‘I believe our budget is fiscally responsible’

Township Council adopts 2024 municipal budget with zero tax rate increase

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The Lawrence Township Council adopted the proposed $60.7 municipal budget for 2024, following a public hearing on the spending plan at its April 2 meeting.

The municipal property tax rate will remain flat at 65 cents per $100 of assessed value. The owner of a home assessed at the township average of $284,792 will pay $2,851.14 in municipal property taxes – the same amount as in 2023.

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

The main source of revenue to support the municipal budget is property taxes. The amount to be raised by property taxes is $30.7 million – or $1.03 million less than the maximum allowable municipal property tax of $31.8 million for 2024.

The 2024 budget also uses $8.3 million in surplus funds as a source of revenue. Lawrence Township had $20.6 million in surplus funds on Dec. 31, 2023.

Miscellaneous revenue totals $20.8 million. It includes revenue from licenses, fees and permits, the hotel and motel tax and cable TV franchise fees.

A 2% local sales tax on cannabis sales will generate $900,000. There is one cannabis dispensary in Lawrence Township.

The township will receive $4.4 million in state aid.

On the expenditure side, $8.2 million has been allocated for the Lawrence Township Police Department and $780,000 for the Lawrence Township Fire Department.

The budget earmarks $950,000 for the Lawrence Township Emergency Medical Services.

It also sets aside $3.7 million for the Department of Public Works. It is made up of the Streets and Roads Division, the Buildings and Grounds Division and the Park Maintenance Division.

During the public hearing on the budget, one township resident offered a critique of the municipal budget. He cited what he claimed were over-budgeted line items during the public hearing on the budget.

Township resident Greg Puliti, who is a former township councilman and mayor, said he appreciated the flat tax rate, but also offered some observations on how he believed the township administration arrived at the zero tax rate increase.

Puliti said there was a 4% increase in the municipal property tax rate in 2022 and a 5% municipal property tax rate in 2023. The municipal property tax rate was 63 cents in 2022 and 65 cents in 2023.

“A zero tax rate increase is welcome, but it is not impressive,” Puliti said.

Puliti said he observed line items that had been over-budgeted by tens of thousands of dollars when he reviewed each line item in the 2024 municipal budget.

The unspent money is returned to the general fund and goes into the surplus account. The increased use of surplus funds to balance the budget in the last two years coincides with the over-budgeting of line items, Puliti said.

The 2022 municipal budget used $6.9 million in surplus funds as a source of revenue, and $9.9 million in surplus funds for the 2023 municipal budget.

Puliti urged the council to conduct a post-audit on the 2024 budget on all 2023 line items that have a reserve of more than $100,000 to determine if there has been over-budgeting.

Following the April 2 meeting, Municipal Manger Kevin Nerwinski said the 2024 municipal budget was reviewed by the New Jersey Division of Local Government Services. A town’s municipal budget is scrutinized by state officials every three years.

It includes a review of the township’s annual financial statement and the budget as introduced, Nerwinski said. The town’s appropriation CAP calculation and the levy CAP calculation are reviewed to ensure compliance with standards and regulations under the state’s budget law.

“For this year, we were informed that our budget was reviewed and approved for adoption. I believe our budget is fiscally responsible,” he said.

“It is prepared by giving our best efforts to forecast future occurrences that may or may not occur.”

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