Disease, high water and dwindling reserves confronted the Solebury supervisors at their first “hybrid” meeting on Sept. 9.
Recent COVID hikes have prompted the board to initiate “hybrid” meetings with a quorum of three in-person supervisors and two attending virtually via Zoom, Chair Mark Baum Baicker said.
That arrangement gives the township the flexibility to continue it as normal times return when it could also be used in bad winter weather, he said.
Masks are now required at township meetings, he said, noting Bucks County’s seven-day average of COVID cases keeps growing: six on July 1; 50 on Aug. 1; and 153 on Sept. 1.
In addition to COVID woes, the township was dealt a serious blow by the Sept. 1 remnants of Hurricane Ida.
Baum Baicker said, “Carversville was particularly impacted, as was the Centre Bridge area. A number of residents suffered significant financial losses and the sheer magnitude of what happened was terrifying for many.
“... (W)e owe a ton of thanks to our public works department and police department for their quick and in cases heroic response. The same debt of gratitude is owed to the EMS and fire companies who made water rescues...,” he said.
Police Chief Dominick Bellizzie said at the height of the storm his police cars “couldn’t get through the water. We were just stuck.”
The chief suggested the board consider budgeting for a high-water $50,000 to $60,000 police vehicle in its 2022 budget.
Supervisor Kevin Morrissey said that would be added to the ongoing talks for next year’s budget.
That budget is facing a deluge of hurricane- and wish-list-related expenditures.
Michele Blood, assistant manager, said the township has a $2 million capital reserve fund, built up over several years. Under current conditions and wish lists, that reserve would be cut to $700,000.
“It’s a rainy day fund. That’s what it’s for,” said Supervisor John Francis.
“The reserve fund is not funny money. It’s not extra money,” added Morrissey.
Baum Baicker said, “I’m not sure we have a good handle yet of the cost faced by the township, but whatever it is, it is something that has to be covered by our capital reserves.
“...(W)e had been contemplating some capital projects over the next few years that I classify as highly desirable, but definitely optional. Given the impacts of very recent weather events...we need to be sure we maintain the funds for what needs to be done – along with a sufficient cash reserve – before tackling anything that is optional.”
Added new expenses, Baum Baicker said, include replacement of a tractor-loader and part of an air conditioning system, both damaged in the storm, totaling about $750,000. Also emergency hurricane infrastructure expenses would now “be substantially higher” than those after 2012’s Hurricane Sandy which came in at $850,000.
Baum Baicker offered a glimmer of hope in that Gov. Tom Wolf on Sept. 8 requested more than $100 million in federal emergency funding for the storm, with a portion of that targeted for Bucks County.
“If Solebury Township receives a substantial amount, I could see the possibility of restoring some of the optional projects I mentioned,” he said.
In other business:
~ Doug Brindley, president of the board of trustees of the Free Library of New Hope and Solebury, who reported on the library’s finances, announced the county will place an early voting ballot collection box at the library for the coming election and will have a 24-hour surveillance camera. It will be the fifth in the county, according to Supervisor Francis.
~ The supervisors authorized the 2022 Block Grant Contribution of $500 for each active firefighter or active fire police officer who resides in Solebury and volunteers at the New Hope Eagle, Midway or Point Pleasant fire company.
~ Appointed Thomas Mancini to the township Farm Committee for a term ending Dec. 31, 2022. He replaces Josh Perlsweig, who resigned.