Lawrence adopts flat municipal budget

With little fanfare and no public comment, the Lawrence Township Council adopted its proposed $49.4 million budget for 2021 – which keeps the municipal property tax rate flat – following a public hearing at its April 20 meeting.

The 2021 spending plan is $1.2 million less than the 2020 municipal budget of $50.6 million.

There will be no change to the municipal property tax rate, which will remain at 59 cents per $100 of assessed value. The owner of a house assessed at the township average of $282,395 will pay $1,666 in municipal property taxes, which is one component of a property owner’s total tax bill.

The owner of a house assessed at $125,000 will pay $746.28 in municipal property taxes, and the owner of a house assessed at $400,000 will pay $2,388.11 in municipal property taxes for 2021.

“It was important to us all that during the pandemic and the financial consequences that impacted our residents” to keep the municipal property tax rate flat, Municipal Manager Kevin Nerwinski said.

Township Councilwoman Cathleen Lewis thanked township employees for “going above and beyond throughout the pandemic” and for having brought in a budget with a zero municipal property tax rate increase.

Nerwinski described the 2021 municipal budget as being on “hold.” There was a significant drop in revenue generated through municipal operations because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the trend is expected to continue into 2021, he said.

In addition to a drop in revenue, township officials also expect a significant decrease in commercial ratable and tax collection overall, Nerwinski said. Those factors will play a role in the township’s approach to developing the 2022 budget, he said.

The main source of revenue to support the budget is property taxes. The amount to be raised by taxes is $27.7 million, which is $116,073 over the 2020 property tax levy. The increase is due to the increase in assessed values, not because of an increase in the municipal property tax rate, he said.

Miscellaneous revenues, such as fees and permits, liquor licenses, and the hotel and motel tax, will generate $14 million in revenue for the township.

Township officials also expect to use $6.8 million in surplus funds as a source of revenue to balance the budget – the same amount of surplus funds that was applied to the 2020 municipal budget.

Nerwinski said the township had $17.1 million in surplus funds at the end of 2020, compared to $16.9 million in 2019.

Lawrence Township also will receive $3.9 million in state aid for 2021. The amount of state aid has remained flat for several years.