Two seats on the five-member Newtown Township Board of Supervisors are up for election on Nov. 5. Incumbent Mike Gallagher and Kyle Davis are running on the Republican ticket; Jen Dix and Judy Norkin are running as Democrats.
To help you get to know the candidates we’ve asked them a series of questions about local issues and, leading up to the election, will publish their answers. (Answers have not been edited and appear as submitted by the candidates.)
The first question we posed to the candidates is:
New development projects have stalled because of a lack of local sewer capacity. With the proposal to reopen the old sewer plant now off the table, what suggestions do you have to deal with the lack of sewer capacity?
Jen Dix, Democrat
Bio: Dix, a 20-year resident of Newtown Township, is a consulting actuary in the health insurance industry who served on the Township’s Financial Planning Committee in 2006-2007. She is married with two children and serves as the treasurer of a large local church. She has a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Messiah College.
Answer: The sewer capacity limitation is a regional problem, which must be solved regionally and with the cooperation of local sewer authorities in multiple municipalities, the County sewer authority, the state regulatory body and local and county government. An initial step in developing an effective solution to the problem will be to meet with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the local sewer authority to explore short term options, such as a capacity exchange, to provide temporary relief for currently approved development plans. All new development plans requiring a new sewer connection should be denied until the moratorium is lifted by the DEP. This action will help facilitate an expedited solution.
Municipalities are required to update the Act 537 plan every 10 years. The last update to the Newtown Township Act 537 Plan was in 1993. The Township’s Board of Supervisors has known of this need for years and it is still a long way from completion. It is a disservice to the Newtown community that our Township has not acted sooner to complete this plan.
The Newtown Township Board of Supervisors needs to actively address this issue. The Township should demand the Bucks County Sewer Authority upgrade its Neshaminy pumping station capacity and fix the problem of infiltration of huge amounts of rainwater in parts of their system outside the Newtown area. The solution is NOT a new or refurbished treatment facility in Newtown Township as proposed by our local sewer authority. They have failed to provide facts about the facility to demonstrate how any benefits could outweigh huge negative impacts. Our local sewer authority has also been arrogant and disrespectful towards residents concerned about the proposed facility.
Unfortunately, the Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority (BCWSA) has not demonstrated in the past the ability to adequately deal with these problems without a catalyst. The local municipalities and sewer authorities must be that catalyst. Newtown retains a significant advantage by having local control of our sewage authority. It is wrong to turn over that control to the BCWSA as some Supervisors suggested in 2010.
The BCWSA is at the center of a failed countywide system resulting in the moratorium. As long as Newtown Township and Newtown Borough retain control of the Newtown Sewer Authority, we can minimize any adverse impact on our residents, if we have Supervisors willing to make it a priority. Our current Chairman, Mike Gallagher, has not done so.
Judy Norkin and I feel strongly that strategic planning has to be done at all levels. Elected officials have a responsibility to look at these needs and plan so businesses and citizens have adequate resources to live their daily lives and our community can prosper. Judy and I understand this and will make it a top priority to solve the sewage crisis and address the shortfalls in other areas of strategic planning.
Judy Norkin, Democrat
Bio: Norkin is a 16-year resident of Newtown Township and lives in Cliveden Estates with her husband and two children. She is a former member of the Newtown Township Traffic Committee. Norkin has been a board member of the Cliveden Homeowners’ Association for more than 10 years. She works as a freelance writer and editor and is studying for her masters in Community and Regional Planning at Temple University. She earned her undergraduate degree in psychology from New York University.
Answer: First, not all projects are stalled. Those projects that have already been granted sewer permits can move forward and those that are only replacing one wastewater outlet with another can also be built. Second, while it is true that the Newtown Township Board of Supervisors voted to exclude a new sewer plant from the Act 537 Plan, I would not say this guarantees that a new sewer plant is “off the table.”
Having said that, I think reopening the old sewage treatment plant in Newtown Township is the wrong approach. To start with, a $68 million investment in new technology would be required to make that plant functional. In addition, this location is now surrounded by residential communities like Crown Pointe and organizations such as George School, which would be adversely affected by the presence of such a facility. The health of all residents could be at stake if there is any leakage or normal airborne sludge particulates. Also the proposed facility is in the Neshaminy Creek floodplain and a natural disaster like Superstorm Sandy could be devastating to downstream communities.
In my opinion this problem needs to be addressed at a regional level. Newtown Township is one of several towns affected by this moratorium. Because this is a multi-jurisdictional issue, as supervisors Jen and I will push for all the parties involved to sit down and develop a comprehensive strategy for reaching acceptable solutions. We will insist on hiring the best experts to examine all parts of the Newtown and County systems and make informed recommendations and we will insist on following these recommendations in an expedited manner.
All of us are affected by the sewer moratorium, which has impacts on development, jobs, the environment, and economic growth. Jen and I think political calculations and personality conflicts should not stand in the way of something so basic to our community as a safe, efficient, and well-functioning wastewater and sewage system.
Mike Gallagher, Republican (incumbent)
Bio: Gallagher is a small businessman and software engineer with an undergraduate degree from DeSales University. He is currently chairman of the Newtown Board of Supervisors. He has served on the board since 2008.
Answer: Newtown has experienced a real boom in business development lately - this summer seemed like the summer of ribbon cuttings. That is in no small part due to the business friendly environment we’ve generated in our efforts to eliminate eyesores like the old ACME building, boost the local economy, and help create jobs because we all know that a strong business community keeps taxes low for our residents.
The combination of that success and outside forces—like the development of the Parx Casino and its massive demand for water and sewer—have created a serious issue we’re working to solve in the most responsible way for responsible growth and the quality of life our residents enjoy. We will need a multifaceted approach to find the appropriate solutions. Fortunately we recently received a letter from DEP that 200,000 gallons or more of capacity could be opened up soon. That would be enough to help the businesses trying to open in Newtown, including the development of the old ACME property on Sycamore Street.
Furthermore, Newtown Township is working on the Act 537 plan update, the process through which we identify our alternatives for future sewer planning, and I am staying vigilant in contacting county and state officials, reminding them of the crisis that we face while we all attempt to solve this problem together.
Kyle Davis, Republican
Bio: Davis is a software engineer who currently serves on the township Technology Committee. He is the vice chairman of Greater Newtown Republican Club. Davis is a Council Rock graduate and former Army reservist.
Answer: I am proud to be part of the leadership team that has helped to bring business development back to our community for the positive benefits it has for all residents, including helping reduce the tax burden on homeowners, cleaning up blighted properties and more.
While our sewer capacity could handle this growth, it is actually the pressure of outside development—particularly the Parx Casino—that has pushed us to capacity. Sadly, our community had no say in the casino's development, but we are bridled with dealing with its demand for water and sewer services.
There is no magic bullet to solving the issue; it will require a multi-pronged approach that includes some reinvestment of the additional revenues caused by our success in luring new business to Newtown, working with Parx to try to develop a private-public partnership and more. Thankfully, the state Department of Environmental Protection has notified the township that significant new capacity will be authorized and on-line soon, helping to meet our demands while a long-term solution is reached.
In the next part of this series, we'll discuss township finances and taxes with the candidates.