Article By: Bernie O’Hare Special to the Bethlehem Press
Back in January, Bethlehem Township Commissioners were poised for a referendum about the township’s continued participation in Bethlehem Area Public Library. President Mike Hudak complained that only a small percentage of residents use it, but the annual fee is $17.25 per capita. But the Library Law makes it virtually impossible to ask voters directly whether they want to remain. So lawmakers have come up with another way to gauge public opinion - a survey.
At their Aug. 7 meeting, commissioners voted 4-0 (Malissa Davis was absent) to enter into a $14,265 agreement with National Citizen Survey for a public opinion poll. Manager Melissa Shafer advised that a questionnaire, sent to 1,500 people, will register sentiments concerning the library and other issues.
BAPL is financed by Bethlehem, Bethlehem Township, Hanover Township and Fountain Hill Borough. Bethlehem Township has 9,749 cardholders, including 528 new cardholders in 2015. That translates to 41 percent of the township’s population. In addition to the annual per capita assessment of municipalities, the library benefits from nearly $215,000 in donations and grants each year.
Though the township failed to budget for this survey, Shafer said she could use unspent money in the Planning Department.
There’s no need to survey public opinion about all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). In recent years, there’s been a rash of complaints about the noise and dust they cause. So commissioners voted 4-0 to ban their use between dusk and dawn. They must also stay at least 100 feet away from the property line of any adjacent owner.
ATVs include snowmobiles, motor driven vehicles having two or more wheels (commonly known as trail bikes), dirt bikes, mini bikes, and all other vehicles (licensed and unlicensed) commonly used for off-road purposes. ATVs used for emergencies, residential gardening, property maintenance, or agricultural purposes are exempt.
According to HG, a legal information site, 135,000 people are injured every year in ATV accidents. Over 700 are killed every year, and a third of them are under 16.
In other business, commissioners authorized an appeal to the Township’s own Code Appeals Board concerning the stringent requirements for a controversial public restroom near the athletic fields, called the North 40. The most recent cost estimates for this, according to Mike Hudak, are $460,000-$495,000.
According to the Uniform Construction Code, the township would be required to install six women’s toilets; four men’s toilets and a separate, “family assisted use” restroom. Shafer is proposing that four family rest rooms should suffice.
Hudak suggested tabling this appeal because he had just become aware of an opportunity to purchase trailers at a cost of between $30,000-60,000. Though Tom Nolan agreed that the trailer option should be pursued, he recommended that the Board pursue the appeal as well. The board voted 3-1 to do so,with Hudak dissenting.
Howard Kutzler, who was appointed on July 31, was sworn in by Judge Jennifer Sletvold just as the meeting started. His appointment expires at the end of the year. The township’s newest commissioner, its former planner and manager, needed and got no time to get used to the job. He began his first meeting by questioning an unbudgeted purchase order..
On the agenda were three major purchase orders totaling $95,672. Two of these orders - one for the outdoor pool and another for line painting - were already a part of the budget. But the third - $46,642.90 to purchase two small leaf trucks - was not. Kutzler forced a separate vote on that item, and it failed.
As a final matter, commissioners considered a proposal to give volunteer firefighters a tax credit, either from real estate taxes or Earned Income Tax., at the suggestion of Nolan. This is pursuant to a recent state law authorizing municipalities to provide a tax credit of up to 20% to active volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians.
“Our volunteer firefighters are out daily, said Kutzler. “We’re blessed in this community.” But Kutzler and Hudak both said they need time to study the proposal.