Judge Todd Heffelfinger swears in new Lehigh Township police officers Christian Surjan (left) and Joseph Dougherty

During the Lehigh Township Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, November 14, two new police officers were sworn in. Police Chief Scott Fogel introduced officers Joseph Dougherty and Christian Surjan. The oath of duty was administered by Judge Todd Heffelfinger of Whitehall Township.

Township Manager Alice Rehrig provided board members with a proposed wording of the fire tax resolution and ordinance, highlighting specific areas to which they must pay attention. Solicitor David Backenstoe said that her drafts of both are very good, but need to have their wording slightly edited so that both are strictly consistent about how the funds generated by the tax will be used. After some discussion, it was agreed that the tax money will be used for repair and maintenance of fire apparatus and equipment. There was some debate over whether the money would be used for smaller items or only big ticket items; Fire Commissioner Richard Hildebrand said that he hoped the ordinance would be more inclusive than exclusive with regard to the fire service expenses. Backenstoe agreed, saying that the ordinance should be broad in that sense.

Vice-chairman Cynthia Miller said that the resolution will need to be voted on every year due to the millage. Chairman Michael Jones clarified that the ordinance will be static, but the resolution will be voted on each year to deal with specific purchases. 

The board discussed whether the fire tax would be applied to all structures in the township, including those which are normally tax exempt. Board members David Hess and Gerald Pritchard were unwilling to support the taxation of churches. Miller pointed out that those who are not exempt would have to make up the difference for those who are; Hildebrand added that fire personnel still provide support to churches and other tax-exempt organizations. As board member Philip Gogel was absent, Jones expressed concern that the vote would not pass since there was no way to break a tie. It was agreed that the fire tax must be “all or none,” meaning that either every structure would be taxed or none would, and if the vote did not pass the issue would have to be revisited in planning the 2025 budget. However, after further discussion, a vote was taken and the ordinance passed 3-1, with Hess providing the dissenting vote. Rehrig was authorized to make approved changes to the ordinance and advertise it for adoption.

With the ordinance discussion completed, the board turned to examining the resolution. Miller moved to adopt the resolution placing the tax millage at 1.3 for exempt and non-exempt entities alike. Miller explained that with a millage of 1.3, property owners would pay $130 for every $100,000 of property value. This will generate roughly $379,000 for the fire company, and the millage rate would enable saving some money for future large purchases like vehicles. It was noted that the state caps rates at 3 mills. The board unanimously voted to adopt the resolution, and Hildebrand made the plea that the tax cannot and should not replace private individual donations to the fire company, as those donations enable the company to pay regular bills such as electricity and heating for the station. Rehrig will advertise the 2024 budget for adoption after making adjustments for the fire tax decisions.

Brad Rock of Lehigh Engineering presented the board with a plan for the Dalton Lorah Lot Line Adjustment project, which was approved. Mike Houston of Bulldog Property Network, LLC updated the board about his project’s status, noting that all requested improvements have been made; Township Engineer Michael Muffley will perform one final check to confirm this. A representative for the Turkey Hill project brought forth a request for an extension until May 31 of next year. Instead, the board granted the project a 90-day extension, with the stipulation that they want regular updates. 

Muffley reported that the Northwoods project is wrapping up their major improvements stage and currently looking for escrow reduction. They had to alter some plans due to a lot adjustment, but should be filing for building permits in the spring.

David Hess provided a recreation board report on behalf of Sandra Hopkins. The township’s tree lighting will take place at Bryfogle Park on Saturday, December 2 from 5 to 7 p.m. K9 Officer Cash will be there, along with the elementary school chorus and Santa Claus. Full details can be found on the township website, lehightownship.com. 

Frank Zamadics of public works said that leaf collection continues on schedule; they will make one final pass in December throughout the township for any remaining leaves. Residents are reminded to pile their leaves by the roadside for collection. 

Elizabeth Amato and the zoning board received 16 new permit applications in October. The solar farm is still under consideration; Muffley is reviewing the situation and an application for extension of conditional approval is expected soon.

Fogel is interviewing potential candidates to sponsor for the police academy. The board authorized him to proceed with the plan in order to fulfill the necessary requirements by the December 16 deadline. He also reminded everyone that the department is again collecting new, unwrapped toys for Toys for Tots; they can be dropped off at the police station, the municipal building or the fire company until December 7, and can also be brought to the tree lighting ceremony.

Fire Commissioner Hildebrand will be supplying his year-end report to the board soon. Thirteen firefighters are taking a course for certification in vehicle extraction, using cars donated by a local junkyard. The fire company’s new brush truck should be arriving in January; they are still working on a plan to get a ladder truck. He asks that residents follow the fire company on Facebook for updates on their events and other news.

Rehrig is continuing with her application for a state grant, having met all of the special conditions required. The board will have to decide how to use another grant that was awarded; the money will not be received until 2025, so she recommended earmarking it for the purchase of replacement maintenance equipment. The board members agreed to this and she will move forward with the arrangements.

Janet Sheats of the fire company invited everyone to visit the station on Small Business Saturday, November 25, for breakfast with Santa. They are also looking for nominations for Lehigh Township residents in need to be given gifts and food for the holidays. For details, contact Janet at 484-239-1040 or email jsheats@lehightownshipfire.com.

The next Board of Supervisors meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, November 28 at 7 p.m. in the municipal building located at 1069 Municipal Rd., Walnutport. 


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