservation tool

In the coming weeks the township will be considering an official map. This is something I support since the official map tool greatly increases the likelihood that key conservation resources are protected.

Designation of a Official Map allows a municipality the ability to delay development of a property for up to a year so the municipality can inquire about acquisition of the property for preservation or other public uses outlined by a comprehensive plan.

Designation of a Official Map allows a municipality the ability to delay development of a property for up to a year so the municipality can inquire about acquisition of the property for preservation or other public uses outlined by a comprehensive plan.

An “official map” is an ordinance and map designed to carry out a community vision set forth in comprehensive plans. As a preservation tool the teeth of the official map lie in the powers granted by the state which give a community essentially what amounts to as a “pause” button. This can be used when poorly planned development contrary to the comprehensive plan is proposed on land designated on the map. The map outlines planned future public lands and facilities including transportation, parks, trails, and preserved open space. By utilizing the “pause” button functionality of the map the township gives itself the ability to delay a poorly planned development proposal for up to one year. This gives us valuable time to investigate acquisition or preservation. Another way to put it is the map represents a “first dibs” option on an identified piece of land for public use. 

Currently, 65 municipalities in 15 counties utilize official maps. Locally, Upper Milford and Upper Saucon have adopted map ordinances. I believe it is one of the critical 3 tools that Lower Macungie needs to pursue an aggressive preservation program. The 3 tools are:

  • Comprehensive planning – To outline priorities. We have these.
  • Official map – To protect outlined priorities from bad development proposals by giving the township time to negotiate when faced with a poor development proposal.
  • Funding mechanism – To acquire or purchase development rights. Purchasing development rights or outright acquisition is the only fair way to preserve farmland and open space.

According to the MPC, and a little common sense designating a property on the official map does not constitute a taking. This is a concern sometimes expressed by developers and landowners. The official map doesn’t take property it just gives us the opportunity to negotiate purchase or preservation of a property before poorly planned development occurs. It is up to individual municipalities how best to accomplish goals. In most cases it happens through fair market compensation. Exceedingly rare is it for a municipality to ever use condemnation. When it does come up it’s usually to secure new roadway right of way. It’s not something I would ever support.

Nuts & Bolts:
1. Reserving land for future public use on an official map does not affect the property’s ownership. Landowners still own and control their land.

2. The “pause button” is only invoked if a poor development proposal is made on a property on the official map and the proposal is counter to comprehensive planning.

3. After notification of intent is sent by the township the powers granted by the state allow them one year to act. During the one year time span, the municipality may opt to put together a plan to acquire or preserve the land.

4. In the vast majority of cases acquisition or preservation is accomplished by paying fair market value. This is the only fair and permanent way to preserve.

5. The municipality also maintains the option to not acquire or preserve the property and allow for the property owner to move forward with proposed development plans. However, the official map can be an effective negotiation tool that the township can use to encourage a better more friendly proposal. It can help to ensure development – when it occurs – is compatible with and supportive of community goals.

Local example Upper Milford: Our neighbors to the South in Upper Milford have an adopted official map. Recently, they had a land development proposal for 200 units on a property off Mill Rd. Since the property is on the townships official map and the township expressed interest the project can now be delayed one year as Upper Milford investigates preservation options. It’s unknown whether they will or not, but what’s key is the ability to have time to explore options. If Upper Milford decides not to acquire the property, the development proposal can move forward as planned. The township can also negotiate a much more community friendly proposal like a true conservation cluster project using the acquisition leverage of the official map.

Do cyclists pay their fair share?

I have to applaud PennDOT efforts to raise awareness about cycling on the road network lately. In PA, on our roadways responsibility is a two-way street. Both cyclists and motorists need to be aware of and follow the rules of the road relating to cycle safety.

Last couple months I’ve noticed once a week PennDOT has been making really nicely crafted social media posts aimed at cycle law awareness issues. Here is an example:
Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 12.26.23 AMUnfortunately whenever a post like this is made a very small but vocal and extremely uninformed minority of commenters always follows with a litany of silly posts.

One of the most common and most uniformed narratives is usually along the lines of: Cyclists should have to pay for plates, registration, inspection and insurance like every other vehicle on Pennsylvania roadways“. 

Couple problems with this sentiment:
First, cyclists do pay their share. Actually they pay a far disproportionate share. Here are the facts:

  • User fees (license, registration etc) pay for only 34% of the costs of roads in Pennsylvania. The rest comes from general funds that cyclists also pay for.
  • 80% of cyclists also own cars so 80% also pay the user fees associated with those cars.
  • A bike has 1/20th the impact of a car on the roadway. This includes funding for bike facilities. (which usually just involves moving paint around)

Essentially, when a motorist makes the decision to bike instead of drive they are saving us ALL. Because 1.) They also pay the bulk of costs to maintain roads. Pair this with 2.) bikes require significantly less expensive specialized facilities and 3.) cyclists create a fraction of the impact.

So basically, as a driver and taxpayer… next time you see a cyclist take a moment to thank them. They are mathematically doing their part to keep your tax burden lower in a number of measurable ways. If it were a fair world they should probably get a rebate for cycling since they save everyone alot of money when they ride.

Latest quarry concept plan 2 phase line item budget.

The latest line item budget for the Quarry Park concept plan. Needless to say I have some major concerns. The total project over 2 phases is now potentially up and over 6M dollars.

If I am reading this correctly (I have asked for clarification) the turf component specifically (including items directly related to turf) is about 60%+ of Phase 1.

From day 1 my objection to this has been the financial justification for the turf component of the project.
Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 12.11.57 PM

Lower Mac to consider borrowing for open space preservation.

I support preservation of farmland & open space prioritized by parcels with high development pressure. While debt isn’t my preferred means to accomplish this I support whatever consensus the board arrives at since I feel strongly about the long term benefits. I also understand we have a voter mandate for preservation.

*Note: I have over the past year proposed alternate funding strategies including:
1. Ear-marking developer transfer taxes for preservation
2. Creating a transferable development rights program (TDR). TDR is a free market mechanism for preservation. It involves no township money.
Unfortunately, neither got traction from other board members. 

In March Commissioners Conrad & Lancsek proposed borrowing to fund preservation. While I am pleased it appears the entire board is willing to settle on a mechanism I am only cautiously optimistic at this point. Read about the proposal here.

First, let’s talk mandates. I came into office with 2. Important to remember, since both relate to preservation.

1. First keep taxes sustainably low. Meaning setting us up for long term resiliency as opposed to gimmicks. I think I’ve delivered with the homestead exclusion that rollled back 25% of the prior boards tax increase for homeowners. More importantly relating to resiliency it sets us up to capture more revenue from commercial and industrial users (strip malls and warehouses). These uses generate more liabilities than revenue. Addressing this disparity sets us up for a more sustainable long term balance sheet. High liability land-uses should carry the burden. Not residents.

2. Second I came into office with clear mandate from voters to preserve farmland and developable open space. This also relates to #1. How to keep taxes low in Lower Macungie.

So why only the cautious optimism about the bond?

I’m nervous that some might see a 10M bond as a “blank check” for whatever pet project is the flavor of the moment. With the “blank check” mentality we can get lazy. That scares me.  Remember, the reason the prior BOC raised taxes in 2012 was to fund capital projects. Fact is since then, the largest single project moving forward is the 4.9 million dollar quarry park renovation including over 1.5M earmarked for turf fields. Hardly a priority and certainly not warranting a tax increase.

I’m nervous we’ve diluted a conversation about funding open space (something with clear long term financial benefits) with “other capital projects”. (Things that might not)

I’m also leery of inducing more “dumb growth” with STROAD infrastructure. While it’s important we solve existing traffic problems we have to be careful not to induce further congestion. (see graph below)

So, lets proceed but with caution. Any questions about the potential bond please feel free to email me at ronbeitler@gmail.com

What is induced demand.

The red line represents vehicle flow along a given road. Traffic steadily rises until someone decides the road needs to be widened. Then the original trend line (dotted red) gets replaced with an even greater travel forecast (dotted orange), as we'd expect by creating more road capacity. But the actual new level of travel developed by this widening (solid red) is even greater than the forecast predicted.

The red line represents vehicle flow along a given road. Traffic steadily rises until someone decides the road needs to be widened. Then the original trend line (dotted red) gets replaced with an even greater travel forecast (dotted orange), as we’d expect by creating more road capacity. But the actual new level of travel developed by this widening (solid red) is even greater than the forecast predicted.

Lower Macungie Agenda Preview – 4/16

Board of Commissioner Meeting Agendas & Previews:   FYI – With these previews while I may indicate a voting inclination, it in no way means my mind is made up on any issue.

Presentations: Tonight we will honor 90 year old Veteran, Bertram S. Winzer. Mr. Winzer a WW2 veteran served in the famed Devils Brigade received a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star during the war, but never received the latter medal. When Senator Pat Toomey learned of the oversight he met the veteran in May at a National Military Appreciation Month event. Toomeys office then contacted the Army and arranged for Mr. Winzer to get his award. Albeit 68 years later. Learn more here.

Hearings: Conditional Use Hearing – Jimmy Johns – This development is on the sleepy’s/Dickeys side of the Wal-Mart shopping center. Note: The way our ordinances are written new restaurants are always conditional uses since they can have major parking impacts. The only planning issue here is the fact that the planning commission has some concerns about available parking spaces on that side of Millcreek. Not sure if I agree that parking is an issue, however the simple solution is improving the walkability between the strip and Wal-Mart by adding another crosswalk on Millcreek Rd. This way employees can be required to park across the street and allow more parking for customers on the Dickeys side of Millcreek. I will say that Millcreek Rd. through the shopping center from Lower Mac Rd to the Boulevard is a particularly STROADY, fast, abrasive and dangerous Rd/driveway. It’s exactly what we are trying to get away from in terms of making access roads more Boulevards in tone and character. Anything we can do to address it by a road diet should be considered.

What: Conditional use hearing for new restaurant
Where: Wal Mart (Dickies BBQ side)
Concerns: Parking

Liberty at Millcreek – Another 2 massive warehouses. These ones are primarily in Upper Macungie, but there is a excellent change Lower Mac will get alot of the traffic. Unfortunately, since the project is primarily in UMT we have little sway. There are some major concerns about traffic generation on Grange Rd. It’s likely it will be used as a cut through when traffic jams up on Millcreek. Uline is reported to be the user of the warehouses.

What: 2 warehouses and office buildings.
Where: Millcreek and bypass. (former Air products property)
Concerns: TRAFFIC

“Grandview” Crossings (Allen Organ) – This project has a long history. As a resident I opposed the rezoning that allowed for it to happen. All kinds of backgrounders here. That being said and the new ordinance being the “law of the land” and what we have to work with the focus here was quality. Township planners and staff did do a pretty decent job (with the confines of what I consider to be a weak ordinance) at ensuring the project is high quality.

What: 75k Weis supermarket + gas station, 200+ apartments and 2 pad sites for future restaurants or banks.
Where: Gehman and Rt. 100
Issues: Limited to what I consider a poor/weak ordinance that was enacted before I took office, the focus was on traffic, quality and walkability.

Communication:
32 more residents sent letters in support of Rt. 222 “bypass” upgrades.
The grand total is over 180 written. The township however is only putting township residents in the agendas. There have been over 100 township residents who submitted letters over the last few weeks. More information on the campaign here.

Sen Browne letter of support: Related to above the township rec’d official correspondence from Sen. Pat Browne in support of Rt. 222 upgrades.

Resident Pete Pavlovich writes in support of roundabout, in support of a verizon cell phone tower and in opposition of 10M capital projects/open space bond. Always looking for more resident feedback on all these issues. 

Letter from Julie McDonell Parks and Recreation Board liason to the Dog Park group.
Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 1.01.34 PMWe will have an update on Hamilton Blvd bike lanes:
Background info here.
And nice LTE in support this past week.