Difficult balancing act


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Lawrence Township school board adopts 2023-24 budget with one-cent tax increase

Lawrence Township property owners will see a one-cent increase in the school district property tax rate, based on the $84.9 million operating budget for 2023-’24.

The Lawrence Township Public Schools Board of Education approved the new spending plan unanimously at its May 3 meeting.

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The school district property tax rate will increase from $1.62 per $100 of assessed value to $1.63. The owner of a house assessed at the township average of $284,792 will pay $4,642 in property taxes to the school district.

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

The property tax levy to support the 2023-’24 operating budget is $74.5 million. This is an increase of $1.9 million over the 2022-’23 tax levy of $72.5 million.

Other sources of revenue include miscellaneous income, such as tuition and interest on savings, and money from the fund balance or surplus account.

State aid increased by $793,012 to $6.4 million, reflecting a trend of increased state aid to the school district. The district received $4.9 million in state aid for the 2021-’22 budget and $5.6 million in state aid for the 2022-’23 budget.

Superintendent of Schools Ross Kasun praised Business Administrator Thomas Eldridge and his team for developing, planning and creating this year’s budget. It is an important, on-going process, he said.

“Preparing a budget with a 2% cap on the tax levy with expenses – salaries, inflation, health benefits and transportation – growing at a rate of more than 2% is a really difficult balancing act,” Kasun said.

Eldridge said the cost drivers for the 2023-’24 budget are essentially the same.

Salaries and wages increased from $48.6 million to $49.6 million, Eldridge said. Employee benefits went up from $13.9 million to $14.7 million. Benefits include workmen’s compensation insurance, and medical and prescription drug plans.

School bus transportation costs went up from $3.1 million to $4.4 million. Eldridge said the new bus contract costs increased by 5.8%, but the district is fortunate because inflation is about 8% or 9%.

Overall, salaries and benefits account for 80% of expenses. Transportation makes up 5%. Out-of-district tuition payments for specialized schools for special needs students account for 6% of the spending plan.

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