East Penn Press

Sunday, February 18, 2018

UPPER MILFORD TOWNSHIP

Friday, January 26, 2018 by JULIA F. SWAN Special to The Press in Local News

Dan DeLong looks back on fulfilling career

For 38 years, Dan DeLong has served Upper Milford Township in one capacity or another, starting with 22 years as a member of the planning commission, then as township manager since October 2001. But his roots in the township go back much further than that. He moved here with his family from Berks County when he was just six years old.

DeLong, who has a surveying degree, began his career in the private sector, starting, as he described it, “on the other side of the table.” That experience left him frustrated with the way government worked. Nevertheless, he took a job as a surveyor with the borough of Emmaus and later was named public works director in the borough, a position he held for about 20 years.

When Upper Milford decided to hire its first township manager in 1996, he applied for the job, but didn’t get it. He was successful in his second try, five years later.

In 2016, he announced he would be retiring by the end of 2017. That date has been extended slightly, but his last day on the job will be Jan. 31.

In a recent interview, he looked back on his career and said, “I still like my job,” but he just felt it was time to retire. He may not be out of the public eye entirely, because he offered his services on an hourly basis if he is needed during the transition.

“For all intents and purposes,” he said, “Bud [Carter, who was hired as his assistant last year], mutually or on his own, has been making decisions since October.” He said he has recommended supervisors hire an assistant for Carter.

DeLong’s tenure has had its share of both highlights and challenges, but he said he feels he has been able to “[move] Upper Milford forward while still respecting its history.”

The 16 years since he was hired have seen significant changes, including a major sewer project to address a problem of failing septic systems in the Vera Cruz area, and the acquisition of the current township building (formerly the Kings Highway School), which has been developed as not just meeting and office space, but a well-used community center.

DeLong said he is also proud of the program of open space protection the township has implemented in recent years.

The greatest challenge in those years has probably been the increase in traffic, a frequent topic of frustrated discussion at supervisors’ meetings. It is a problem that is not going away, DeLong said, and is likely only going to get worse, since Route 29/100 is a major north-south artery through Lehigh County.

“The only way anything is going to get done [to improve traffic flow] is for Upper Milford to contribute a substantial amount of money,” he said. It seems every time improvements to the 29/100 corridor are proposed by county planners, they’re moved off the schedule either because of a greater need elsewhere or because of the amount of money involved.

Environmental and archeological restrictions also make substantial road projects challenging

Although development continues all around it, DeLong expects Upper Milford to stay relatively rural. The hilly topography, and the absence of public water and sewer services in much of the township, act to discourage widespread residential development.

But he said while supervisors have prided themselves on not raising real estate taxes for several years, the reality is, additional revenue will eventually be needed. “We get by,” he said, “but things happen.”

He noted the average township property tax is $38 a year, 100 times less than school taxes. He suggested a change in the way real estate taxes are billed might make township residents aware of what a bargain their local government is.

Most residents “would be hard pressed to say they’re not getting their $38 worth,” he said.

He expressed his gratitude to the supervisors he has worked with, to the township staff and to township residents for their support and assistance. He thanked all the residents who have volunteered their time, particularly the volunteers in the fire departments.

As he looks forward to retirement, he hopes to spend time outdoors, kayaking and hiking, to do some traveling, and to find some meaningful volunteer work. He and his wife also expect to spend time with their two sons and seven grandchildren.