Council approves budget

Keeps tax rate at 2001 level

By: Brian Shappell
   The Township Council adopted a 2002 budget Tuesday which keeps the municipal tax rate at the 2001 level.
   The spending plan was approved 4-1.
   The $36.2 million operating budget, which is 2.9 percent larger than last year’s, maintains a tax rate of 43 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. Last year, the Township Council had increased the rate by 2 cents, the first increase since 1997.
   With a municipal tax rate of 43 cents, the owner of a house assessed at the township average of $181,600 will pay $780 in municipal taxes.
   As part of the budget adoption, the council also approved a separate $19.4 million budget for its water and sewer utility. The utility budget is included in the general budget document that is sent to the state and voted on at the same time as the general operation budget.
   The utility budget will increase $1 million this year. The rate of $1.75 per thousand gallons of water used will not change. The utility budget is supported by water and sewer fees.
   Township Manager Matt Watkins said the budget includes the continuation of all existing programs, such as the Mayor’s Internship Program, the addition of six new employees and a number of capital improvement projects such as park development and sidewalk and road improvements. In addition, there will be increases in the amount of debt paid on capital projects such as construction of Route 522, increases in funding to township organizations such as the Arts Commission and an increase in litigation costs for attorneys representing police officers named in lawsuits.
   "I’m very pleased with this budget and hope it continues to provide for the township’s high level of services," Mr. Watkins said.
   Mr. Watkins said the council was able to keep taxes at the 2001 level because of increased revenue, including the use of more surplus, county and federal payments for Route 522 and the potential sale of liquor licenses. He also said an increase in taxable property will help spread the tax burden across a larger base.
   Councilman Ted Van Hessen voted against the adoption of the budget because he said the township is using too much surplus as revenue. He said the council should limit surplus use to a preset percentage of the budget every year.
   Mr. Van Hessen said more surplus was used this year because it is an election year and the council wanted to keep the tax rate stable. He said the continued overuse of the surplus could lead the township into budget difficulties in the coming years.
   "There are pieces that I think are less than ideal — the surplus is a good example," said Mr. Van Hessen. "It’s an issue of economic cycles. Part of the responsibility of a budget is being able to weather cycles."