Tabernacle Tables Ordinance It Blindly Advanced

Gross Vehicle Weight Ordinance. At the March 25, 2019 meeting, the township committee tabled ordinance 2019-1, which would have increased the Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) of vehicles allowed to be parked in residential zones from 12,500 pounds to 17,500 pounds. The motion to table occurred after residents, during the public hearing, provided relevant information on larger-sized vehicles. Prior to these comments, no committee member had asked any questions about the proposed increase since it was first raised on February 11.

The discussion of GVW began at the February 11, 2019 “workshop” meeting. Workshop meetings are one of Mayor Barton’s initiatives. They’re supposed to allow more discussion prior to the introduction of new policy. But this committee avoids discussion and deliberation.

At the workshop meeting, Zoning Official Tom Boyd reported that a dispute regarding the size of trucks allowed in a residential zone had been brought to his attention. His proposed solution was to have the committee amend the existing ordinance to allow heavier trucks in residential zones. He and Administrator Doug Cramer suggested an increase of GVW from 12,500 pounds to 17,500 pounds.

No committee member asked what the dispute was about. No one asked if this was a widespread problem in Tabernacle. No one asked probing questions about what kind of trucks would be allowed in residential zones if the weight limit was increased to 17,500 pounds. No one suggested that the problem should be solved by enforcing the existing ordinance instead of amending it.

Instead, the committee accepted Doug Cramer’s statement that a Ford 450 was a typical vehicle in the 17,500 pound class and directed Peter Lange to draft an amendment that would be presented at first reading on February 25. The vote was 3-0 (Mr. Yates and Mr. Lee were absent).

Our committee typically regards first reading as a formality that has to be endured. It’s usually nothing more than the legally required first step to the second reading, where they have to hold a public hearing and can then vote on the ordinance. The committee rarely, if ever, uses first reading to explore an issue in depth; and they didn’t do so on Ordinance 2019-1.

The first reading of Ordinance 2019-1 proceeded in the usual way. There was no presentation by Mr. Boyd or Mr. Cramer about the problem that the proposed ordinance was designed to solve or what the effects would be if the permitted GVW was increased to 17,500 pounds. Committee members didn’t ask any questions. There was no discussion. It was obvious that committee members hadn’t thought about the GVW since the February 11 workshop meeting. They adopted the ordinance at first reading by a 4-0 vote (Mr. Yates was absent).

On March 25, Mayor Barton began the second reading as he handled the first. There was no presentation or discussion. Mr. Boyd, whose comments at the workshop started the amendment process, hadn’t been asked to attend. Mr. Cramer, Mr. Boyd’s supervisor, wasn’t prepared to answer questions in Mr. Boyd’s absence. No committee member thought that the public would benefit from understanding why the GVW was being increased from 12,500 pounds to 17,500 pounds.

Instead of discussing the ordinance, Mayor Barton immediately opened the public hearing on Ordinance 2019-1. Township residents Lyle Manheimer and Michael Ruggiano, among others, raised the questions that the committee and its staff should have addressed at the earlier meetings and at the beginning of second reading.

Mr. Manheimer started with an easy question, which committee members could have gracefully used to get the information that they hadn’t bothered getting in the prior two and one-half months.

Does everyone understand what the GVR, gross registered weight means?

Mayor Barton took this as a question about the meaning of the acronym “GVW,” rather than a question asking about the purpose and impact of the proposed weight change.

I do. But if you want to explain it to everyone [else] you’re welcome to.

Mr. Ruggiano then explained that GVW is a combination of the vehicle curb weight plus the rated payload. He then presented Ford publications that showed all of the different configurations that can be made of its F250 through F550 chassis, and which configurations would have a GVW of 17,500 pounds or less. He showed that a GVW of 17,500 pounds included 16-foot vans, stake body trucks, dump trucks and other large vehicles. Many of these could be diesel powered and could have the required back-up alarms. They would be, in his opinion, inconsistent with close residential living.

The committee was wholly unprepared for this information. It had no real choice except to table Ordinance 2019-1.

Committeeman Lee, who said he was well aware how trucks could be modified, led the retreat.

I’d like to know more how we got here than anything else, before I make a decision about what we’re going to do. So I’d like to understand where this came from other than Tom’s [Mr. Boyd] analysis regarding the size.

The answer to Mr. Lee’s question is easy. The committee got to this point because it didn’t do it’s job of evaluating the issue. At the February 11 meeting, it didn’t question Mr. Boyd or Mr. Cramer about the dispute, why the GVW should be increased and what effects that would have. At the February 25 meeting, the committee didn’t do any work at all. There was zero discussion. The committee, including Mr. Lee, just rubber-stamped the approval of the ordinance at first reading by a 4-0 vote. (Mr. Yates was absent.)

Committee members didn’t think about large trucks in residential neighborhoods until Mr. Manheimer and Mr. Ruggiano spoke at the public hearing on March 25.

Committee members Moore, Brown and Yates reiterated Mr. Lee’s comment and began to mention the larger problems of conducting business and parking larger vehicles in residential areas. This is the discussion that should happen before an ordinance gets to the final stage of enactment.

BUDGET. Budget discussions usually revolve around belt-tightening and doing more with less. These ideas apply to Tabernacle’s 2019 budget. But there were other comments that point to larger problems.

As Stuart Brooks commented, belt tightening is only one way to balance a budget. Increasing revenues is another. This committee, when it negotiated the recent contract with the Tabernacle Rescue Squad, didn’t even discuss payment of any revenues from the insurance billings. That’s about $275,000, which is roughly equivalent to all of the 3.8 cent proposed tax increase. Other townships receive revenue from insurance billings, but not Tabernacle.

In addition, Tabernacle has increased the TRS’s line item from $12,000 in 2018 to $28,000 in 2019.

As Kathy Burger pointed out, Tabernacle’s budget still includes salaries and wages for “Public Safety Functions.” Last December, the committee accepted the resignation of its public safety director, Arch Liston, and has said repeatedly that it has no plans to fill the position. Why does this line item even exist? Instead, salaries and wages are proposed to increase from $10,000 to $12,000.

CFO Rodney Haines advised the committee that Tabernacle’s indebtedness (its bond load) is so large that the repayment costs will require annual municipal tax increases of about 3.8 cents each year for the next decade.

Despite Mr. Haines’s warning, the committee increased its road improvement bond to repave roads that aren’t even listed on the township’s road improvements master plan.

This list was prepared by Mr. Cramer after I pointed out that Tabernacle was re-paving roads that were in good shape, but happened to be where “important, well-connected” members of the community lived.

Mr. Barton responded that road improvements should be done on a systematic evaluation of the roadway conditions. A road improvement plan was then prepared. So why did the committee unanimously vote to repave roads that aren’t on that list, especially when our bonding limit is already high?

Similarly, the committee is still proposing a large capital improvement plan in 2019. Maybe it’s time for belt-tightening on bonding to reduce Tabernacle’s future debt service expenses?

The 2019 budget currently proposes a $15,000 reduction in expenditures for aid to the volunteer fire company from $90,000 in 2018 to $75,000 in 2019. But at the March 25 meeting, additional budget information from the Tabernacle Fire Company was delivered to township committee members. I expect this $75,000 line item will be increased.

The timing of these last minute changes is a problem. State law requires all townships to introduce their budgets and submit them to the Department of Community Affairs by March 29, 2019. Township Administrator Doug Cramer should have had all of the fire company’s budget information months before the March 25 meeting.

The responsibility for providing timely information to the committee lies with Township Administrator Doug Cramer. If the fire company delayed in providing him with its budget, Mr. Cramer should have reported that to the committee early enough for the fire company to get its budget to the committee for review and a timely introduction.

The budget process recurs every year. The process should be routine by now. But it isn’t.

The budget will be discussed at the Monday, April 8 meeting at 7:30PM at town hall.