Budget calls for 3-cent hike in municipal tax rate

The owner of a house assessed at the township average of 164,117 would pay $49 more in municipal property taxes – $1067 in municipal property taxes for 2006 as compared to 2006.

By:Lea Kahn Staff Writer
   The average township property owner would have to pay an additional $49 in municipal property taxes under the proposed $37.1 million municipal budget for 2006, unveiled before Township Council at its Jan. 19 meeting.
   The proposed $37.1 million spending plan, which increased from $34.8 million last year, calls for a 3-cent hike in the 2006 municipal property tax rate — from 62 cents per $100 of assessed value to 65 cents.
   The owner of a house assessed at the township average of $164,117 would pay $49 more in municipal property taxes — $1,067 in municipal property taxes for 2006, as compared to $1,018 last year.
   Township Council plans to review the proposed budget at its next meeting, set for Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. The meeting, which is open to the public, will be held in the lower level conference room at the Municipal Building.
   Municipal Manager Richard Krawczun said it is likely that the proposed budget would be introduced at one of the two Township Council meetings in March. He added that he expected final action on the budget to occur in April, following a public hearing on it. A date for the public hearing has not been set.
   Increases in the cost of group health insurance, pensions, trash collection, utilities, salaries and the reserve for uncollected taxes accounted for the budget increase, Mr. Krawczun said. The reserve for uncollected taxes is required by the state.
   The township collects property taxes for the school district and the county, as well as for itself. The reserve for uncollected taxes is intended to cover the amount of money that the township must turn over to the school district and the county, regardless of the tax collection rate. The actual collection rate in Lawrence is 98 percent.
   The proposed budget contains several new positions — a deputy director of emergency management and one mechanic and one laborer in the Department of Public Works. It also includes an additional sergeant’s position in the Police Department — but not an overall increase in the number of police officers. There are presently nine police sergeants.
   The deputy director would be a civilian employee who could perform some duties that are now handled by a police officer, thus freeing up that officer for other duties that could only be performed by a sworn police officer, Mr. Krawczun said. The deputy director could handle crime prevention seminars, for example, he said.
   The deputy director also could be assigned to handle fire inspections, he said. The township Fire Prevention Bureau inspects multiple dwellings, such as the dormitories at The Lawrenceville School and Rider University, and the Brookshire senior citizens rental complex on Darrah Lane, he said.
   Mr. Krawczun said the deputy director would be paid $34,700 this year, because the job could not be filled until after the budget is adopted. The salary range for the position is $43,000 to $53,000, he said.
   A fifth mechanic is needed in the Public Works Department, Mr. Krawczun said. The plan is to reassign one of the present four mechanics to handle vehicle maintenance for the three volunteer fire departments and the Lawrence Township First Aid Squad, and hire someone to fill the newly created mechanic’s slot.
   The mechanic who would be reassigned to the fire departments is a state-certified volunteer firefighter, who could be called on to respond to a fire during business hours Monday through Friday, Mr. Krawczun said.
   There are presently four paid, professional firefighters who are assigned to the three volunteer fire companies weekdays between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. When there is a fire call, the volunteer firefighters go to the firehouse, where a professional firefighter is waiting for them. The volunteer firefighters get on the fire engine, and the professional firefighter drives them to the scene.
   Creation of a fifth paid professional firefighter position was recommended in the 2005 municipal budget, but the position was eliminated for financial reasons. The objective — to ensure an adequate response by firefighters — grew out of a recommendation made by the Fire and Emergency Management Services Committee, a special township committee formed in 2004 to study fire and emergency services.
   The special township committee recommended that four firefighters — paid or volunteer — should be on hand and ready to ride on a fire engine before it could leave the firehouse to respond to a fire call. But if three firefighters arrive at the firehouse and one of the officers — a chief, a deputy chief, an assistant fire chief, a captain or a lieutenant — calls in to say he is responding directly to the scene, then the fire engine can leave with three men aboard.
   Reassigning a mechanic to work at the firehouses who is a trained volunteer firefighter means that person would be available to respond to fires — serving the role of a fifth paid firefighter, although he would not be paid for that job, Mr. Krawczun said.
   The salary for the newly created position of mechanic would be $30,000, Mr. Krawczun said. The full year’s salary would be $33,361.
   The laborer, who would be assigned to the Streets and Roads Division of the Public Works Department, is needed to help meet the growing workload in the Public Works Department, Mr. Krawczun said. The division maintains 100 miles of municipally owned streets.
   The new laborer would earn $19,000, because the job would not be created until after the budget is adopted. The full year’s salary would be $27,729.