The Lawrence Township Council got its first look at the proposed $52.9 million municipal budget for 2022 – which carries a 3.5-cent municipal property tax rate increase – at its Jan. 18 meeting.
The proposed 2022 municipal budget, which is expected to be introduced at the Lawrence Township Council’s March 15 meeting, is $3.5 million more than the 2021 budget of $49.4 million.
The municipal property tax rate will increase from 59 cents per $100 of assessed value to 63 cents per $100 of assessed value. The owner of a house assessed at the township average of $283,651 will pay $1,787 in municipal property taxes, which is an increase of $121 over the 2021 tax bill.
The municipal property tax is one component of a property owner’s total tax bill.
Municipal Manager Kevin Nerwinski told the Lawrence Township Council that the COVID-19 pandemic continued to play a role in the development of the proposed 2022 municipal budget. Township officials have learned how to address the challenges presented by the pandemic, he said.
“In crafting the previous 2021 budget, we described our approach as being ‘calm in the eye of the storm’ and delivered a budget that was less than the year before,” Nerwinski said.
That description remains as relevant today as it did last year, Nerwinski said. The difference is that township officials better understand the financial impact that a pandemic can cause to municipal government, while also being aware of the financial assistance available from county, state and federal governments, he said.
“With this knowledge and experience, we can recommend a budget that is fiscally responsible with eyes wide open,” he said. The budget also has been designed to ensure that the township can regenerate the amount of surplus that it plans to use to balance the spending plan.
The main source of revenue to support the budget is property taxes. The amount to be raised by taxes is $29.6 million, which is $1.9 million more than the 2021 property tax levy. Some of the increase is due to increases in health benefits; salary and wages, including three new positions; and contributions to the public employees pension fund.
The proposed budget calls for hiring an additional fire inspector and two more full-time firefighters, which also contributes to the increase. The fire inspector is needed so the township can keep pace with annual fire inspections. The two paid firefighters are needed to ensure adequate coverage, as the pool of volunteer firefighters is shrinking, Nerwinski said.
The township also relies on miscellaneous revenue as a source of income, in addition to the property tax. Miscellaneous revenue, such as fees and permits, liquor licenses and the hotel and motel tax, will generate $15.6 million in revenue.
Lawrence Township will receive $3.9 million in state aid for 2022. The amount of state aid has remained flat for several years.
Township officials also anticipate using $6.8 million in surplus funds as a source of revenue to balance the budget – the same amount that was used in the 2021 municipal budget.
Lawrence Township had $17.5 million in surplus funds on Dec. 31, 2021, compared to $17.1 million at the end of 2020. The township was able to regenerate the amount of surplus funds that it used in 2021.
Township Councilwoman Cathleen Lewis praised Nerwinski and Chief Financial Officer Peter Kiriakatis for preparing the budget. She said the township is fortunate that it has surplus funds that can be used as a revenue source.
“We deliver a lot (of services) for a very good price. I want us to continue to do that and not to stagnate,” Township Councilman Christopher Bobbitt said.