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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Bethlehem Tp Plans Customer Service Improvements

Archibald Johnston mansion
Bethlehem Township Manager Melissa Shafer would like to improve customer service. At their August 4 meeting, she told Commissioners that a new voice and data communication system, which will cost about $4,000 per month, will finally make it possible to speak to a real person when calling municipal offices. There will even be a "live chat" function. Though Commissioners passed this proposal unanimously, they were a bit more suspicious of the citizens who came to chat in person.

A number of citizens voiced opposition to sketch plans recently submitted for the development of Green Pond as well as the old V-7 driving range. But one citizen made the mistake of asking a question during the middle of the meeting, after courtesy of the floor was over. Another asked to address the Board at the end of the night, though he had spoken earlier.

President Marty Zawarski cautioned the audience that, in the future, they should limit their public comments to courtesy of  the floor. Commissioner Michael Hudak agreed. "Open debate, commenting on other commenters, is counterproductive," he said.

Under the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, the public has a right to address municipal bodies before they vote on a matter. But the Board has the option of limiting all comment to the beginning of the meeting. Hudak stated that comments at other times "hinders our ability to do our job in a timely fashion."

In other business, Commissioners made several moves concerning Housenick Park. This 55-acre passive recreation park, located off of Christian Springs Road, includes the mansion built in 1923 by Archibald Johnston, Bethlehem's first Mayor. His architect was Spillman Farmer, which has retained the original drawings. The board voted unanimously to hire this firm, at a cost of $17,0000, to draw up plans to preserve the exterior of the building, along with ADA-accessible restrooms.

"It's a well known, respected firm," noted Zaworski, which will insure that the mansion is "restored in a manner that is respectful to the home."

Commissioners also gave engineer Evan Stone the green light to move forward with bids for the $455,000 trail construction project. Part of this funding will come from a $204,000 Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Grant.

Stone warned that the discovery of a bald eagle nest, right across the Monacacy Creek and just outside the park, may alter some of the trail planning. He stated that there must be a 660' buffer between the nest and any work.

A $2 million trust set up by Janet Housenick before her death will provide the remaining money for the trails as well as the architectural services.

Commissioners also moved ahead with the anticipated appointment of former Commissioner Paul Weiss to serve as a volunteer consultant at the park.

Finally, Commissioners unanimously agreed to seek a $50,000 Gaming Authority grant, available to all county municipalities, to clean and restore the interior of the mansion.

With Housenick out of the way, four of the five Commissioners agreed to send a letter supporting the Bethlehem Area Public Library's 2014 Keystone Grant application to expand the children's library. Pat Breslin voted No without explanation.

They also approved Building Code Official Training for newly hired Planning Director Nathan Jones. That;'s good news for Jones, who already was in Harrisburg and taking the four-day course.


Anonymous said...

That's Building Code Official (BCO).

Bernie O'Hare said...

Fixed. Thanks for noting it.

michael molovinsky said...

i'm very dubious about a system which costs $4,000.00 a month to answer the phone. if the intent is a "live person", simply turn off the answering machine and pick up the phone. how many calls does bethlehem township actually get to justify this expensive technology. i saw allentown spend millions to improve and consolidate it's customer service into one location. five years later, and it's back to two and three locations. beware of bureaucrats promoting new technology contracts.

Bernie O'Hare said...

If I were a better writer, I would have explained it better. The Tp currently has a contract with Siemens, which charges something like $7k just to turn off the machine, and then it only goes to one phone. This new system will rotate calls so there is always a live person. It improves WIFi, improves security, enables you to take calls at your direct number at numerous locations, enhances conference call capability, etc. it has redundancies built in so that if service at the community center is interrupted, the calls are routed via the municipal bldg. currently, phone lines are down at the community center one hour every day. Is it worth $4000 per month? Comm'rs say yes.

Anonymous said...

$4K a month is still a lot for a phone system lease. Did anyone explore bringing this technology in-house? VOIP equipment is readily available from multiple sources, and the programming of the system is fairly simple.

Anonymous said...

You are missing the point. This is tax payers money, not a business for profit upgrading. Again, this twp spends at every meeting. I cannot believe they have escaped the tea party. Good thing the people are rich there. They will buy anything: phone system, street light contract..... Now Breslin is spending

Anonymous said...

Wow ...very expensive, i agree with MM. Put a POTS line at the front desk and be done with it. These people dont need sophisticated phone systems, just pick up the phone when it rings! The features mentioned are simply not worth it.

Anonymous said...

Molovinsky - Get your facts straight, I attended the meeting and the system is more than just an answering system. The Director explained it in detail, and for your information it is a VOIP system for all township facilities. All IP phones, and the monthly fee includes all Local and Long Distance Calling, Voice mail, and attendant driven menu, with live operator features. It also includes Internet Services for all township facilities, wireless for the public, and HD Television provided at the Community Center for the users to enjoy. It actually is a savings to the township because owning equipment and maintenance cost much more in comparison. Get your facts straight before writing stupid comments that have no basis.

Bernie O'Hare said...

It's not MM's fault. It is mine for not explaining it in better detail, as you just did. Thanks very much.

Anonymous said...

HD Tv's, fancy technology. Geesh... they do sure know how to spend money over there. All the best gadgets. The taxpayers are paying for things that are absolutely not needed but wanted. A sophisticated phone system and contract are surely not needed. Molovinski is correct in his beware of bureaucrats promoting new technology contracts statements.

Bernie O'Hare said...

11:00, Your comment was so informative that I revised my story for the BP to make it more accurate and informative. Thanks to you and MM.

Anonymous said...

4k is a drop in the bucket, how much is the monthly cell phone service for just about every staff member costing? And I doubt that the 4k includes internet access as the bare minimum from RCN is not cheap for business.