Township Council to start municipal budget review

The council will begin to tackle the 2006 municipal budget, which calls for a 3-cent increase in the property-tax rate.

By:Lea Kahn Staff Writer
   Township Council expects to begin its formal review of the proposed 2006 municipal budget when it meets Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the lower level conference room at the Municipal Building.
   The council also is expected to take action on a proposed ordinance that would raise the maximum fine for violations of township ordinances to $2,000, from the current maximum of $1,000.
   Municipal Manager Richard Krawczun handed out the proposed $37.1 million budget to Township Council at its Jan. 19 meeting. The proposed budget increased from $34.8 million last year.
   The proposed 2006 spending plan carries a 3-cent municipal tax rate increase, hiking the municipal 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.
   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 state law.
   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.
   The proposed budget also includes an additional sergeant in the Police Department — but not an overall increase in the number of police officers. There are presently nine police sergeants.
   Mr. Krawczun said it is likely that the proposed budget would be introduced at one of the two Township Council meetings in March. Final action would likely occur in April, following a public hearing on the budget. A date for the public hearing has not been set.
   In other business, Township Council plans to take advantage of state law to allow for an increase in the maximum fine for violations of township ordinances. The present maximum fine is $1,000, but state law allows the maximum to be hiked to $2,000.
   The council also plans to hold public hearings on several ordinances that were introduced last month, including an ordinance that raises the sewer fee.
   One ordinance raises the fees for selected Recreation Department programs. The fees have not been raised on those programs for several years, some dating back to the early 1990s.
   Another ordinance establishes permit parking for residents on Coolidge Avenue, across Princeton Pike from Lawrence Middle School and Lawrence High School.