The Lehigh Township Board of Supervisors opened their meeting on Tuesday, January 23 with the introduction of two applicants for the recreation board, Tammy Hess and Joe Schwartz, and one for the vacant elected auditor position, Monica Brown. Hess has worked with the recreation board for a few years and is very invested in keeping the parks safe and up to date; her vision involves better and safer playground equipment and ensuring that the parks are ADA accessible. Schwartz is a longtime resident of Lehigh Township who has retired; he stated he wants to see greater community involvement in events, such as the turnout for the Christmas tree lighting, and feels that Delps Park is especially good for larger events. Both stated that they are willing and able to attend meetings and be involved with upcoming events. After some deliberation, the appointment was awarded to Hess; Schwartz was invited to attend recreation board meetings and be an active participant.
Brown was then introduced, a retiree with an extensive bookkeeping and insurance background. Her application was unanimously accepted.
A representative of Sedler Design and Redevelopment was present to request an extension for their plan, which was scheduled to expire on February 14. He explained that there were only two items remaining to be handled, but a mixup on PennDOT’s end caused a delay. An extra two months would be all that was required, and the board agreed to grant an extension until April 30. The board also approved the request presented by Township Engineer Michael Muffley, for an escrow release for the Northwoods project in the amount of $1,163,132.19.
Zoning Officer Elizabeth Amato reported that December was a slower month, with only 11 permit applications received; nine were issued. She also said that the Vineyard Estates subdivision is starting to submit their permit applications, so residents should not be surprised to see new houses popping up.
Three payment requests for the maintenance building’s construction were approved. Township Manager Alice Rehrig informed the board that progress continues on schedule and the building is expected to be finished in April.
A discussion was held regarding board vice-chairman Cynthia Miller’s prior proposal for changes to the meeting structure, including her suggestion for limiting statements from audience members to three minutes during agenda items, and five minutes during public comment. Township Solicitor David Backenstoe pointed out that the board chairman can cut off a speaker if they continue for too long. Miller asked if the board could, at the very least, impose a rule that those who wish to comment should come forward to speak to the board directly, much like those making planning requests do, instead of standing up at their seats. The board agreed that this should help with the issue; going forward, those who wish to be heard will be required to stand and approach the board unless they are physically unable to do so.
The residents of a Creek Road home submitted a request for a waiver of the well/septic isolation distance. Wells and septic systems are supposed to be a minimum of 100 feet apart, but due to circumstances beyond the residents’ control, theirs are less than 90 feet apart. The board agreed to grant the waiver, subject to an indemnification clause.
At the request of board member Janet Sheats, the 2024 budget was reopened. The budget as it currently exists has no line item for elected auditors, and per state law one must be added, with a maximum of $2,000 per auditor plus $200 for mileage. Rehrig will edit the budget draft and advertise it to the public.
A discussion of the farmland adjacent to Delps Park ensued. Board member David Hess explained that roughly 15 acres belonging to the township is being farmed at no charge, and suggests charging a fee to farm the land as a means of earning money for the recreation board. It was agreed that a lease for one year with an option for two additional years will be put out for bid, with the township retaining the right to refuse any bids that are offered; the current farmer will be advised of the situation. Rehrig will draft the bid advertisement, assisted by Hess and Backenstoe as needed, and any bids received will be reviewed at future meetings.
Katherine Mack thanked the board for allowing the recreation and auditor candidates to have a chance to speak, as they had no such opportunity during the reorganization meeting. She then asked why the auditor fee has increased by $15,000; Miller explained that this is due to a forensic audit being performed, which the board is not currently at liberty to discuss with the public.
Residents of a South Cottonwood Road home presented the board with photographs of an ongoing flooding issue on their property related to a township pipe. It is overflowing into their septic system and causing a smell of sewage. Muffley promised to schedule a visit to their home so he can review the situation.
The board members then adjourned the meeting and went into an executive session.
The next meeting of the board of supervisors is scheduled for Tuesday, February 13 at 7 p.m. in the municipal building, located at 1069 Municipal Rd., Walnutport.