The newly reorganized Rice Township Board of Supervisors held their first meeting of the new year on Monday January 6, 2014 at 7:22 p. m. Chairman Marcia Thomas said that she did not know that previous monthly meetings were recorded, archived and put on the website. She believes the recorded meetings were only for minute preparation. Rice Township grounds are under interior and exterior surveillance cameras. Thomas said she would no longer include this information in the minutes.
Recycling attendant Curt Hardiman said that residents have been asking about dropping off cardboard. Thomas said the township would look into offering that option.
Thomas said that in the future she wanted Sewerage Enforcement, Mountaintop Area Joint Sanitary Authority, Planning Commission, and Zoning Officer representatives to attend the monthly meeting to give their reports. There was only one item on the Zoning Officer Report for December 2013: 1 Road Cut, total $400.
Police Chief Bob Franks presented his annual 2013 Police Department Report: 3124 Incidents, 1525 Complaints, 46 accidents, and 283 assists. The Rice Police issued 110 Traffic Citations, 19 Non-Traffic, 2 Parking, 24 Warnings, 26 Arrests, and executed 9 Warrants. The five-man police force worked 9,599 hours, used 3014 gallons of gas and logged 47,966 miles.
Chairman Thomas told Franks “We owe a tremendous amount of gratitude in this township to Police Chief Bob Franks.”
The Secretary-Treasurer’s report showed a total of $276,690.24 in all township accounts: General Fund $217,405.35, Liquid Fuels $44,677.49, and Recreation $14,607.40. The total was $24,771 less than the 2012 ending balance of $301,461.69. Deposits increased by 143% year over year to $1,146,057. Expenses increased $150% to $808,822.
The road department was commended for their excellent attention to township roads, which are always maintained far superior to the county/state roads. The board will inquire with PennDot to upgrade winter maintenance of Nuangola and Church Roads.
With the 2013 Rice Township audit initiated and completed in one day and paid for 2 weeks before the end of the year, Thomas suggested that the elected auditors look over the audit and investigate the excessive legal fees that were paid out in 2013. The 2013 Rice Township legal bills Totaled $54,062. The budget for legal services in 2013 was $8,000.
Thomas also asked that the Rice Township local elected auditors take a look at the assets of the former Rice Township Fire Company. A petition was filed by the Pennsylvania State Attorney General’s Office on November 20, 2013 to dissolve and distribute the fire company’s assets. Thomas said many residents have made contributions. The buildings themselves belong to the people.
Thomas would also like to ask the solicitor to take an active role in finding out what precipitated this filing. Thomas said she knew nothing about the Attorney General’s office being informed in July by Miller Stella that Rice had decertified the fire company and she knew nothing about a petition being filed by Luzerne County regarding this. “You and George knew. Don knew. I knew nothing about it and frankly there were a lot of itemized bills presented from our attorneys, conferences, and research. Stella tried to pass the responsibility for informing Thomas on to former solicitor William Higgs. “A lot of the expenses incurred here were for two members of the board. That has to stop. I want to rebuild the public trust. I want to make a motion that the auditors look into the fire company’s finances and the legal bills,” stressed Thomas. The board was unanimous on accepting Thomas’ motion.
Thomas made a motion to hire John Varaly Associates planning consultant to complete the Comprehensive Plan, which was initiated 10 years ago and not addressed in the past 3 years. Mark Taney made the motion after Miller Stella refused. Thomas said she would get an estimate for the work pending receipt of Varaly’s fee and vote to hire him at the next meeting.
Richard Evans asked that monthly financial reports be presented with comparisons of actual versus budget or actual versus last year. Evans said it was very difficult to understand the monthly financial reports filed over the past three years.