‘We should be a team’

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Mayor, councilman have sharp exchange as the Lawrence Township Council adopts its 2023 municipal budget

The Lawrence Township Council adopted its $61.7 million municipal budget for 2023.

The 2023 municipal budget, which carries a two-cent increase in the municipal property tax rate, was approved by a 3-2 vote at the Lawrence Township Council’s April 18 meeting.

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Township Councilmen Christopher Bobbitt, James Kownacki and Michael Powers voted “yes.” Mayor John Ryan and Township Councilwoman Catie MacDuff voted “no.”

Under the approved 2023 municipal budget, the property tax rate will increase from 63 cents per $100 of assessed value to 65 cents. The owner of a house assessed at the township average of $284,792 will pay $1,851.14 in municipal property taxes, or $82.50 more than last year.

A Lawrence Township property owner’s tax bill includes the municipal property tax and open space tax, the school district property tax and Mercer County property, library and open space taxes.

Before the vote, Municipal Manager Kevin Nerwinski noted the 2023 municipal budget attempted to meet public safety needs by adding three career firefighters and two new emergency medical technicians (EMT).

Ryan, who voted last among the five Township Council members, said his “no” vote was not about emergency services funding. He said he had spoken to residents, some of whom expressed concerns and frustrations about the budget. This is the reason that he voted against it, he said.

After the vote was taken, Kownacki said the budget was unveiled in January, but Ryan had not discussed with him or the other Township Council members where he would like cuts to be made to the budget.

“At every meeting, you say it could be better. I talk to residents and they say this is the best budget we have ever come up with. You have not said once why it is not good,” Kownacki said to Ryan.

Kownacki asked Ryan where he wanted to reduce the municipal budget – whether he wanted to eliminate the three new career firefighter positions and the three EMT positions.

Ryan responded that he had met with Nerwinski a while ago and told the manager what he wanted.

Nerwinski disputed the claim, and said he did not recall such a meeting with Ryan. When they did meet, Ryan asked about the municipal manager’s budget and about employee salaries, he said.

“We should be a team. The community deserves our best. The budget is the most important thing for the governing body to do. I still have no idea what you would want to have happen,” Nerwinski said, before the meeting moved on to other items on the agenda.

The main source of revenue in the 2023 municipal budget is property taxes. The amount to be raised by taxes is $30.6 million.

The township also relies on miscellaneous revenue as a source of income such as fees and permits, liquor licenses, the hotel and motel tax and the new cannabis tax, which will generate $20.3 million in revenue.

Lawrence Township also will receive $4.1 million in state aid.

Township officials anticipate using $9.9 million in surplus funds as a revenue source to balance the budget. Lawrence Township had $20.6 million in surplus funds on Dec. 31, 2022.

On the expense side, $7.7 million has been allocated for the Lawrence Township Police Department and $716,000 for the Lawrence Township Fire Services.

The budget earmarks $3.5 million for the Department of Public Works, which includes streets and roads, vehicle maintenance, buildings and grounds, and park maintenance.

Finally, $2.2 million is included in the budget for contributions to the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System and $1.1 million to the Public Employees Retirement System.

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