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The Abington Citizens Network
where Abington, PA residents can share ideas and join forces to build a better community

 

The Abington Township 2022 Budget

    Please feel free to send your  information to us and please be sure to contact us about any information you believe to be incorrect 

  WHERE TO FIND THE PROPOSED 2022 BUDGET
https://stories.opengov.com/abingtonpa/published/bO3Q3bhQH   (  or www.abingtonPA.gov/budget  )
Which includes an 856  page pdf  that we finally got them to number .
What used to be a 3-400 page budget has more than doubled - just to confuse. No other reason.
The actual necessary figures are written so tiny you can't read them.
For those of us who need to work with a paper copy, it has been tragic - they have been unwilling to help 


  
NEXT MEETING   12-9-21 
Special Meeting to consider the 22% tax hike &  where they expect to pass this totally unvetted budget with so many problems


   Some of the most concerning things in this budget  :

1) Perhaps the greatest concern comes in the seeing a brand-new employee, Kimberly Hamm, here just a year or two, and with zero experience in zoning, code enforcement, contracting, building, or any related field - put in charge of  something she has NO expertise in and which is a highly technical field that  would take years and years to learn.  You can look her up on Linked-In to see what she has done, and the very short amount of time she was at each job. It is perhaps the most important department of all at this time of so many zoning challenges and with a Manager who wants to  picture density everywhere and then zone to accommodate it. She is ...are you ready for this ....DIRECTOR  of  not just Community Development - a large undertaking in and of itself for someone so new,  but also DIRECTOR of  Zoning, Code Enforcement , Subdivision and Land Development, inspections,  plumbing, electrical, mechanical, accessibility, energy and property maintenance.
     
            First of all the blending of those 2 departments together makes no sense . I believe, again, this is to thwart transparency, put a halt to any continuity, prevent year to year comparisons, and create a kind of chaos that no one can organize well enough to oversee.  This is a department where people's LIVES are at risk when the job is not done right .  Negligence in this departmant affected my family deeply and Abington has a horrible history in just this area. Hundreds (thousands, I'm sure) of lives have been  affected - years of suffering and financial loss, people forced to leave their homes, etc.  So this decision makes no sense and seems extremely irresponsible to me. I have little doubt that someone so new, with little knowledge of what SHOULD be done,  would not be quite easily manipulated by somene more experienced or ....by her boss or by someone who was, perhaps, both of those things.  Every  developer requesting a permit or inspection would understand the nuanes of the many laws far better than she would.   It just doesn't seem right and it defies the statement that Manfredi  made that he would be putting professionals in all the positions and training his staff properly.  Given all the zoning challenges we are facing and a Manager who wants to open up our zoning code to amend it as he sees fit, I can only hope that others of you will speak up about this action.  It also concerned me that right around the time that Kimberly was hired she set up a consulting nonprofit. I think these things are important to know. And to look further into....

2) As mentioned already,  projects that are going to the firms of a Commissioner are also of great concern. I was told that proper procedures would be followed  when it is ready to get underway - but I already have concerns with how Ward 6 Mike Thompson's firm got chosen to consult on the "estimate".  It certainly was not done in public -even though they've had the funds since May and there have been plenty opportunities to do the public vetting. No $3.5 million job should be on any agenda for passage without a proper vetting before the public. This may be Comr Thompson's 4th or 5th project in Abington Township - big ones, too - like the Penn State Academic Building - and before he came I don't recall ever seeing KCBA Architects. Seems he is a favored son. Conflict of interest is the only phrase that comes to mind for me. Please also note he is the head of the Comprehensive Plan Team drawing the little Grey and Dotted Circles around your homes (the Grey circles now replaced by solid blue line circles that are reduced to 1/4 mi - so I doubt there will be a shortage  of jobs for KCBA going forward.

3) The Engineer submitted paperwork for a streambank MS4 -- project--- in a park that doesn't have a stream. That will give you some idea of the level of care that is being taken. He does not have a certification - so we need to send out for all of that work -- I cannot see the cost of it clearly retrieveable.   

4) The Tax Office  is again clear as mud in the budget. It appears the Tax office and Treas.'s office seem to be joined together, whereas the tax office is a separate entity and all their charges should be separate. They should not be co-mingling everything. But again I can't read the version in the tiny print and the digital version is completely uncooperative in seeing things like that, which you should be able to see in a budget.

5) Mr. Manfredi has allowed $150,000 available to him to spend at his discretion - no plan, no limits in sight for things that come up. I would contend that  $150,000 should stay in the fund balance, and if things come up, then they should be taken properly from the fund balance with a proper note about it. Not on the Manager's whim & without public and Commissioner approval . He also has obtained $75,000 for a consultant that basically is to do what we hired him to do ----see that the Township is operating on mission and vision. That clearly is the job of the Township manager. But if he hires someone else to do that it frees him up to work with contractors and other people, which  he prefers to be doing. It's like a $75,000 raise for him.  There is also $50,000 in there for " economic development."  Just like the  $100,000 for the "construction services team " in a prior budget  (that I could READ - might be in this one, too)  a pile of money without a project is nothing more than a slush fund . There may be lots of these in there - but the digital layout prevents you finding them. If any of these fund "finds"  came with specifics, we can't see them -  there is no notation on the line and there is no access to any further documentation. You can't oversee what you can't oversee.
      The new meetings policy also calls for "experts " to be hired to do the work of the committees -- I'm sorry Mr Manfredi - that's exactly what your STAFF is for . If they aren't experts, then please replace them with people who ARE. You hired an ARPA consultant - but that's what your finance team was supposed to do. If they can't read and follow regulations, then they are not a proper finance team. A question I have is where is the funding for these "experts" in this budget. Also hiding? Or did I just miss them because of the timy print.
      In a recent prior year, the money that Mr. Manfredi could spend at his discretion was $450,000 . When I asked about it, I was told it was some kind of contract or bargaining agreement he was expecting -- ( yes that should have been in the fund balance - "restricted"  - not in his "pocket" to use on his whim. )  You cannot believe how hard it was to get ANY information about it in the end  -  but  apparently a great deal of it went for to the Solicitor's office .   That is a lot of $ to have approved for legal fees OUT of the public purview. .... Again, not in the public sunlight. And to this day the specifics have been withheld. I had heard a rumor, unverifiable, that the Solicitor had asked to have fees reimbursed that had been turned down by our prior manager. I was told it would not be legal to reimburse them now. So this is something that should be ferreted out - ----  where the $50K went exactly.
  So this is not how these things are supposed to be done. And Mr. Manfredi has become a master at funding what he wants in this manner, out of the public view.  If there's $50,000 that Mr. Manfredi can use for economic development I'd like to know how that is targeted to be used. Wouldn't you? $50,000 should have an end goal that is on the same line as the amount is listed. In good size print. 

6) The salaries are not arranged by department so the figures are almost useless. They are splayed out all over the place.  Ie: Admin people are under C for clerical, T for Township manager, E for executive assistant----   if you are just looking for one department you'd be all over the alphabet and that they know that that makes it an impossible job.  Those salareies should be posted WITH the department   where the overall is - or the list should be  interactive by department . You can ALSO post a big list
   The salaries are pretty darn important - they are our biggest  expense  ---   Our police salaries deserve a look by all of you, as they appear to be double what surrounding communities ( based on a very tiny survey of nearby towns)  seem to be offering . And our manager is very, very  well-paid for a guy who's not accessible. I'm also concerned that when he arrived he had his own consulting nonprofit. I would like to know how many hours he spends on that-- and does he list the clients he has on his financial  conflict of interest form with the Township?

7) The manager's new  Meeting Rules and Public Policy initiative allows for experts to be hired to supposedly do the business of the committees. We gave Mr. Manfredi a staff of 175 or more to do the business of the committees and he is supposed to be managing those people - hiring people who are competent which if you look at the code enforcement zoning etc. he is not doing -- and then having the commissioners who have the ear of the residents tell the manager what those staff members should be doing. I have not found all the other places where these experts will be hired but there is obviously money stashed in the budget somewhere or out of sight for the experts that will be hired. We don't need experts telling our commissioners what they would like to see. The commissioners were elected to tell the staff what we would like to see. Mr. Manfredi is turning everything on its ear in this Township -- and making it so chaotic that nobody really understands what he's doing, or where he's getting the money from. All those monies are actually more personnel that are hidden from sight in the budget. He hired Ed Micciolo to run public works and do other things when he put the finance director in charge of public works. A lawsuit followed neither the money for the lawsuit nor the money for Ed Micciolo showed up when I did a right to know for Township staff and personnel.  We don't have a certified engineer so engineering needs to go out to get that work done. But where do we see that in the budget. Again,  too tiny to read so who knows if it might be there somewhere but it certainly is not obvious and not under personnel.

8) And yes, you should be concerned about all the naming and renaming  and merging of departments and separation of departments .......   These kinds of shenanigans and tricks in the budget go on and on and on. There are ways of arranging the budget so that it can be read and overseen by both commissioners and residents. But of course there is no will to do that - certainly not with this Manager in charge.  Residents who would like to be part of a project to reccommend better budget practices should contact me : lel@abingtoncitizens.com.  No amount of help is too small to consider.

   What do you want to see ?
      We need people to speak up for what they DO want money spent on

1)  I want to see all projects that are budgeted in this Township vetted properly before the public. There is no way that a $3.5 million project should appear and be passed in a budget when it has never been vetted before the public so that they can see what the need for that project is and so that they can have input as to how the money is spent . They have a RIGHT to comment - but that is being taken away by passing 856 pages in one fell swoop. It is especially the case with a project that seems to have had the proposal worked up by the firm of a Commissioner - and almost makes it look like you are passing his further involvement in the project. That is not the kind of project that you want buried inside and 856 page document. If we need this work done, we will understand that when it is properly presented. The "estimate" kind of takes the thunder out of a fiair bidding process going forward, doesn't it?

2)    I would like to see the website fixed - funds allotted so that it is easy to use and everything can be found quickly and it uses all the space effectively - no more 2 year long covid balls - and no syncopated ads - use  the front page to archve properly all the navigation pathways . No going to 6  different pages to get what you need for a zoom.

3) I would like to see all the trees that are being covered in vines tended to by manpower, not by chemicals, so that the trees don't die and our forests are saved

4) I would like to see the Boy Scout preserve restored after it was taken down to the mud while a public works guy was put in charge of parks

5) I would like to see the phones answered by a real person and every question that a resident has quickly and efficiently answered. 

6)  I would like to see the code enforcement department funded enough to have more than 1 1/2 inspectors and to have all the blighted and trashed areas in this Township cleaned up. Property owners who are not cooperative should be fined, not given special privileges and special circumstances to allow the blight to continue.

7)  What do YOU want ?



  
John Spiegelman wrote a long piece  about how we absolutely need to raise taxes. The only thing he was missing was... all the real reasons and facts behind this tax hike  ...........  https://abingtoncitizens.com/aaISSUES/Budget/WhereTheMoneyGoes.htm


  DISRESPECT  AT EVERY TURN  
Tom Hecker and John Spiegelman have enabled this dangerous disrespect from Manager Richard Manfredi  for 4 years now. It is very nearly a rougue government in my own opinion -- operating under the certainty that no one can interfere with anything that they do. The Manager  and the enabling Commissioners are breaking any rule they care to. They miss document deadlines,  let projects go to meeting after meeting with out getting questions answered for the residents they're supposed to serve , withhold information , say they will answer budget questions but wait a month to do it.
       They and their fellow Commissioner and the Manager are legislating again and again to make  illegal things look legal. Any law they have repeatedly broken or want to break, they simply legislate that they are  only loosely following, and that they have the right to use their discretion in changing the rules whenever it moves them to do so. Naming rights, meeting behavior, our zoning code, the Sunshine law, spot zoning laws. They are all rules for other people.  It is time for eveyone to be concerned.  This budget is the poster child for showing how things are done without public oversight or input.  The budget is being used to get a fast blanket approval on hundreds of projects and line items that have never been brought before the public for their vetting and approval. This is NOT  how projects are supposed to appear and be funded. Manager Manfredi never even held a single solitary workshop on the budget. Unheard of in Abington until he came.And he has had since May to include the public in on the  use of the  generous ARPA funds.

There may be repetition below this line

__________________________________________________

   THE 2022 BUDGET :   GENERAL DISCUSSION   :  A  22 % increase this year is just part 2 of  the 30%  increase by the 2nd year of this Manager's tenure.  Our Manager, Richard Manfredi,   arrived in May  2017 - by May of 2019 he was already planning a 30 % tax hike on Abington residents.  Worried about the reaction, he imposed just 1/3 of it in the 2020 Budget (9.9%) . The other 2/3, he made very  clear,  was coming in 2021. But then the pandemic hit and he was begged not to raise taxes for 2021 because so many were impacted.    In 2020 he covered our $5 Million dollar deficit by borrowing  $5 million from the Fund Balance. He also made dramatic cuts to personnel and programs which we understand netted approx $2.4 million.

      We have  received  $19 million in American Rescue Plan dollars (Covid Relief). The first 9 million came in May 2021 and the 2nd 9 million is due in May 2022. We also have $12 million in the fund balance -- so we are in very good shape. The need for a tax increase should be completely alleviated.  However, Manager Manfredi has chosen to spend  the windfall- again - on wishlist items.  Some of those include building wooded trails and a parking lot directly across the street from Alverthorpe park - which has ..... wooded trails and open trails and many  parking lots. For this, and other things  like it,  your taxes are being raised.  There are some good things in there. Some great things for the kids, for instance.  But again they are unvetted - so we really didn't get a chance to look at the pros and cons

      A change in the assessed values of real estate have been blamed for the need for a tax hike. But in fact right as manager Manfredi arrived in Abington, the tax assessments went to briefly sky high. He arrived in May 2017 and by 2018 we had a $66 million or so increase in our assessments. The minute they began to head just a tiny bit down, in 2019, manager Manfredi was planning a 30% tax hike. 

      You need only ask the residents of Cheltenham what happens to your house values  when your taxes go up .  Those wanting to buy your house can afford less when taxes are high.  And you are aware that we are  not over Covid.  Right ? Many families are still struggling from lost jobs and businesses and inflation is now hitting, too , So I don't understand how we are allowing someone who cannot seem to find someone to answer the phones when we call the Township building,  or to answer your emails, and who spends far too much time with developers creating multiple projects now that are totally against our interest. The PREIT/ Willow Grove Mall project and the 1209 Rydal Rd. project - both offering dense development where residents don't want it - are just 2 small  examples of things a little off - kilter.

      Nonetheless Manager Manfredi has proposed to impose MORE than the other 2/3  in 2022 anyway, And it would be my recommendation to tell him to use the very substantial Covid funds in the best ways possible and to let the tax hike go till later-- because all of us have experienced increases in our assessments and if the county's chooses to reassess the Township will get plenty of fundswhile many families are still struggling from job or business losses due to Covid . (After the 9.9% in 2020 another  2/3 would be 20.1%.... but he is imposing 22% .And that is even on the extra 9.9% he just added. )


A great deal has been made about the fact that property assessments are less than they were before because there have been appeals and some properties, most notably the Willow Grove Mall, have claimed less revenue and one their appeals. The problem is we have not yet found in the budget where those figures are that show the property assessments from last year and the year before and the year before and show where they are this year after all those appeals. How much tax revenue exactly have we lost that $19 million couldn't replace.


 So if we really needed that money that would be one thing ---- but there are 2 problems here

#1  We were just given  $19 million in Covid relief  funds . So there is no way in tarnation that we should need more - That is equivalent to raising taxes  more than 100% . Covid guidelines allow funds to be used to : " Replace lost revenue for eligible state, local, territorial, and Tribal governments to strengthen support for vital public services and help retain jobs " and a whole host of other things ( scroll below)  so the flexibility is incredible.

#2  How is your money being used ?  On things that not only don't improve the lives of the residents here - but actually make them worse .  You decide if this is why you want your taxes raised : 
-- Our County Planner ( yes also paid by us) spent a good deal of time  writing the Ordinance for PREIT  violating our laws and codes in the process. He created something that is opposed by most all in Abington  who understand the math and the consequences. 
--- Our Manager used your taxes to dismantle the functional  parts of the website and make everything harder to find and access.
--- He used your funds  to repeatedly  revamp the Public  Comment Rules that reduced your speaking rights further each time.
---  He used the money we gave him to pay  for lawsuits of his own making-   like installing the  Finance Director as head of Public Works and putting  a Code Director  in the Refuse department and then having to hire "consultants" because a Finance Manager knows nothing about Public Works, even if you appoint him "Director" and put the words on a plaque on  his desk.  They both sued  as did others.
--  He used your money to shufflle and reshuffle all the  departments, department names,  employee positions and even the names of Committees ...... as though if you take the same people and now call it Land Use instead of Code Enforcement and Land Development  you will get a better outcome. But you will have more trouble following hte finances year to year.
---- He is spending gobs of time and money designed to keep you out of your government, create confusion, lack of continuity, constant flux and general chaos, which are some of the greatest ways to thwart transparency that you can imagine. And you are giving him your money to  do it . 
---- As the disgruntled  employees began to get the word out, he used your $ to write a new  rule for them about "gossipping - so they would be in fear of losing their jobs if they were the source of others finding out that all this was going on.  

Are the things above how you want your money spent?

     Every former budget before this Manager came was  superior to those he has produced.  I have them. I could show them to you. I compared them carefully year to year to find noteworthy changes  and the explanations.  We were working for more transparency - not less.  We got far, far less since his arrival and this year I think it is fair to say that we have reached crisis level .  A manager who just got a windfall of  $19 million dollars  wants to still tax you 22 % more to get another 3 million. That is simply nonsense.  Clearly NONE of the things on his list is an emergency that we didn't already have funds to do.
 
Richard Manfredi  has taken us to the Dark Ages....and is spending your money to make sure that you can't follow how the money is being spent.

No Workshops - not a single one
Not an ounce of public input in the creation of the  proposed budget -only from the manager and commissioners
All decisions about the ARPA funds done without any proper public input whatsoever
Documents withheld completely until AFTER the first presentation - removing  speaking opportunity
First  presentation so late in the year - too little time for questions / answers and changes to document.
Inadequate question and time allotted when it was finally presented and residents had documents
Teeny, tiny print on major budget charts and important  finance figures - unreadable . Unable to work with sthers
Dark backgrounds on charts and narration passages are unreadable in print  (and suck up your ink needlessly)
No properly navigable pdf  available to be printed -  and it took work to get it numbered
 $8 million of the first $9 million was already planned out without any public comment or input
If Commissioners all had a say then they are acting as a quorum in a way that improperly excludes the public. 
ARPA fund should have been used to avoid taxes
Wasted funds to build trails and parking lot across the street from trails and parking lots while imposing a 22 % increase 


  Here are the guidelines for the ARPA (Covid) $:

ARPA stans for American Rescure Plan Act
Support urgent COVID-19 response efforts to continue to decrease spread of the virus and bring the pandemic under control

Replace lost revenue for eligible state, local, territorial, and Tribal governments to strengthen support for vital public services and help retain jobs
Support immediate economic stabilization for households and businesses
Address systemic public health and economic challenges that have contributed to the inequal impact of the pandemic
The Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds provide substantial flexibility for each government to meet local needs—including support for households, small businesses, impacted industries, essential workers, and the communities hardest hit by the crisis. These funds can also be used to make necessary investments in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure.

CHRONOLOGICALLY

  1st  MEETING  10-28-21  A special Budget meeting - Residents had no documents making hte meeting useless and preventing any informed comments. The manager  said he would answer all questions -  he soon showed that was not true - as was the case the year before and before that and before that .  Did not get the  documents until  10-29-21, so the Board is expected to change NOTHING  significant at all, no matter what the public says, because if they don't vote  to advertize it Nov 10, then it won't have time to have its HEARING.... you know ...  right at the holiday.... and pass in time for next year.  This is how Manager Manfredi keeps the public almost completely OUT of the business he would like to transact by himself without our annoying interference.  The residents had ZERO input on making his list of 8 million dollars woth

2nd  MEETING  11-10-21 AT THE BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS MEETING   Yes, of course, we knew they were going to  to pass it forward to the hearing Dec 9th - But they way they listed it it looked like it was to be a separate budget workshop that night and that there would be ample time to address budget issues. It actually had its own listing on the calendar page - just as PennState was also on the agenda but had its own listing as well - And they held a separate hearing for PSU . Even the chair of the meeting John Spiegelman couldn't figure out where someone was supposed to speak about budget matters. But they did not hold a budget workshop.  And when they found out that my time to speak had been lost because I had expected to speak when the workshop started, they still did not allow even 3 minutes. They actually simply had it as an individual agenda item with 11 items altogether that they were allotting 3 minutes to speak on. So 16 seconds is all they allotted to speak on an 856 page budget. Even if you gave up all your rights to speak on any other matter, you still would only have 3 minutes. Sunshine Law  says that is not an appropriate amount of time for a budget

 Although this will be the first time the public has to speak since they saw the documents on 10-29-21, the Board is expected to change NOTHING  significant at all, no matter what the public says, because if they don't vote  to advertize it Nov 10, then it won't have time to have its HEARING right at the holiday, and pass in time for next year.  This is how Manager Manfredi keeps the public almost completely OUT of the business he would like to transact by himself without our annoying interference.  That's why this president of the board should be stepping down. The public cannot have officials that they elect that do not operate in their interest.  So yes, of course, they proved it for the hearing December 9 and did not approve a single day for a workshop. Abington residents should be outraged but they have made everything complicated enough that very few understand what's being done. When they do inquire they are lied to and that makes things difficult, too.

    Please feel free to send your  information to us  and please be sure to  tell us about any information you believe to be incorrect - just contact us  

 

 


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Knowledge is power. Stay informed to help shape your community and make a difference.

Abington Township, with John Spiegelman in charge, revamped the entire Township website at the end of 2015 and broke all the links to the information we had archived on this site for you.   In 2017, Manager Richard Manfredi arrived and assigned someone not qualified to redo the entire website again. They not only broke all archived links we had reinstated, but made everything as impossible to find as they could. Nearly all of our comments and recommedations to fix the Township website have been wholly ignored.

So we do need volunteers to work together helping the Township create a site that is functional and accessible.  We will be reinstating links as we find them....if the data is still available. So... please let us know if you find a broken link. Send us the URL of the link  and the name of the page it is on, and if we can, we'll reinstate it.
Thanks for the help.

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