During the Lehigh Township Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, November 28, two resolutions were presented for the board’s consideration. The first concerned adjustments to the budget with regards to the fire tax, as discussed at the previous meeting; the second gives the board chairman and township manager the authority to sign documents to apply for an LSA grant for $230,000. Both resolutions were approved for adoption.
In an executive session, the board had discussed whether to approve Police Chief Scott Fogel’s proposed plan to sponsor two recruits at the police academy. The board voted to authorize Fogel to extend an offer of employment to the candidates upon their successful graduation from the academy, provided that they pass the drug and mental health checks. The offer will require the candidates to remain employed with Lehigh Township for a minimum of five years; if they leave the township’s employment before the end of that term, they will have to repay the township for some or all of the academy costs.
Vice-chairman Cynthia Miller presented the board with a suggested new layout for meeting agendas. She said she had been contemplating ways to streamline the meetings, and offered the proposed agenda changes in order to keep the board focused on current events. Her suggestion would reduce public commentary after each agenda item by placing public comments earlier in the meeting; public comments would be limited to discussing agenda items only, and each commenter would have a maximum of three minutes of talking time. Board members would listen to the comments and respond later in the meeting. A lengthy discussion was held on the subject, with many present offering objections to this proposed format. Board member Gerald Pritchard reminded everyone that the audience comments at the November 14 were what persuaded him to change his vote on the fire tax, stating that it was a good example of why the commentary is so important.
Township Solicitor David Backenstoe was asked to weigh in on the legality of the matter. He explained that the board can have public comments on the agenda items, but the agenda would then be required to be extremely specific in order to keep the residents informed of exactly what the board was discussing. Public comment, in his opinion, needs to take place at the end of the meeting in addition to the beginning. If Miller’s plan were to be implemented, the specific agenda must be made available ahead of meetings and copies of all documents would have to be made available to everyone attending the meeting. Board member David Hess asked what they would need to do if there were not enough copies of documents available to everyone who showed up, to which Backenstoe stressed that everything would need to be available on the township website at least 24 hours in advance. One audience member reminded the board that not everyone is able to read the agenda and other items on the internet, and thus would be unable to prepare for a meeting.
Paul Nikisher stated that the proposal limits the audience’s ability to seek clarification on issues, because they don’t always have all of the information that the board has, and that they would need to be able to view every single document and picture that the board sees. Miller said that the plan is to place monitors in the room to allow the attendees to see what the board sees. Chairman Michael Jones agreed that limiting the time in which people can speak makes sense, but he does not want the public comment at the beginning of the meeting. Miller said that her proposal was only meant as a starting point for the board to discuss the matter and consider options. It was agreed to table the matter for further review.
Township Manager Alice Rehrig reported that she is looking into the property of 450 Walnut Dr. in Pennsville, as it was supposed to go up for sheriff’s sale but did not. The township has a number of liens against the abandoned property so she has been monitoring the situation.
Katherine Mack inquired as to whether the open positions on the zoning and planning commissions are being posted. They are expected to be posted on the website within a week of the meeting and will also be in the newspaper. Those who are up for reappointment, as well as new members of the committees, will need to be at the reorganization meeting.
As a final note, it was asked whether the fire tax will be levied against properties which have been homesteaded or farmsteaded. It was explained that yes, that will happen; the fire tax is a service tax, not a property tax, and is therefore assessed differently.
The board then adjourned for an executive session.
The next meeting of the board of supervisors is scheduled for Tuesday, December 12 at 7 p.m. in the municipal building at 1069 Municipal Rd., Walnutport.