The Lehigh Township Board of Supervisors met Tuesday, October 10 with discussions regarding the 2024 budget, capital improvement plans, planning related items, payments for the maintenance building, and ordinance amendments.
First, Township Manager Alice Rehrig provided a breakdown of the biggest adjustments to the 2024 budget and capital improvement plans.
Due to big ticket items for the police department such as police vehicles and office costs, Police Chief Scott Fogel has requested to alternate between the two costs and split them in half to allow funds for each.
Since the Public Works Department is also in need of some large pieces of equipment that are quite costly, another adjustment Rehrig suggested was to rent equipment instead of purchasing new when the current equipment such as the paver and roller reach the end of their service life due to dramatically rising costs.
Additionally, to offset estimated costs being higher in some years, Rehrig plans to try to level the capital improvement plans to allocate the funds more evenly throughout upcoming annual budgets.
Vice Chairman Cynthia Miller also asked about the capital improvement plan for recreation due to planning updates that are needed from the current plan being 10 years old. Miller expressed that updated plans can cost around $50,000.
Rehrig explained that $10,000 is proposed to be wrapped into the capital savings account and the township will apply for grants to help offset those costs. However, most grants require a plan and may require matched funds, which is why funds are being set aside for anticipated future use.
Supervisors plan to meet with the fire department to collect and gather data regarding the fire tax for the 2024 budget on October 18 and a public meeting will be announced following the meeting to inform residents. The fire department also announced that they will be sending out a letter to residents that will explain the department’s upcoming costs and needs. More information on the fire tax is to come.
Under planning related items, supervisors unanimously approved an extension of time for the land development plan approval from Timothy Pitts through March 2024.
Supervisors also unanimously approved the Walnutport Land Partners Melo Enterprises/Solar Renewable Energy plan based on conditions set forth by Keystone Consulting Engineers, the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors.
The applicant’s engineers revised the previous plan to get rid of the proposed easement based on conditions recommended by the Planning Commission and they submitted cost estimates to the township engineer with the current cost for sight improvements being $80,000 and decommission costs estimated at $97,000, which will utilize two separate letters of credit.
Decommission costs must be approved by the township engineer before they are finalized.
The board was concerned about approving the plan without the cost estimates being finalized, especially given rising inflation costs. Additionally, the panels are a relatively new 30 to 40-year asset, which also means the company has never had to decommission a solar energy system as of yet, so there is no precedent figure to assess what those costs will be.
Township Solicitor David M. Backenstoe assured the board that they were only approving the concept of the plan at this time since the decommission cost estimate has not been satisfied. Additionally, Backenstoe divulged that the board can require the decommission costs to be re-estimated every so many years to adjust the letter of credit akin to current estimates, which the board found reasonable to reassess every three years.
In other news, the Lehigh Township Vol. Fire Co. provided their quarterly report for July through September, which included 17 fires, 56 rescue and emergency medical services, 22 hazardous conditions (no fire), 12 service calls, 10 good intent calls, 20 false alarms or false calls and one severe weather/natural disaster call for a total of 138 incidents.
Next, supervisors unanimously approved the following maintenance building payment requests: $46,550 to Billitier Electric for running conduit under and around the building foundation; $226,665.09 to Bracy Construction for concrete and iron used under the foundation; $132,048.09 to Livengood Excavators for the balance of excavation to install an oil separator, trenching and earthwork; and $83,769.05 to Vision Mechanical for sanitary material, drains, cleanouts and under/above ground material.
Under Ordinances for adoption, the board unanimously approved an amendment to Zoning Ordinance Chapter 180-71 pertaining to wireless communication facilities to correct mistakes found in the ordinance between what size towers are allowed and where they are allowed because the chart was different than the verbiage in the original ordinance.
Supervisors also unanimously approved an amendment to Zoning Ordinance Chapter 180-85.1 pertaining to medical marijuana facilities, which now permits the facilities under special exception use only in the industrial district of the township. The board also tabled another amendment to the zoning ordinance to provide for regulations pertaining to recreational marijuana due to discrepancies found in the draft.
Last, the board unanimously approved an amendment to Zoning Ordinance Chapter 180-107 (B) and (C) pertaining to principal solar energy systems. The amendment removes principal solar energy out of agriculture/residential districts, so it will only be permitted in industrial districts and plans will still be required to come before the board because it is a special exception conditional use. As such, principal solar energy will no longer be permitted as a principal use on residential properties; however, this does not include accessory use such as residential solar panels on houses.
The Lehigh Township Board of Supervisors will meet next on Tuesday, October 24 and Tuesday, November 14 at 7 p.m. in the municipal building, located at 1069 Municipal Rd.