2023 – Another Year at the Circus Sideshow

Welcome to 2023 in Lower Saucon Township, home of 4 clowns and their ringleader attorney!  Let’s see what they’ve been up to already!

Photo by Vidal Balielo Jr. on Pexels.com

Tuesday, January 3, 2023, was the township reorganizational meeting.  That’s something all municipalities have to do by law and it’s usually pretty cut and dried – appointments, election of officers, setting of fees, hiring of consultants and solicitors, various policies.  In LST’s case, Carocci and Yerger didn’t even bother to show up in person, but phoned it in. With most councils, you can assume they’re doing the right thing.  Ah, but not here.  Let’s see what we had.

Here’s something interesting.  In the appointment of a labor solicitor they have now morphed the position into a special projects solicitor (translation – library legal stuff) at an hourly fee of $290.  Their work is no longer required to be approved by the council as it was before but instead will be assigned by the solicitor and the township manager.  And, here’s the best part, all the work they did in 2022 which totaled $25,523.61 through November 30, not including the additional work in December?  It gets approved ex post facto. Council had no say in it before those expenses were incurred.  Why?  How can that be fiscally responsible? Well, it can’t but the excuse Banonis is using is that back in January 2022 when the first batch of s**t was hitting the fan relative to the library, you’ll recall that he pushed through a resolution that gave Ringleader Treadwell carte blanche (the actual words are “in his sole discretion” – remember them if they pop up again) to do whatever he needed to do on the library issue.  Apparently that included hiring any lawyer he wanted who knew more than he did about library issues (that wouldn’t have been a hard person to find) and setting that person loose.

And so we now have pending lawsuits against OCL and HAL and the PA Department of Education for taking exactly the action that LST Council requested in May. And Council had no voice in whether they wanted those lawsuits filed and we as residents have no recourse but to watch our tax dollars just get chewed up in useless legal actions.  And no one can rein these people in.  I don’t think that’s how this is supposed to work.

Here’s something else that I’ve always found annoying.  All of these various appointments and such are made by separate resolution but Banonis – because we know he doesn’t want to waste a minute more of his time than is necessary on township business – lumps them all together and asks for one of his toadies to make a motion to approve them.  Therefore they’re approved in batches of six, eight resolutions at a time. Suppose as a council member you don’t approve of one or more of those resolutions and you’d like to vote against it?  Too bad – either vote against all of them or none of them.  I find it hard to believe that Robert’s Rules of Order doesn’t have a motion that can force those resolutions into separate votes.  I’d ask the Township Manager to look into that but since he’s too busy to respond to taxpayers’ emails, I’m sure he can’t be bothered looking that up in Robert’s Rules.

And now here comes another behavior designed to completely hide how the township is run.  The Township Manager gets to recommend who should be appointed to various boards and committees.  We get no information on who might have applied to whatever openings were available on various committees.  The Council is just expected to smile and nod and vote yes on all of them as a lump.  Not individually by committee.  Just all at once.  This, folks, is how boards and committees of the township get stacked with yes-men (and almost all of them are men, I’ve noticed) who don’t raise objections when things like zoning changes and developers’ plans come before them.

At last Tuesday’s meeting, Laura Ray, a member of the Environmental Advisory Council, demanded to be heard in the public comment period after the agenda about the appointment of Carocci as the voting member of the EAC earlier in the meeting.  Banonis tried to shut her down because “that was an agenda item” but Ms. Ray insisted on being heard because, as she pointed out, she couldn’t know that he was going to be appointed the voting member because that information was not on the agenda.  In fact, none of the appointees for any of the boards or committees were on the agenda.  She objected to the fact that, unlike in the past when the EAC had done its own organization of its Council, it was now left to the Township Manager. The EAC had already chosen which of their members they wanted designated as the voting member and it was not Carocci who has pathetically little knowledge of environmental issues to be in that position.  In fact, it’s insulting to the members of that Council who are well-versed in environmental issues.

If you’d like to see Carocci in action in all his glory in an EAC meeting, I recommend you watch the video shot by Mark Ozimek at the last EAC Council meeting.  It would be laughable if it weren’t so pathetic.  You can find it here: https://youtu.be/0og0Qsfmjgc

Of course, Banonis was having none of it and repeatedly tried to gavel Ms. Ray down, finally resorting to moving to adjourn whereupon all his little toadies voted “yes” as well.

So we’re off to a good start!

And just in case that’s not enough, I’d like to share that about 8 or 9 LST residents went to the Southern Lehigh Public Library’s Board meeting this evening to hear what they’re planning to do in connection with LST’s latest pressure tactics to get them to accept LST into their service area.  Imagine our shock and surprise when we read in their December 20 Board meeting minutes that in conversation with their solicitor, Atty. Leeson, Ringleader Treadwell suggested that LST would pay SLPL $10,000 per month to provide library services to LST residents.  Just to be sure that we understood that’s what we were hearing, one board member was kind enough to explain that’s what had been offered.

A little quick arithmetic – $10,000 per month times 12 months equals $120,000 for a year of library services which would 1) be more than HAL had requested in the agreement refused by LST and 2) provide fewer services than we had at HAL because SLPL wouldn’t be able to offer us PA Access services since we are not in their service area and could not possibly be before 2024 at the earliest.  Once again, great fiscal responsibility on display here.  Spending more for less and putting everyone through hell to get there.

It’s gonna be a great year.

On Wednesday’s Agenda

On the agenda for Wednesday night is an item to set a hearing date for a Conditional Use Application that Bethlehem Landfill hurried up and submitted to the Council in the hope of ramming all of this through as quickly as possible.  However, with a pending lawsuit filed last Friday against the zoning changes that were approved last month, it is completely inappropriate for the Council to schedule a hearing when the very basis of the zoning change is under legal attack. If the zoning change is found to be defective, no conditional use changes can even be considered until the zoning change is corrected.  That could take months to resolve.  But hey, let’s snarl this up in as much bad law as possible.  If you’re looking for something to comment on, that would be a good subject to bring up.

Some Housekeeping

My apologies for the lack of livestream on January 3.  Laura Ray had graciously agreed to do that for me because I had an orchestra rehearsal.  It was my fault completely that she could not access the livestream app.  Hopefully I’ll get it right this week.

If Mark Ozimek also records Wednesday night’s meeting, I’ll post it as soon as he gets it up on his YouTube channel.

NEXT COUNCIL MEETING: WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 18, 6:30 PM SCHEDULING OF CONDITIONAL USE HEARING

As a service to the community, the January 18 Council meeting will be live-streamed on the Saucon Shenanigans Facebook page.

DAYS WITHOUT FULL LIBRARY SERVICES: 18

DAYS TILL THE NEXT GENERAL ELECTION: 293

Sharing My Platform

One of the perks of having a platform like Saucon Shenanigans is that I can share with you the voices of others in the township. That’s what I’d like to do today.

I know that many of you have written to the township council expressing your feelings about various issues, most notably the library and the landfill. And I know that in their arrogance, four of the five council members – Mrs. deLeon excepted – feel they have no responsibility to reply to you. Or if they do, it’s in a belittling and sarcastic voice. Some of the responses from Banonis at the end of December to inquiries about the status of library services were nothing short of derisive and disrespectful.

In addition, those letters are never shared with us as residents. It’s too bad, because some of them are cogent, forceful and on-point. I’d like to share one of those with you. Dean Shaffer, a township resident, sent this email to township council on December 29, 2022. He has given me permission to share it with you. To my knowledge, he has not received any kind of a substantive response from the 4 council members or the township manager. Mrs. deLeon was cc:’d on his email because, as you can tell from the text, it was not directed at her.

I could write about all of the points that Dean covers, but he does such a good job of boiling them down to the essentials, that I think his words speak quite eloquently for all of us. And with that, I give Mr. Shaffer the floor.

From: Dean Shaffer
Date: December 29, 2022 at 10:14:42 AM EST
To: Sandy Yerger <syerger@lowersaucontownship.org>, Mark Inglis <minglis@lowersaucontownship.org>, Jason Banonis <jbanonis@lowersaucontownship.org>, Tom Carocci <tcarocci@lowersaucontownship.org>, Manager <manager@lowersaucontownship.org>
Cc: Priscilla deLeon <pdeleon@lowersaucontownship.org>

Subject: Hellertown Area Library and other matters

I’ll keep this short so I don’t use much of your time

Four issues you need to resolve now:

1. Work in a collegial and professional manner with Hellertown’s leaders to repair fractured relationships and restore collaborative agreements!!!

2. Resolve the landfill expansion issue by working closely with its neighbors and limiting the amount of expansion. We have no desire to drown in everyone else’s garbage. Yes, the township and its leaders make lots of money from the landfill, but at what cost to residents?

3. Reestablish the compost center agreement with Hellertown. The location is convenient, and the facility is well run.

4. Above all, reestablish an agreement with the Hellertown Area Library. HAL is the library the majority of residents want to use. It’s convenient, and its programs are outstanding. It’s obvious that money isn’t an issue for the township – it appears to be simply a matter of headstrong township leaders trying to retaliate for some perceived wrong by Hellertown. Stop the shenanigans and start working for the residents of the township!

I am sure that working at the behest of the landfill’s management is much more lucrative than working for your constituents, but I really think it’s time that you start listening to the people who elected you! 

Stop trying everything in your power to disrupt relationships with Hellertown, and start working for the people of Lower Saucon Township.

I’m truly embarrassed by the way you are behaving as elected leaders, and the way your actions reflect so negatively on the residents of the township. You make the township simply look silly to outsiders.

By the way, the meeting rules you’ve implemented so you don’t have to listen to resident concerns are outlandish. You make it clear you don’t wish to listen to anyone’s viewpoint other than your own.

If my perceptions are incorrect, please let me know. From my point-of-view, it certainly looks like you are behaving badly simply out of spite. Stop it!

P.S. If you’re struggling to figure out how to work with and for the residents of the township (i.e., being effective and caring leaders), follow Priscilla’s lead. It’s obvious she cares deeply about the township and its residents; she is a model leader. Try some of what she is doing.

Most sincerely,
Dean Shaffer

      Thank you, Dean. And thank you to all the township residents who have voiced your opinions about the damage and destruction that this council leadership has rained down on us in 2022. 2023 doesn’t look much more promising. So keep those cards and letters coming in. If nothing else, it will annoy the hell out of them until we can vote enough of them out in November so that Banonis loses control.

      The Year in Review

      I know many of my readers are probably very disappointed that because of the length of the Council meeting on December 21 they didn’t get to hear Banonis’ self-serving year-end wrap-up like the one he subjected us to last year.  In order to fill in that tragic gap, I’m happy to provide a review of Lower Saucon Township’s annus horribilis (horrible year, in the words of the late Queen Elizabeth II).  The short version is in the Scorecard.  The detailed version of the year follows that.

      The 2022 Scorecard

      January 1, 2022

      •   Full library services at HAL
      •   275.7 acres of beautifully forested land surrounding the landfill
      •   Free access to the Yard Waste Center
      •   Reduced membership prices at the Hellertown Pool
      •   A wobbly reputation within the Lehigh Valley and deteriorating relations with Hellertown

      January 1, 2023

      •    No library services at HAL
      •    275.7 acres of beautifully forested land under direct threat to be clearcut and turned into landfill
      •    No access to the Yard Waste Center
      •    A tortured system to be reimbursed for pool memberships
      •    A laughingstock within the Lehigh Valley and no relationship with Hellertown

      2022 In Detail

      January

      Ah yes!  Back when the year was young and full of promise and we were all so full of hope!  Who am I kidding?  The storm clouds were already on the horizon, even before the Jan. 3 organizational meeting. 

      In a brilliant move to promote opportunities for constituent input, the Council passes (4-1) Resolution #31-2022 – Revision of Agenda Policy and Code of Conduct for Council Meetings, boxing residents and taxpayers ONLY into a 3-minute limit on comments on agenda items before the meeting and non-agenda items after the meeting.

      Now firmly muzzled, residents watch in horror (including on the livestream provided by Saucon Shenanigans) at the next meeting on Jan. 19 as Council votes (4-1) to offer the Hellertown Area Library less than ½ of the requested amount while it refuses to sign a new agreement for library services.  Newbie Zavacky offers the lame explanation that we will now just be “donors” and we’ll donate the other half of the budgeted amount to Southern Lehigh Public Library (SLPL).  Why? Damned if I know even after a year of persiflage.  And as icing on the cake, they vote (4-1) to authorize the solicitor to sue HAL if they refuse service to LST residents.

      In a surprise move the following week, HAL refuses the $50,000 check.  Hellertown, now faced with being a signatory to a tripartite agreement without the third party’s buy-in, renegotiates a bilateral agreement with HAL.  And so it begins.

      And then the township manager resigns.

      February

      HAL revises its by-laws based on the new bilateral agreement with Hellertown Borough and removes all LST board members.  Hellertown Borough suspends all Intergovernmental Committee and Partnership participation by the borough with LST pending further review of the resolution of the library issue.

      Ms. Huhn’s 20 years of service to the township is given less time and notice than a Boy Scout who built a kiosk.

      Banonis, Carocci and Zavacky make a big deal about turning down their councilperson pay reminding us all once again that you get what you pay for.

      LST doesn’t even put the library issue on the agenda.

      March

      HAL offers a substantive proposal to negotiate a new agreement.

      LST doesn’t even put the library issue on the agenda.

      April

      HAL extends the deadline to begin negotiations on a new agreement.

      Pastor Spohn tries to broker a solution.  Banonis and Zavacky introduce the “regionalization” red herring, then do nothing publicly visible to pursue it.

      LST doesn’t put the library issue on the agenda.

      May

      On May 12, Cathy Forman writes a check to SLPL for $50,000 to replace the check that had been written in January and never cashed.  This is not mentioned at any Council meeting.  SLPL holds the check while they are pressured by the Southern Lehigh School Board and Upper Saucon Township to accept it.

      From the Council minutes, May 18: “Mr. Banonis moved to direct our Solicitor to issue a letter to the HAL, directing the library to not include LST’s population in its application to the Office of Commonwealth of Libraries (OCL) for State Funding for calendar year 2023 and also issue a letter to the OCL advising it that it should not include LST’s population in its calculations for the formulation of State Funding for 2023.” Motion passed 3-1. deLeon, No; Zavacky, Absent. Remember this when we get to the end of December.

      Zavacky resigns.

      June

      Mark Inglis is appointed to replace Zavacky.  We are not informed who else applied for the position or why Inglis was chosen. Still don’t know, except that he’s related to Zavacky by marriage.

      LST Council tries to muscle its way into the Saucon Valley School Board’s business to get them to hire a School Resource Officer despite having been told that they should stay in their lane.

      Laura Ray’s repeated request for a citizen’s forum as provided for in the administrative code is finally placed on the agenda.  The forum is scheduled for Nov. 23.  Mrs. deLeon objects that that is not a regularly scheduled meeting night but rather the night before Thanksgiving.  Banonis rudely informs her that she’s wrong and it doesn’t have to be on a regularly scheduled meeting night. In fact, he’s wrong and the meeting has to be rescheduled.

      LST doesn’t put the library issue on the agenda.

      July

      Hellertown Borough votes on July 5 to sever its ties with LST relative to the Saucon Valley Partnership, the community pool and the yard waste center effective December 31.

      LST abruptly cancels its regular meeting on July 20 and schedules a “special meeting” on Friday, July 22 at 9:30 AM severely limiting the number of residents who can attend.  They hire a new township manager, Mark Hudson, at a 22.7% increase over the budgeted salary for the township manager.  No information is available on him.  Council also approves a bid for the paving of Saucon Terrace for $1,070,793 which as far as I can tell had not been specifically budgeted but Banonis informs us that’s okay because we’re running a surplus.  Remember this when they tell you about how we can’t live without the landfill.

      SLPL Board accepts “with serious trepidation” the $50,000 check from LST but only after receiving a letter from Treadwell stating that “the donation is unconditional, and was made in appreciation of the services provided by the Southern Lehigh Library to Township residents over the past 10 years.” In the words of SLPL Board President Bruce Eames “its [Lower Saucon’s] residents will not benefit from the donation, except to the extent they use the SLPL through the Access Pennsylvania program.”  

      August

      LST doesn’t put the library issue on the agenda.

      On his way out the door, Interim Township Manager Peter Marshall finds multiple ways for the township to spend money on new software, new job titles, raises, compensation studies, etc., all of which get approved even though budgeting season is coming up in 6 weeks.

      September

      LST doesn’t put the library issue on the agenda.

      October

      At the Oct. 5 draft budget meeting, from the minutes, Cathy Gorman reported, “We have made those budget transfers during the year to accommodate some of the additional expenses we have received. Those came from our fund balance and she’s projecting that the fund balance, without using the landfill funds [emphasis added], should be adequate.”  Council, by consensus but without Mrs. deLeon’s agreement and with no rational explanation, tells Gorman to increase the budget item for library services for 2023 from $100,000 to $160,000.

      And then along comes the real stunner.  Here comes Bethlehem Landfill asking for zoning changes and text amendments to more than double the size of the landfill.  Next time any of the landfill cheerleaders on Council claim this doesn’t mean a landfill expansion, read them this: [from the October 19 minutes:] “Mr. Lawson said the request for zoning map and text amendment is the first step towards an expansion for BLC.” 

      When I started Saucon Shenanigans, I said there would be 3 guiding principles.  One of them was “Follow the money.”  It’s been a long, winding road, but it’s finally clear where it leads.

      November

      From here to the end of the year, things get really ugly, really fast.

      On Friday, November 11, the agenda for the Nov. 16 meeting announces the Citizens’ Forum which we had been requesting since before June will be held that night, Nov. 16 at 5:50 PM.  Five days’ notice after a six month wait.  Even so, a decent sized crowd shows up but in a supreme act of arrogance, neither Banonis nor Carocci do.  There are some lame excuses but then, all of a sudden, they’re magically there in time for the Council meeting at 6:30, putting to bed the belief that they care at all about what the residents of LST think.  Yerger, Inglis and Mrs. deLeon are there but Yerger and Inglis are virtually mute the whole time.  Mrs. deLeon answers questions but frankly, we all know what she supports and believes in so there aren’t many questions directed to her.  

      Treadwell, however, after neglecting to introduce himself (which triggers a question by one resident, “Just exactly who are you?”), answers the majority of questions with the equivalent of “I don’t know” or “Not my job.”  What’s going on with the library? We’re working on it.  What’s going on with the zoning? There’s a hearing scheduled. Why haven’t you told us anything about the library?  I’m just the solicitor. What do we do at the end of the year? The council has to decide. Mark Hudson, the township manager, hides behind the classic, “I’m new here.  I really don’t know.”  

      Well, who the hell is running this township then?

      During the actual council meeting (now with Banonis and Carocci in attendance) here come the Bethlehem Landfill people to gaslight us on how they’re going to provide all kinds of conservation easements to make everything pretty and safe.  Wonder why those easements would have any more strength than the current ones you’re going to run roughshod over now?  An additional Council meeting needs to be added on December 21 to accommodate advertising, etc. for a public hearing on the zoning changes and text amendments.  It also conveniently puts it only 4 days before Christmas in a pretty blatant attempt to reduce the number of residents who might come and testify.  Keep in mind, there is no time clock ticking on this.  It could have been considered in January or February or March.  But then, more people might have shown up.

      There’s no discussion of the library nor is it on the agenda.

      Then, the following Monday, who should turn up on the Southern Lehigh School Board’s meeting agenda than none other but our own dear solicitor to explain all about what’s going on with LST’s quixotic search for someone to give them some library love.  We heard all about a library-type authority in western PA that was the holy grail of how we should organize all of our library system and how this is what he was proposing for the supporting municipalities and school district of SLPL and LST (of course, Hellertown’s not invited nor is the Saucon Valley School District).  And while the underlying idea is actually an interesting one to consider, its development and implementation would take years, possibly legislative action, and the kind of public education, consensus-building, and communication and collaboration skills that frankly this collection of bozos can’t even begin to understand how to put together.  But at least we know how to get an answer to what’s going on in our township.  Pay our solicitor $220/hour, send him across county lines and let him babble on to a school board that isn’t connected to the school district in our own township.  Perfect.

      December

      At the December 7 meeting, Banonis takes aim again at Hellertown, this time over the yard waste center.  He wants to send a letter to DEP to tell them that LST is no longer a part of the yard waste center and therefore not part of the permit.  Because of that, he wants DEP to cancel the permit.  Of course, he hasn’t bothered to check and see that LST was NEVER a part of the DEP permit.  Treadwell doesn’t know (he should).  And they’re too arrogant to listen to members of the audience who tell them they’re not part of the permit.  I bet DEP laughed themselves silly over that.  

      Next up comes a threat that the zoning officer needs to see if the yard waste center is zoned for that use and if not, send a cease-and-desist order to Hellertown.  Explain to me how, when you’ve been using the land yourself as a yard waste center for a couple of decades(?), you can suddenly claim it’s not a proper land use.  They actually follow through on that moronic plan, creating more good feeling between neighbors just like they’ve been doing all year.

      Then, despite all their best efforts, the December 21 public hearing amazingly draws, by your writer’s count, 139 people.  Of that, between 75 and 80 speak, all except the final one – an engineer for Bethlehem Landfill – in opposition to the zoning changes, the text amendments, the expansion of the landfill, the scheduling of the meeting 4 days before Christmas and sharing the perception that it’s a done deal and nothing they say matters.

      Sure enough, it doesn’t.  The 4-part resolution passes (3-2, deLeon and Yerger-No).  

      If you find Yerger’s “no” vote surprising, don’t.  Keep these facts in mind – she’s up for re-election in November and Banonis knew he had enough votes to pass the resolution without her vote, so she could vote “no” and he still wins.  When she tries to campaign on “I opposed the landfill expansion” in November, remember all the 4-1 votes on the library and the landfill and almost every other issue up until that night.  It was a pure political play.

      At the tail end of the meeting they approve $40,000 more or less to buy and install a two-way live-streaming A-V system to cover future meetings. Of course, it will take 3 months to get it installed. For those keeping track, that will be about 21 months since the Council went back to in-person meetings and was asked to provide some kind of streaming service and 15 months since Saucon Shenanigans started live-streaming meetings as a public service. Good work.

      Then, as the year ends, the PA Office of Commonwealth Libraries confirms what we all knew was going to happen – and what the LST Council had itself requested back in May – that HAL has the right to no longer provide service as a “home library” to LST residents effective 1/1/23.  And with that, we are deprived of a library.  The township provides little to no information on where you might find other library services, at least in part because there are no other places to find library services that include the PA Access program.  That’s because if your township doesn’t identify and support a “home library,” you can’t participate. Simple as that and what we’ve all been explaining since last January.

      Their solution?  It’s the same as their solution to everything – sue.  Waste more of your tax dollars to fix the things that they broke. To date they have spent $63,345.61 on this idiocy, not including charges for December. Plus the $50,000 given, no strings attached, to a library in a different county for services we were already able to access for free. Is that how you wanted your tax dollars spent?

      You can change this. Election Day is November 7. You have the power. Use it.

      Photo by Jill Wellington on Pexels.com

      NEXT COUNCIL MEETING: TUESDAY, JANUARY 3, 6:30 PM. ORGANIZATIONAL MEETING

      As a service to the community, the January 3 Council meeting will be live-streamed on the Saucon Shenanigans Facebook page. Thank you to Laura Ray for her service.

      DAYS TILL WE LOSE LIBRARY SERVICES: 0

      DAYS TILL THE NEXT GENERAL ELECTION: 311

      Destroying Quality of Life in Lower Saucon Township

      I promised a more expansive blog on the landfill expansion issue.  This is it.  It’s long, so I’ve included a table of contents in case there are some parts of it you already know about or don’t care about.

      • Background
      • Current Zoning Change Request
      • Why It’s a Bad Idea
      • Why Now?
      • The “Raising Taxes” Red Herring
      • I Don’t Live Near There.  Why Do I Care?
      • What You Can Do

      Background

      Landfills have lifespans.  They have a certain number of acres that can be legally filled with garbage and then their life is over.  Done.  No more garbage; no more revenue; just ongoing maintenance costs.

      Bethlehem Landfill was reaching that limit.  In 2015 they applied for the Southeastern Expansion.  The expansion was granted in 2017.  It supposedly granted the landfill about 5 more years of life.  In 2020 they applied for the Northeastern Realignment Expansion.  It has not yet been granted but it would supposedly provide an additional 5 or 6 years of life to the landfill.  Both of these were requests for changes in how the land that already made up the landfill could be used, allowing for more dumping.  It wasn’t for new land.

      Apparently Waste Connections, the parent company of Bethlehem Landfill, isn’t about to settle for that solution.  As far back as 2015, a Political Action Committee (PAC) named Responsible Solutions of Pennsylvania1, started sending out flyers in support of Sandra Yerger and Tom Maxfield, Republican candidates who supported landfill expansion.  Notice the coincidence with the 2015 Southeastern Expansion application.  Only Yerger won. Then in 2021, a PAC by exactly the same name which was founded by Andrew Moss, the Northeast Division government affairs manager for Waste Connections, received a donation of $75,000 from Waste Connections2 and began a campaign that supported three more Republicans, Banonis, Carocci and Zavacky, who supported the Northeastern Realignment Expansion of the landfill.  They all won.  Let’s face it.  $75,000 is a big chunk of money to dump into a local race.

      And now, just one year after that election that put a Republican majority on the township council, here comes Waste Connections with a request to double the size of the current landfill and remove various environmental and conservation restrictions.  And the four Republican council members have shown no interest in performing any kind of due diligence as to whether this is a good or bad thing for the township.  What a strange coincidence!

      Current Zoning Change Request

      So what is it that Bethlehem Landfill wants?  They’ve apparently been quietly buying up land adjacent to the current landfill and now have 275+ acres under their control.  The problem is, that land is zoned Rural Agricultural (RA) and you can’t put a landfill on RA land.  So they need to get the RA land rezoned to Light Industrial (LI). Ah, but therein lies another problem.  If you have LI land, you can only put a landfill on it by Special Exception.  To get a special exception granted, you have to jump through all kinds of hoops, including going in front of the Zoning Board to get their blessing.  But if you ask the township council to move a landfill use out of Special Exception and into Conditional Use, then you only need the township council’s approval to go ahead and build your garbage dump.

      Special Exception uses in LI zones include a lot of rather unpleasant uses that need to be tightly controlled such as salvage yard, petroleum & hazardous substance storage, production of chemical products, mineral extraction. And landfill and waste disposal facilities.  The only thing allowed under conditional use is tower-based commercial communication facilities.  Do you really think that landfills require as little oversight as cellphone towers?  I don’t.

      A third requested change is to remove the requirement to undergo the site plan approval process and requirements.  This removes one layer of oversight from the entire process.  Every layer that gets removed leads to more opportunities for inappropriate usages to sneak in.

      The fourth request, and I think this is the sneakiest of them all, is to permit the creation of a Natural Resource Mitigation Alternative.  What this means is that if the landfill wants to build on more property than that which meets the “permitted net buildable site area,” they can do that if they dedicate land in excess of the amount of land that they want to use to the township.  However, it specifically states that “the land proposed for dedication does not need to contain the same environmental resource as those resource protection lands on the subject property.”  In other words, they can dedicate to the township any kind of crappy old land in exchange for cutting down forests and destroying natural habitats.  

      Also in this fourth request is the most egregious of all the requests.  That instead of dedicating other land to the township, they can instead give the township money by means of a “fee-in-lieu of dedication.” Translation:  they can buy off the township to get the extra land they want.

      If you want to read all of this proposed ordinance 2022-02, you can find it all here.  

      Why It’s a Bad Idea

      The answers to this are so obvious that it almost seems insulting to have to outline it but let’s make a list:

      From the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission:

      • “The proposed text amendments do not align with the intent of FutureLV:The Regional Plan to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public.  Landfills and Waste Disposal Facilities are high intensity land uses that pose adverse impacts on the public, and these impacts must be carefully considered and mitigated.”
      • “The addition of a Natural Resources Mitigation Alternative does not align with the intent of  FutureLV to protect high-priority natural lands.”
      • “The areas proposed to be rezoned…are in a Character Defining Area of the Future Land Use Plan, representing the natural and scenic character of the Lehigh Valley, including High Preservation Priority features of the Natural Resources Plan such as woodlands, steep slopes and Natural Heritage Inventory Core Habitats.”

      You can find the complete letter from LVPC here.

      From Representative Bob Freeman:

      • “Releasing the conservation easements completely undermines the original intent of those easements to protect environmentally sensitive areas in the township.”
      • “It should also be noted that the removal of forested areas is a detriment to ground water quality as forested areas act as natural recharge zones for groundwater.”
      • “These 275 acres serve as a buffer area around the landfill, and preserves the wonderful view shed afforded by the forested mountain area that overlooks the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor…”
      • “The Township should be requesting input from contiguous neighboring communities before proceeding with any change that would contradict the [Multi-Municipal Comprehensive P]lan.”
      • “[Applebutter Road] was not built to withstand the heavy trucks that travel to the landfill.”

      You can find the complete letter from Representative Freeman here.

      Here are a few more that any rational person can come up with:

      • When landfills reach their expiration date, you are left with nothing but a mound of useless garbage.  Although landfills will try to tell you that there are good afterlife uses for landfills, there really aren’t.  Roger Bellas of the DEP reports that there are no landfills in the Northeast that currently have after-use proposals.  Remediation is expensive and generally not cost-effective for the landfill company.
      • If you give up the conservation easements on current lands, how will you protect any conservation easements in the future?  It will have set a precedent.
      • Once you cut down trees, you can’t put them back.

      And finally, from the Pennsylvania Constitution:

      PA Constitution Article I, Section 27: 27.

      The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come.

      Why Now?

      Ah yes, good question.  When the township council listed their meeting dates for 2022, the December date was set for December 7.  Then in October along comes this rezoning request from Bethlehem Landfill and all of a sudden, we need to have a hearing in a regularly scheduled meeting so we schedule a meeting for December 21 and put the hearing on that date since apparently they couldn’t get the hearing together by December 7.

      Why the rush?  There’s not one item on that agenda that is time-sensitive or time-critical.  Nothing on that agenda can’t wait until the regular meeting in January or later, including the rezoning hearing.

      However, if you don’t want many people to show up and you don’t want many people to know about it, schedule it the week before Christmas on a date that wasn’t announced at the beginning of the year.  Bonus points if it’s the same night as the high school’s Christmas program (although I doubt they were smart enough to know that).

      Likewise if you don’t want residents to have time to get the word out about what you’re doing, then by all means, cram it in before the end of the year.  

      The “Raising Taxes” Red Herring

      This is my favorite boondoggle. “If we lose the landfill income, we’ll have to raise taxes to make up for it.”

      Pardon my French but – bullshit.

      When I first started paying attention to township matters a number of years ago, I was told that because the landfill was close to capacity, the township was doing everything it could to mitigate that drop in revenue.  And the actions they took seemed to indicate they were taking prudent steps to do that – paying off debt and managing expenses.  Of course, most of the current people weren’t on council back then except for Mrs. deLeon.  By 2019, we were informed that all of the township’s debt had been paid off.  Bravo!  Next step, developing new income streams!

      Oh, hold it.  That’s too much work.  If we just let the landfill expand, we get more money, they get what they want and we don’t have to go to the trouble of figuring out how to find more revenue.  And so we have seen no substantive actions to develop other revenue for the township in the last year or two.  

      But even more concerning is the fact that we keep producing year-end reports that show that we are running a surplus EVERY SINGLE YEAR!  And not by a small amount.  By almost as much as we take in from the landfill.  Consider the following:

      Lower Saucon Township’s primary sources of revenue:

                  Enabling taxes (EIT) – 40%

                  Landfill host fees – 24.9%

                  Real estate taxes – 22.5%

      As you can see, once we paid off our debt, we’ve been running surpluses each year equal to or in excess of the amount of revenue we receive from the landfill.  Which means if the landfill income disappeared tomorrow, we would still have enough revenue to run the township.  With a concerted economic development effort, we’d be doing even better and those sources of revenue might have more longevity – and certainly less odor – than the landfill.

      Perhaps the more pertinent question to ask would be “Why have we been piling up all these surpluses when we could have been reducing taxes instead?”  We sailed through COVID with 29% and 30% excesses when other municipalities were suffering.  

      Perhaps it’s time for us all to demand a reassessment of our properties.

      I Don’t Live Near The Landfill. Why Do I Care?

      Because these are our neighbors, dammit!  Oh, being a good neighbor isn’t enough of an answer?  Try these.

      The bigger the landfill gets, the worse our reputation becomes.  Oh, you know Lower Saucon, that’s the landfill township.  You don’t want to buy a house there.  You can’t be sure what they’ll do.  They don’t abide by any of their agreements, cf. the Library.

      The worse our reputation becomes, the more our property values decline.

      Some of us use the resources that will be destroyed by the landfill expansion, most particularly the D & L Heritage Corridor with all of its beautiful scenery.  Or we kayak on the Lehigh River.  Or we birdwatch along the corridor.  Or we fish in the river.  Or we have to breathe as we drive past the landfill and smell the stench.

      We have children and grandchildren for whom we have a responsibility to protect all of the natural beauty of this area.

      Or maybe you’re just sick of these arrogant bullies destroying our quality of life in Lower Saucon Township. They clearly don’t share the values of most of us who live here.  If they did, they would never entertain this expansion.  And they wouldn’t have lost us our library services. And they wouldn’t have harassed our neighboring borough so much that they cut ties with us.  At what point do we say enough is enough?

      What Can You Do?

      Come to the zoning hearing tomorrow evening, Wednesday, Dec. 21 at 6:30 PM at Town Hall.  Sign up to speak.  Be there by 6 in order to get your name on the list.  Tell them why you oppose this disgusting idea.  If you need some idea of what to say, you could use some of the arguments in the blog.

      Hold Thursday, Dec. 22 in case they decide to extend the hearing at SeWyCo.  No time announced yet.  Come and sign up to speak.  They’re hoping you won’t be bothered.  Prove them wrong.

      Contribute to our GoFundMe  https://gofund.me/b436437f  This is going to be a long battle and we’ll need financial resources to wage it.  They get to use your tax dollars to fight for the landfill.  We need to fight back.

      Tell all your friends and neighbors, not just in Lower Saucon, but also those who care about the environment everywhere.  We need their help.

      Read up on all the issues at our website:  LSTLandfillExpansion.org and our Facebook page:  Fighting Landfill Expansion in Lower Saucon Township.  If you have questions, email us at:  LSTLandfillExpansion@gmail.com

      Watch out for their tricks – be sure to check off on the sign-in sheet that you want to speak.  If you don’t check it off, Banonis will try to prevent you.  Be sure to get there in time to sign up.  They’ve been picking up the sheets at 6:30 so if you come late, you can’t sign in to speak.  Dirty little trick.

      Here’s What We Have

      Here’s What They Want Us to Have

      WHAT DO YOU WANT?

      1https://www.mcall.com/news/local/saucon-valley/mc-lower-saucon-landfill-campaign-102715-20151027-story.html

      2https://wlvr.org/landfill-owner-dumps-75000-into-lower-saucon-township-council-race/#.Y6IgpS-B31x

      All Hands on Deck to Protect Our Open Space

      Dear Readers:

      Later this week I’ll be back with a longer and more detailed blog on what’s happening with the landfill but for right now, I need to get two important dates in front of you.

      Why?  Well, if you’ve heard the news about the attempt to rezone the 275 acres adjacent to the current landfill, then you know why.

      If you haven’t heard that news, here it is in a nutshell.

      Bethlehem Landfill, LLC, is seeking to rezone 275 acres of beautiful rural agricultural land to expand to more than twice its current size, doubling the negative impacts of the landfill.  In the process, they are asking to change the landfill from a Special Exception to a Conditional Use.  What does that mean?  It means that for any future changes, they will no longer have to go through the entire Zoning Hearing Board process.  Instead they can just come to the township council and say, “pretty please,” and if the council agrees, their changes are approved.

      I am, of course, being facetious but not by much.  Remember this is the council that has 3 board members whose political campaigns were supported by the PAC (Political Action Committee) owned by the landfill’s parent company.  Now we all know that a PAC cannot coordinate with a particular campaign (wink-wink, nudge-nudge) but they can show their preference for a particular candidate or slate of candidates which they clearly have done.  

      The December 14 meeting is an opportunity for you to learn a whole lot more about what’s involved in this maneuver to expand the landfill.  We’ll be discussing the history of the property, the history of the landfill, some facts about the landfill (did you know that 60% of the contents of the landfill actually come from OUT OF STATE?), some of the red herrings that are being thrown out by the landfill people, and the value of this preserved land to not just Lower Saucon Township, but Northampton County and the state.

      More importantly, we’ll be talking about what we can do to slow this freight train down and how you can be part of it.

      Most importantly, we need you to come to the December 21 meeting where there will be an actual hearing on the pros and cons of the rezoning.  We need as many people there as possible to both stand up and voice their concerns and to just be a presence in opposition.  It’s very important that all objections get entered into the record at that hearing.  So please, if you can only make one of the meetings, come on the 21st.

      Meanwhile, you can find much more information on all of this at:

      Website:      LSTLandfillExpansion.org

      Facebook page:     Fighting Landfill Expansion in Lower Saucon Township

      We also have a GoFundMe page at www.GoFundMe.com  to begin receiving donations to defray the costs of what might be a lengthy battle.  Please be generous.

      And if you have any questions, you can send them to:  LSTLandfillExpansion@gmail.com

      I’ll be back later this week with more details. In the meantime, see you this Wednesday.

      Would you rather live with this?

      Or this?

      SPEAK UP NOW!

      I’m a bit behind here at Saucon Shenanigans but this can’t wait.  Put this on your calendar and show up on Wednesday!

      Here’s the backstory and, like all things run by this township council, it’s more than a bit sleazy.

      Resident Laura Ray identified many months ago that our township rules provide the opportunity for residents to request a “citizens’ forum or town hall” – 30 minutes of time allotted to residents BEFORE A REGULARLY SCHEDULED COUNCIL MEETING – to address the council members on any issues of concern to the residents.  She repeatedly requested that such a meeting be scheduled.  She sent emails.  She made a request during public comments.  She was ignored.  Completely.

      Finally, after far more of this delay than was acceptable, Banonis announced sometime in the summer that a town hall would be held on Wednesday, November 23, the night before Thanksgiving.  Only one problem.  That wasn’t a regularly scheduled council meeting night.  It was, however, a wildly inconvenient night for anyone to have to show up.  Ms. Ray objected and demanded that the date be changed to abide by the township requirement that it be on a regularly scheduled council meeting night.

      She was told it would have to wait until the new township manager was hired.  Because, you know, it’s too hard for a council to figure out a meeting date all by their little selves.

      Nothing happened.  Mark Hudson started on August 22 but apparently changing a date is such a heavy lift that it wasn’t accomplished until Friday, November 11, at which point it was rescheduled to Wednesday, November 16, at 5:50 PM.  It’s quite clear the purpose was to make it as short notice and inconvenient as possible to reduce attendance.

      Don’t let the clowns get away with it!  Spread the word NOW to everyone you know!  Pack the township meeting hall!

      The rules only require them to provide 30 minutes but “additional time may be designated at the discretion of the Council.”  (don’t hold your breath) The regulations also state that “on a regular basis, time shall be provided for a citizens’ forum or town meeting.”  Maybe we’d better get the next one on the calendar now.

      ALSO COMING UP QUICKLY

      Those lovely landfill people have decided they just can’t function without another 275.7 acres of land AND they need to have the space re-designated from a Special Exception to a Conditional Use in order for it to work.  That’s step one.  Step two is to then re-zone all of those parcels from Rural Agricultural to Light Industrial.  Since they will have already gotten the change from Special Exception to Conditional Use, it will be SO much easier for them to get the change from Rural Agricultural to Light Industrial because the change to a conditional use can be done by the township council and doesn’t have to go through that fussy Zoning Board.  And in order to make it even more helpful, they’ve bundled them all together into one request.

      Luckily for those of us who live in this township and care about its future, there’s one other small stop before they can get what they want which is the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission.  And LVPC doesn’t seem too excited about the landfill plans.  In fact, they think the plans kind of suck.

      There are two meetings about the proposals this week which are accessible via Zoom or in person – Tuesday, November 15 at noon and Thursday, November 17 at 7 PM.  If you have the time, it would be very helpful if you would read the LVPC’s position on the request and attend one or both of the meetings.

      You can find all of the information on the two meetings on the LVPC site here.

      A copy of the LVPC letter is also available on Mrs. DeLeon’s Facebook page. You could probably find some points in there that resonate with your own views as well.

      Here’s the link for the November 15 meeting at noon or via 610-477-5793, Conference ID: 351 407 936#.

      Here’s the link for the November 17 meeting at 7 PM or via 610-477-5793, Conference ID: 793 745 456#.

      And gee, I haven’t even gotten to the latest on the library.

      Next time.  Although if you’re at the regular township meeting on Wednesday, you might want to ask them in the public comment period before the regular council meeting  (don’t waste the time in the citizens’ forum) why they need to budget $160,000 for the library account next year which is $60,000 more than they budgeted this year and balked at, $102,000 more than they actually spent this year, and superfluous considering they’ve been informed they won’t have any library services in 2023 from Hellertown, and Southern Lehigh has suggested they’re not interested either.  That’s a hell of a lot of $40 reimbursements that Carocci’s going to pay for township residents who have to go elsewhere.  

      See You Wednesday at 5:50 PM.

      As Usual, Misplaced Priorities

      The August 17 Lower Saucon Township Council meeting was just another in a long line of meetings where it was abundantly clear that this council has some seriously skewed priorities.

      Let’s start with the fact that there were only three councilpeople there, constituting the minimum number required for a quorum.  Mrs. deLeon and Carocci were both absent.  Since Yerger seldom contributes anything of any value and Inglis was only on his second meeting and apparently not feeling competent to participate, we were instead treated to an entire evening of Banonis monologue, pontificating and opining on any and every agenda item.  Right there you know you’re in for a long evening.  And sure enough, we were there until 8:47 PM.

      Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on Pexels.com

      The bulk of the agenda was housekeeping, just about the only thing this council does with a modicum of competence.  There was a resolution honoring Talitha Diggs for her athletic accomplishments, accepted by her coach since neither she nor her parents could make it.  There was an update on the Meadows Road Bridge replacement, introduction of new police officers, a variety of grants to be applied for and budget transfers to be made and such-like.  A bunch of stuff got tabled until the new township manager shows up, presumably at the next meeting on September 20.

      One interesting item was a presentation by Attorney Chris Spadoni on behalf of township residents Dr. and Mrs. Haller regarding some serious water drainage issues on their property which they believe are the result of work that was incorrectly done on their neighbor’s property back in 2007.  They’re looking for help from the township engineer to investigate if that was the case and whether they can get some relief from it.  This has apparently been an ongoing issue for quite some time.  The township engineer apparently went out to look the problem over but since it’s been dry (duh!) he couldn’t tell much.  This is all very difficult to figure out and it’s not helped much by the word salad that passes for Council minutes these days, but it seemed as if the zoning officer back in 2009 concluded that in fact the original plan was not followed but, oh well, these things happen.  I think the upshot was that the township engineer will go out with the zoning officer when it’s raining and see what’s up.  I have the feeling this is not the last we’ve heard of this.

      Cognitive Dissonance

      One agenda item just dripped with cognitive dissonance.  If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that Banonis and Carocci in particular love to tout how they are SO careful with taxpayers’ money and wouldn’t consider spending it without careful consideration.  Well, this being Interim Manager Peter Marshall’s last meeting, he had lots of parting suggestions for the Township on how they could spend taxpayers’ money.  Remember, this is the same guy who arrived back in March and immediately concluded we needed to buy about $20,000 worth of new furniture for the office.  Having worked closely with the township staff for a mere six months, he concluded that the Director of Public Works was grossly underpaid and that the Finance Director needed a promotion, a new title and a significant salary increase.   This is the same person who had already recommended increasing the incoming manager’s salary by 22% over what had been budgeted.  That was approved when the new guy was hired.  In addition, Marshall recommended that the township also pay for a market study of all the administrative positions at a cost of about $3500, a move that will presumably result in increases in their salaries also.

      Why is this a problem?  The timing just seems a bit off.  For one thing, as resident Laura Ray pointed out in the public comment period before the meeting, budgeting season is coming up shortly.  In fact, the first budget presentation is October 5. Wouldn’t that be the appropriate time to consider raises, promotions and other such stuff to take effect on January 1?  It’s not like we haven’t been doling out all kinds of bonuses during the Covid crisis to almost every breathing employee.  But no, these changes had to happen right now.

      The new township manager also started on August 22.  Shouldn’t it be his responsibility to evaluate the people who will be working for him and determine what the appropriate job titles and salaries should be? What if his evaluation isn’t the same as Marshall’s and now he’s stuck with the new pay grades and job titles?  Oh, but we were assured that he was more than happy to have had Marshall make these recommendations and do this work.  Okay, now I’m more than a little concerned about the independence and self-confidence of the new manager.  Why would he want someone else to do this for him?  And how careful is he going to be about all that taxpayer money he’s in charge of spending.  Of course, he might just be grateful for that 22% salary increase Marshall recommended.

      So thanks for your service, Interim Manager Marshall.  Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

      Relationships with the Neighbors – Hellertown

      Now let’s look at another priority – relationships with the neighbors.  As I explained in my August 17 blog, “LST Council – A Farce in 3 Acts, Act 3: Divorce Settlements”, before the August 17 Council meeting three letters were received from Hellertown Borough, the result of the Borough’s evaluation of whether it was worthwhile to continue a variety of relationships with LST – the pool, the Yard Waste Center and the Saucon Valley Partnership.  Those letters were on the August 17 agenda for discussion.

      Photo by Porapak Apichodilok on Pexels.com

      Banonis just couldn’t help himself in mischaracterizing the relationship with Hellertown vis-á-vis the pool.  In his words, “the Township also subsidizes Hellertown by giving them the difference between non-resident rate and the resident rate for the LST residents that use the pool.”  No, the Township doesn’t subsidize Hellertown.  The Township subsidizes its residents in their use of the Hellertown pool.  Hellertown has every right to charge LST residents the non-resident rate.  They’re non-residents (duh!).  The Township offers the difference so that LST residents can pay the resident rate instead.  But he’s always looking for a way to distort and defame Hellertown and their actions.

      There was some discussion about the Yard Waste Center, mostly around a request from Hellertown for LST to pay half of the shredding fee for this year’s compost.  No discussion about the problems that a lack of access to the Center will create for residents.  And there was exactly ZERO discussion about the dissolution of the Saucon Valley Partnership, the source of a variety of collaborative ventures over the last 18 years. 

      Doesn’t it seem reasonable that there should have been some discussion about the impact that these changes will have on LST residents? Increased pool prices?  Nowhere to take yard waste, including Christmas trees, for composting?  No source for free compost?  The loss of a variety of Hellertown/Lower Saucon events?  Perhaps there could have been some concern about how LST might repair the relationship with Hellertown?  Maybe a thought for how this might disrupt communications between the neighboring municipalities that also share a school district?

      Nope, not a priority.   Not even a concern.  Not a peep. Nothing.  Crickets.  Because they don’t care.

      Relationships with the Neighbors – Southern Lehigh Public Library

      And then of course there’s the library.  Laura Ray raised some interesting points regarding the second $50,000 check that was cut for the Southern Lehigh Public Library and eventually cashed by SLPL.  As she pointed out in the public comments period after the agenda, the purpose for which the first check was approved does not seem to be the purpose for which the second check – which did not have a separate approval – was used.  While the first one was approved to expand library services to SLPL, the second one was provided “with no strings attached” as a thank you for past library services which, I’ll point out, were already available by state library law to LST residents.  So, as an SLPL Board member explained it, “they paid us $50,000 for something we were already required to give them.”

      And on the subject of good neighbors, we are being anything but that to our neighbors at the SLPL.  I attended the SLPL Board of Directors’ meeting on August 16 because after they cashed the LST check, they said they would be evaluating the pros and cons of adding LST to their designated service area and I wanted to hear what they had come up with first-hand.  What was clear to me that night is that we have done them no service by dumping this problem in their lap. They have now had to spend considerable time and energy – as volunteers – evaluating something they didn’t ask for and don’t want.  They weren’t even close at their last board meeting to having any kind of answers because it was taking so much work on top of their own concerns about supporting their library as it currently exists.  

      It’s on the agenda again for tonight’s SLPL meeting.  I’ll be there to hear what they’ve come up with.  Frankly, after LST screwed Hellertown Borough and the Hellertown Area Library and continues to appropriate services for which it has not paid, and after LST forced SLPL into this unwanted discussion and unnecessary work, why would SLPL – or for that matter, any of its supporting municipalities – want to climb in bed with these bozos?  Do Upper Saucon or Lower Milford really think that including LST is going to reduce their own financial responsibility for the library?  Or that LST will even honor whatever commitment it makes?  If you believe that, I have a very nice bridge I’d like to sell you.

      Live-streaming – Or Not

      One more point from the August 17 meeting.  Diane Hollowell once again raised the issue of the lack of township-provided livestreaming or Zoom meetings, something countless other municipalities have had since the start of Covid.  Here’s another issue that was postponed because of a concern (by Banonis and/or Carocci) for not spending taxpayers’ money until the new Township Manager was here and could have a say in it.  Well, he’s here.  Now do something.

      And while you’re at it, fix the amplification that’s currently in the council meeting room.  Watch the livestream from the August 17 meeting and count how many times the audience gets so fed up with not being able to hear what the council members are saying that they actually yell, “Speak up.”  But then, I suspect that’s a feature, not a bug.

      Next Township Council Meeting – Wednesday, September 21, 6:30 PM – Township Hall

      As a service to the community, the meeting will be live-streamed on the Saucon Shenanigans Facebook page.

      LST Council – A Farce in 3 Acts – Act 3

      At its July 5 meeting, Hellertown Borough (HB) Council voted to sever its ties with Lower Saucon Township relative to the Saucon Valley Partnership, the community pool and the compost center, effective December 31, 2022.  Letters to that effect were sent to LST dated July 19, 2022. (see below)

      The 3 unanimous votes came after six months of analysis by the HB Council of the value or lack of same of the collaborations.  This was all a result of the fallout from the disagreements over funding of the Hellertown Area Library (HAL) and the attendant, appallingly arrogant and disrespectful behavior of the Lower Saucon Township (LST) Council.

      Frankly, no one can blame the Hellertown council for these actions.

      On the agenda for the August 17 LST council meeting are the 3 letters from the Borough and the 2 letters sent in response to them by the outgoing Interim Manager Peter Marshall. (see below)

      The first question that pops to mind is:  Since the original letters from the Borough solicitor were directed to Banonis for the Saucon Valley Partnership and to Treadwell for the pool and compost center, why are the letters in response written by an interim manager who is days within leaving his position and has no history in the township whatsoever?  Wouldn’t it be appropriate for Banonis and Treadwell respectively to respond to the letters directed to them or possibly Treadwell could answer all three? Just exactly what standing does Marshall have to write these responses, especially the one regarding the compost center with its rather unsubtle hints of action against Hellertown?  I urge you to read the nonsense Marshall put in that letter regarding the compost center.

      Second, why is there no letter in response to the changes at the pool?  Does the Council not care about those changes?  Are they going to tell us that it doesn’t matter because no one uses a public pool anymore?  (just like no one uses a library)

      To clear up a question that I have often heard about the compost center, it is true that the center is physically located in Lower Saucon Township.  However, the land on which it sits is owned by the Borough of Hellertown.  And, possibly more to the point, the DEP permit to operate the center is held by Hellertown Borough alone.  Lower Saucon is not eligible to have such a permit because the township permits open burning, making it ineligible.  Hellertown does not permit open burning.  Which makes a rather fine point that if LST residents have no access to the compost center, LST can’t create its own unless it rescinds the open burn ordinance.

      As to the pool, for years it has been operating with LST residents able to buy pool passes at the resident rate.  Hellertown keeps track of how many passes are sold at the lower rate and then LST reimburses Hellertown for the difference between the resident and the non-resident costs once a year.  Hellertown has indicated that they will continue to allow LST residents access to the pool, but each LST resident will now have to pay the full non-resident rate either per session or per season.  In effect, LST has now stopped underwriting the cost of the use of the pool by its residents and the full cost will now be borne directly by LST residents.  Will your taxes decrease because the township doesn’t have to pay the difference?  Don’t hold your breath.

      As far as the Saucon Valley Partnership is concerned, it was created in 2004 as a Council of Governments by the Borough of Hellertown, Lower Saucon Township and the Saucon Valley School District.  The County of Northampton was added as an associate member in 2009.  An ad hoc committee of Hellertown and Lower Saucon had been meeting for years before the actual COG was created.

      According to the webpage on the Lower Saucon Township website, “the Partnership will provide an opportunity for the members to foster communication, regional cooperation and joint action on regional issues and problems.  By working together as a group, the partners can build stronger relationships and pursue strategies that improve the efficiency and effectiveness of municipal services to save tax dollars.”

      It has not met since late 2021.

      It’s unfortunate that Hellertown Borough has come to this decision because the purpose of the Saucon Valley Partnership is exactly the direction that municipalities should be going.  The 62 municipalities of the Lehigh Valley are a case study in wasted money and effort as there is so much duplicative cost and programming in so many areas that could be conducted in collaboration.  That’s what the Partnership was designed to alleviate and what it seemed to be fairly successful at.  

      But then we read this from the minutes of the January 19 Lower Saucon Township council meeting. Following a long and exhausting iteration of what later turned out to be significantly skewed and self-serving information about the history of the Township vis-à-vis the Hellertown Library and the Borough, Council President Banonis said this: “They want to take your money and malign this Council and insert politics into yet another fundamental, such as reading and learning. He also hopes that some now recognize and appreciate that treating Lower Saucon like an ATM is done, especially when we’re treated so underhandedly at every turn.”

      Do those sound like the words of someone looking to “foster communication” and “build stronger relationships”?  I don’t think so.  It was at the next Borough council meeting that their council people voted to review all of the borough’s relationships with LST.  Their actions on July 5 are the result of that review.

      What Is a Community?

      At the heart of all the fracture and division that’s been happening in the Saucon Valley since January 2022 is the question of what is a community?  Is a community simply defined by its legal borders?  Is Lower Saucon Township a different community from Hellertown Borough?  Are there walls at the borders?  Do I become a different person when I drive to Hellertown to shop at the Giant? Do we breathe different air?

      What about the children who go to the same school district?  Are they perceived as representing two entirely different communities?  Should the child who resides in one community have different resources available than the one who resides in the other community?  Should they play on different teams or in different bands? What responsibility do we as adults and voters have to provide the best possible environment for the education of the next generations collaboratively?  What responsibility do we have to treat each other as neighbors? 

      What we’ve witnessed in the last 9 months or so is the type of outcome expected of a dysfunctional family. The leadership of LST – with the obvious exception of Mrs. deLeon – has behaved like spoiled brats, unwilling to engage in substantive discussions that acknowledged their commitments to the shared resource that is the Hellertown Library.  Instead, they threw a fit and, when the Borough and the Library refused to cave to their demands, they stomped off in a pout, abandoning all of their responsibilities but still demanding all the services.  It’s a little like your 7-year-old saying “I won’t make my bed but you still have to feed me dinner.”

      Like most families faced with this level of dysfunctionality, the Borough of Hellertown and HAL have reacted the way most psychologists will tell you is rational.  They have taken steps to protect themselves from the dysfunctional family member.  HAL refused LST’s insultingly reduced $50K “donation” because LST would not negotiate an agreement in good faith that would have outlined their responsibilities as a library partner.  Hellertown Borough has withdrawn from these other three collaborations as protection against being stiffed like the library was stiffed.  And let’s point out – Hellertown Borough was also stiffed because they ended up ponying up a $75,000 additional donation from their American Rescue Plan monies to help the library cover its lost revenue.  What confidence can they have in any partnership with LST based on what they just saw happen?

      If at any point in the last 9 months there had been anything even remotely resembling a rational explanation for why LST should abandon HAL and, even more inexplicably, go strong-arming Southern Lehigh Public Library (SLPL) for affiliation, some of this might make sense to those who have watched this insanity.  But there hasn’t been.  There has been precious little communication.  Some of the communication has been demonstrably false.  There has been a steadfast refusal to put discussion of the library situation on the council agenda.  There have apparently been communications and negotiations behind the scenes that have not been shared with the public.  Imagine how surprising it was to attend a Southern Lehigh Public Library board meeting on August 16 and hear that LST had offered a site for a satellite library within the township in its discussions with SLPL.  What???

      It is embarrassing to be a resident of LST these days.  Not only has this council disrupted the library services of its own residents and now their cost of using the pool and their access to the compost center, but they have similarly caused upheaval for HAL, the Borough of Hellertown and the leaders of SLPL who have explicitly stated, more than once, that they are not interested in entertaining a larger service area.  For those outside the township who know what’s going on, we are a laughingstock.  

      And through it all runs an ugly stream of class division.  How else to explain why the township would want to redirect its library services to a library that is within a 3-mile radius of only about 20% of the township and make the other 80% of the township travel a greater distance at greater inconvenience?  I’ll bet if you research the median income for the eastern part of LST vs. the southwestern part, you’ll find a considerable difference. Or not want to continue collaboration with a borough – perhaps because they have a lower median income?  Or insultingly claim that the borough is using the township as “an ATM?”  

      That pretty much tells you where their focus is.

      It’s not on community.

      As a Lower Saucon Township resident, is that what you want your Council members to be doing on your behalf? Is that who we are?

      SVP – Page 1
      SVP – Page 2
      Yard Waste Recycling Center – page 1

      Yard Waste Recycling Center – page 2

      LST Council: A Farce in 3 Acts – Act 2

      The latest development in the ongoing saga of library services for Lower Saucon Township was a public statement released by Bruce Eames, Board President of the Southern Lehigh Public Library (SLPL), following their board meeting on July 19 (see below).  In it, Mr. Eames explains that the library has decided to accept the $50,000 that Lower Saucon has been trying to give them in an attempt to pressure SLPL into making Lower Saucon a part of the SLPL system.  

      A check written in January was eventually voided when SLPL declined to accept it.  It was reissued in May in another attempt to get SLPL to bite.  It has languished in the meantime as various groups that provide financial support for SLPL have tried to pressure them into accepting the check.  Eames particularly mentioned pressure from the Upper Saucon Township Board of Supervisors and Lower Milford Township.  We also know from a recording of a public meeting of the Southern Lehigh School Board that the School Board wanted the library to accept the donation so that they could consider reducing their support for the library by an equivalent amount.

      In his public statement Mr. Eames makes clear that “the Board accepts this donation with serious trepidation.”  He then goes on to outline in detail why they are accepting the donation with misgivings – the fact that it was offered in the midst of the ongoing dispute between LST Council and the Hellertown Library, the fact that they are being pressured into it, and the fact that LST is requesting to become part of the SLPL service area which may or may not be a good thing for SLPL.

      From the perspective of Lower Saucon Township residents, these are all determinations that SLPL has to make on its own. In fact, SLPL would have to invite LST to join their service area.  LST cannot demand to be included.  As Mr. Eames points out in his statement, this is a long and uncertain process, at least in part because it is unprecedented.  The SLPL is studying the pros and cons of the situation.  Certainly the addition of 11,000+ new customers would present significant financial challenges.

      Instead, let’s step back and see where we are as this specifically relates to Lower Saucon Township and what’s being done with our tax dollars, because the situation is so rife with idiocies that it’s hard to make any sense of it.

      1.  The letter from Solicitor Treadwell (see below) expressly states that “the donation is unconditional, and was made in appreciation of the services provided by the Southern Lehigh Library to Township residents over the past 10 years.”  In the words of Mr. Eames, “its [Lower Saucon’s] residents will not benefit from the donation, except to the extent they use the SLPL through the Access Pennsylvania program.”  Translation:  Lower Saucon Township just handed SLPL $50,000 as a contribution for which we receive no additional library services that weren’t already available to us.

      The resolution passed by the Township Council on January 19 says that the $50,000 check is to be issued “so LST residents can have access to the additional library facilities provided by Southern Lehigh Library.”  Except that LST residents already had access to those library facilities through Access Pennsylvania and the check didn’t provide any additional access.  So the $50,000 check presented to SLPL was a contribution and should have been passed as that. It was not.

      The LST budget for 2022 has an account for contributions (#01.400.500).  It specifies which organizations will receive contributions from the Township.  It includes 13 separate organizations for a total of $21,200.  It does not include the SLPL.

      The LST budget for 2022 has an account for library services (#01.456.500).  It is described as: “Under the consolidated library plan that was adopted in 2013, the Township contributes to the Hellertown Area Library for library services for its residents. Included is the amount requested from the library which represents $9.66 per capita of 11,094 residents.”  This is the account out of which the $50,000 check (#78946 dated May 12, 2022) for SLPL was paid.

      If LST Council was going to offer the $50,000 as an “unconditional” donation for which no services were received, then they needed to have passed a new resolution to that effect and made the necessary budget adjustments to pay the $50K out of the Contributions account.

      • Here’s a very helpful map created by John Schubert of a 3-mile radius around each of the libraries – Hellertown and SLPL.  As you can see, a 3-mile radius from SLPL covers only a sliver of the area of Lower Saucon. How can it make any sense to make library access more difficult for what looks to be about 80% of the Township? And why would the 80% of people who live in that part of the Township want their tax dollars to go to SLPL?  Let alone those in the other 20% of the Township who are quite happy with the Hellertown Area Library (HAL).
      • Where is the Office of Commonwealth Libraries and the Governor’s Advisory Council on Library Development in all this?  Out to lunch.  So far their major contribution has been to say that HAL must continue to provide services to LST whether or not they get funding from LST at least until January 1, 2024.  How does that make any sense?  How is that supportive of a library, making them give away services for free?  And don’t they know the word “NO”? Can’t they see that what LST’s council is proposing is not representative of the desires of their constituents?  Just say “no” and we’re done with this nonsense.
      • State Representative Bob Freeman in particular and State Senator Lisa Boscola have been involved in trying to resolve this issue with the OCL.  Where is the person that represents Lower Saucon in all this?  Do you mean Missing-in-Action Milou Mackenzie?  Not a peep from what I can see.  And you won’t find any mention of anything she’s done on the issue in that glossy, taxpayer-paid “newsletter” you get in the mail either.
      • It would be interesting to see if the Southern Lehigh School District has reduced its funding for SLPL now that SLPL has accepted the $50,000 check.  More to come.
      • It’s also a curious coincidence that our newly appointed LST council person is Mark Inglis and a member of the Upper Saucon Township Board of Supervisors that has been putting pressure on SLPL to accept the check is John Inglis.  My understanding is that they are related.  Brothers, perhaps?  If you recall, there was no information on who else applied for that council position or why Inglis was chosen.

      So now we wait. The next SLPL Board meeting is Tuesday, August 16, at 6:30 PM in the library’s meeting room. Mr. Eames indicated in his statement that the library board hoped to have a response to many of their own questions at this meeting.

      LST Council – A Farce in 3 Acts – Act 1

      Now that we’re deep into the dog days of summer there seem to be even more shenanigans than usual going on in the township, some obvious to the residents and some not so obvious.  Since there’s so much to report on, let’s divide it into 3 acts:

      Act 1 – July 22, 2022 – a review of the “special meeting” held on this date at 9:30 AM, moved from the regular date of July 22.

      Act 2 – Library Follies – the latest developments in the ongoing saga of the (non)relationship with the Hellertown Area Library

      Act 3 – Divorce Settlements – the latest fall-out from the inability of the LST Council to work and play well with others.

      As previously reported, the LST Council opted to cancel the regularly scheduled meeting for Wednesday, July 20 at 6:30 PM and instead call a “special meeting” for Friday, July 22 at 9:30 AM.  There were only two items on the agenda – the appointment of a new township manager and a bid award for the Saucon Valley Terrace paving project.

      It was not clear why these two items could not have been handled at the regularly scheduled meeting time since no one bothered to explain why the special meeting was necessary, even though that question was asked by Laura Ray during the public comment period on agenda items.   She was, as usual, ignored.  Carocci had indicated at the June Council meeting that it was unlikely that the manager position would be filled before August, so there was obviously no rush there.  Upon consideration of the paving project bid there was some comment about needing to get the order in for piping before the asphalt plant shuts down production for the winter, so perhaps that was it.  Who knows?

      But before we continue, let’s go back to the very beginning of the meeting.  Perhaps it was the heat outside but, for a council that is known for its rudeness, this meeting exemplified peak rudeness right from the get-go.  Following the call to order, roll call and the introduction of newly appointed council member Mark Inglis (which reminds me, we didn’t see him sworn in), Mrs. deLeon raised a question about the agenda for the special meeting.  She pointed out that Resolution #31-2022, adopted on January 3, 2022, specified an order of business for “all regular and special meetings”.  That order of business included the opening, public comment on agenda items, presentations/hearings, developer items, township business items, miscellaneous business items, council & staff reports, and public comment on non-agenda items.  She questioned why, specifically, council and staff reports were not included on the agenda.

      Solicitor Treadwell responded that it was a special meeting and therefore the president could call the meeting and choose what was on the agenda.  Mrs. deLeon pointed out that this was not what this recently adopted resolution said at all. Treadwell condescendingly replied that it was a “special meeting” and those were different and that the Township Administrative Code overrode whatever that resolution was that was passed in January.

      On the face of it, this is ridiculous.  Why would a solicitor who knew what he was doing allow a township council to adopt a resolution that included an agenda order for “regular and special meetings” that he knew could be overridden by the Council president?  This was not a resolution from years ago.  This was in January.  It clearly states that this is the order of business.

      Not only that, but in reviewing the Township Administrative Code, your blogger discovered that there is no indication AT ALL of what the order of business should be for any regular or special meetings.  Nor does it indicate that the president has the right to set the agenda for a special meeting.  How council meetings are to be conducted is covered in §5-8. F. Meetings.  

      The only reference to a “special meeting” is in §5-8. F. (4) which calls for a special meeting for review of the proposed budget.  There is also reference to a meeting in §5-8. F. (7) to deal with an actual emergency involving clear and present danger to life or property at which ONLY that matter can be discussed. I hardly think the hiring of a manager or the approval of a bid qualifies under that description.

      So where does this claim that Banonis can make up whatever agenda he wants come from?  I hope Solicitor Treadwell will enlighten us because as of right now, it looks like he was just blowing smoke.

      As Mrs. deLeon continued to question Treadwell’s claim, you can hear on the livestream of the meeting at 3:22, Carocci says, “Pledge of Allegiance,” then stands up and starts reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, cutting off Mrs. deLeon. The rest of the Council follows along.  I’ll point out that Carocci has absolutely no authority to run the meeting.  That’s Banonis’ job.  It was simply one of the rudest behaviors I’ve ever seen in a public forum.

      Next we come to the public comment portion on agenda items.  Banonis calls Laura Ray’s name and announces her specific home address. Again, someone seems to have forgotten to tell him that there has been a change to the Sunshine Act that makes the requirement of the public announcement of one’s home address illegal.  While the ruling in Marshall v. Amuso, 2021 WL 53590202 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 17, 2021) deals specifically with requiring attendees of public meetings to state their home address before speaking because of the chilling effect that can have on free speech in violation of the Free Speech Clause of the United States Constitution, I cannot imagine that the announcement of the speaker’s home address by the president of the council does not have exactly the same effect.  Further in the ruling, the Court points out that the speaker equally has the right to refrain from speaking when requested to announce his/her address, but when the president of Council does it arbitrarily, that right has been taken away.

      The Court does hold that it is acceptable to request the speaker’s address on a sign-in sheet but clearly finds the announcement of that address unconstitutional. Perhaps until Banonis refrains from publicly announcing the speaker’s address, residents should leave that space on the form blank.  Or maybe Treadwell could do some research on this.

      Moving On …

      As I mentioned, in the public comment period Laura Ray asked why this special meeting was necessary and got no response.  Following her comments, Mrs. deLeon began to reply to Ms. Ray’s question (at 6:05 on the livestream) but Banonis shut her down with a comment to the effect that this is for “public comment,” not for council.  Carocci chimed in saying, “You can’t do that.”  Excuse me?  A council person now cannot respond to a resident’s question?  Again, on a scale of 1 to 10, that’s an 11 rude, arrogant and wrong.

      Appointment of a New Township Manager

      Next up is the appointment of the new township manager, someone by the name of Mark Hudson.  If you’d like to know more about him, I’m sorry.  You’re out of luck. We were allowed to know that he is currently the township manager of Lower Frederick Township and before that he was in Horsham Township.  And the interim manager we have now thinks he’s really swell and so does Carocci.  But a resumé?  Maybe printed so we could read it?  Forget it.  You get one sentence accompanying the agenda saying the council will appoint him.

      The interim manager, Peter Marshall, did mention that there were 20 applicants for the position of which 6 were qualified.  Three of those came from too far away and relocation costs would have been prohibitive. That left three nearby of which two had extensive manager experience.  Now don’t you feel better?

      Of course there was no mention of what we’ll be paying this person.  They voted to hire him with no public statement of what he would be paid.  After the vote, Mrs. deLeon asked that question and was finally told the salary is $128,000 plus benefits which Treadwell outlined but didn’t put a price tag on.  Mrs. deLeon asked if it wasn’t necessary to approve the salary. No direct reply. Well then, she asked, what is budgeted for his position?  Finance Director Cathy Gorman responded $107,000 which wasn’t correct.  In fact, the 2022 approved and published budget indicates $104,318 is budgeted for that position for this year.  Then since I guess Banonis had just forgotten about that necessity of approving the salary, he moved approval of the salary and benefits package and it passed 5-0.

      Mrs. deLeon questioned whether since that was such a large increase didn’t it require approval of a budget adjustment by council?  The answer to that from Ms. Gorman was yes, but she didn’t have it ready to go so it would have to wait until the next meeting.

      To answer a few of the questions that I know are popping in to your mind:

      • When will he be starting?  No clue.
      • How much of an increase is that over the budgeted amount?  $23,682 or  22.7%
      • Isn’t that a really big increase?  You bet. 
      • Why?  Who knows. 
      • Does he have a lot more experience or education?  Don’t know.  Never saw a resumé.
      • Isn’t that pretty crappy stewardship of the township’s money?  Yup.

      Paving Project Bid Award

      The second item on the agenda, possibly the one that required a “special meeting” but who knows, was the awarding of a bid for the paving of Saucon Valley Terrace.  In order to get the pipe necessary for the project, the order has be placed in a very narrow window.  If the order doesn’t go in soon, the project has to be postponed another year.  Of course it was approved 5-0.  It was nice of Banonis to explain that we’re running a surplus and so this doesn’t cause a problem.

      Does it bother anyone that the surplus we’re running can accommodate a $1,070,793 project at the blink of an eye?

      Gone in 16 Minutes

      So there you have it.  More than $1,200,000 of our tax money spent in less than 16 minutes in front of an audience of about 15 people.  That’s truly transparent government. Luckily, more than 300 residents have viewed it on the livestream video, but of course, they couldn’t say anything.

      Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

      Next Township Council Meeting – Wednesday, August 17, 6:30 PM – Town Hall

      As a service to the community, the meeting will be live-streamed on the Saucon Shenanigans Facebook page.

      DAYS TILL WE LOSE LIBRARY SERVICES: 140

      DAYS TILL THE NEXT LOCAL GENERAL ELECTION: 452