The Newtown Township Board of Supervisors (BOS) engaged Econsult Solutions, Inc. (ESI Solutions) to develop a comprehensive multi-year financial management plan. This effort is partially funded by a Strategic Management Planning Program grant awarded by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (read “Newtown Township Seeks Grant to Assess Finances”). A five-year plan, including recommendations to improve operational efficiency and promote fiscal stability in Newtown Township, will be publicly released later this fall.

Newtown Township Citizen Survey

As part of this process, Newtown asked the community to help by completing the Newtown Township Citizen Survey. 545 responses were collected.

Almost two-thirds of survey respondents are women and over 70% have lived in Newtown Township for over ten years. Nearly two-thirds (72%) are 45 years old or older. Half report that their annual household income is over $100,000 and 75% have a bachelors or higher education degree. Only 18% work in Newtown.

Several survey questions focused on parks, recreation programs, and recreation facilities maintained by the township.

The survey first asked which parks and recreational sites respondents visited in the last 6 months. Not surprisingly, Veterans’ Park topped the list with Roberts Ridge Park coming in second (see chart).

Figure: Shows percentage of respondents who visited recreational sites in the past 12 months.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Uses of Parks

Veterans’ Park, Roberts Ridge Park, Chandler Field, Helen Randle Park, and Staples Filed are all used for sports activities such as baseball and soccer. Silver Lake Park, which is located on the Newtown Bypass, was once proposed as a soccer field, but that idea was nixed because it was not quite large enough.

The Park achieved fame in May 2017 when a Supervisor suggested it as a potential site for Wawa (read “Idea To Bring Wawa To Newtown” – an idea to lease a portion of Newtown’s Silver Lake Park).

Silver Lake Park was also suggested in 2016 as a site for a hideous, huge outdoor lighted sign such as the one that was erected in Middletown (read “A Large Electronic Billboard – Touted as ‘the Middletown Monument’ – is Being Erected at Intersection of Route 1 and Oxford Valley Road Near Wawa!”). The same company responsible for promoting the Middletown Twp sign made two pitches to the Newtown BOS to erect a similar outdoor monstrosity at the entrance of the Park. The idea went nowhere but the salesperson went on probation for lying to federal investigators about intended bribe payments that former Lower Southampton public officials sought in exchange for promises of a favorable outcome for his electronic billboard proposal.

Unfortunately, the Clark Nature Center has been closed for nearly two years. At the October 16, 2017, Budget Presentation before the BOS, former Township Manager Kurt Ferguson, estimated that between 800 and 1,000 ash trees in the Clark Nature Center have been killed by the ash borer. These dead trees are a hazard to hikers and therefore the Township closed the hiking trails in the park. I suppose the survey respondents who said they visited the park in the last 12 months went in, found it closed, and left immediately.

Roberts Ridge Park – located at Lower Dolington Road and Frost Lane – achieved notoriety in April 2019, when the Township proposed to convert much of the park into a “meadow” as part of a pollution reduction plan (read “Newtown Township’s Pollution Reduction Plan”). This surprised residents because the area that the Township considered for conversion to a meadow was an open grassy area where the Newtown Parks & Recreation Department hosted its “Super Soccer Stars” educational program for children ages 2-3.

Figure: The Open Area of Roberts Ridge Park. The red outline marks the revised area for the proposed meadow, which has yet to be implemented. The insert shows residents planting native trees paid for by donations.

At a May 8, 2019, BOS public meeting, several local residents objected to the conversion of a well-used area of the park into a meadow for several reasons, but mostly because it would make it much more difficult, if not impossible, for residents to walk their dogs, fly their kites, ride their sleds, relax, and practice soccer in the park as they have often done. As a result of an abundance of public comments, the Township revised the plan for implementing a meadow in the park. The new plan preserves the central open space that is the hallmark of the park and allowed residents to plant dozens of native trees (read “Newtown Township Approves Residents’ Plan to Plant Native Trees”).

Question 8 of the survey asked respondents to rate several services as Excellent, Good, Fair, or Poor. Responses weighted using scale of 1 to 4, with 1 being “poor” and 4 being “excellent.” The weighted average results are shown in the following figure.

Quality of Parks, Recreation programs, and Recreation centers/facilities were highly rated by residents.

Quality of Parks, Recreation programs, and Recreation centers/facilities were at the top of the list following Fire and Police Services! A majority of survey respondents (58.1%) say they have used township recreational programming, which was rated Good by 42% of respondents and Excellent by 48% of respondents.

Comments From Respondents

Dozens of open-ended comments about recreation services were submitted by survey respondents. The vast majority were positive and only a minority – 25.3% – of respondents said parks and recreation was one of two services that the township should focus on improving.

Selected Comments:

  • Appreciate the Parks & Rec Programs!
  • Having lived here for 40+ years we have seen the Township grow to handle the ever increasing population in all areas especially Parks and Rec which was nonexistent when we moved here.
  • More arts need to be incorporated ie. concerts in the parks.
  • Parks and rec programs I’ve taken are very good
  • Really enjoy all of the parks and recs programs that are offered. Would like more safe walkways around the township.
  • The Parks & Recreation Department is outstanding.
  • Too many parks were developed that are costly to maintain.
  • We have enough business, need more people-centric action, such as parks, trails, nature
  • Would like to see safe public access to parks and town. I.e. sidewalks and the Newtown trail. This is very important.
  • parks & rec & preserving what few green spaces are left is of maximum importance.
  • We need more connected trails to encourage walking, cycling etc, on which you can actually go places and do other healthy outdoor pursuits.
  • We do need more trails and passive recreational areas, one of the many things the Pandemic has shown us.
  • Running/walking trails need to be expanded and completed per the Master plan.
  • recreation programs offered only in evenings. More should be available in daytime for seniors and retirees.
  • Would like a recreation center for the community to have access to for open gym (18 and over from 7pm to 11pm and kids up until 7pm) and other programs.

Impact of COVID-19

Not only are the services provided by Newtown’s Parks & Rec department well-liked, they have been good generators of revenue, which far exceeds the cost. In 2019, recreational programming generated $612,325 and the 2020 projected a revenue of $545,000. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the Parks and Recreation department had to cancel summer programming, which decreased projected 2020 revenue significantly! Currently, the Township lacks a full-time Parks and Recreation Director. Hopefully, the 2021 budget will address that problem and hopefully the recreational programming revenue will recover when (and if) the pandemic is defeated.