2013 Municipal Budget Problem: What to Do?
Lawrence Township Manager Richard Krawczun during the most recent township council meeting offered a “recap” of the potential cost-cutting and revenue-increasing proposals that have so far been discussed to solve the township's budget cap overage problem.
With the township still needing to cut more than $700,000 from its 2013 municipal budget in order to comply with the state’s 2 percent tax levy cap and time running out to make a decision on how best to do that, Lawrence Township Manager Richard Krawczun during the last township council meeting, on Sept. 18, offered a “recap” of the potential cost-cutting and revenue-increasing proposals that have been discussed so far.
Krawczun also spoke at length about a new proposal whereby the township could possibly generate as much as $400,000 per year by charging each residential property owner in town a “flat fee” of $55 for the pickup of bulk trash items like furniture and old appliances.
“My conversation on the 2013 budget this evening is more of a recap than it is too much further discussion. I thought that it would be helpful because we’re getting down to some possible deadlines, depending on the decisions that need to be made. I thought it would be helpful to kind of take a look at where we started back in July and where we are now; what things have been done, what things remain open. And the council can consider them accordingly,” Krawczun said.
During his talk, Krawczun reiterated that, by law, any savings that could result from the proposed privatization of emergency dispatch and ambulance services would reduce the overall amount to be raised through taxation but cannot be applied to reducing the specific tax levy cap overage.
The next township council meeting takes place this evening, Oct. 2.
(Krawczun’s talk about the 2013 budget begins at the 1:10 mark of the Sept. 18 Audio Part 3 file in the media box above.)
Permits, Brush Collection and Recreation
Krawczun reminded council members that they had already, at their Sept. 4 meeting, adopted an ordinance increasing certain inspection fees charged by the township, an action which Krawczun estimated will raise about $30,000 in additional revenue.
He also spoke about two proposals on which council had yet to take action.
The first, as explained by Krawczun at the Sept. 4 council meeting, could see the township generate an additional $20,000 or more in revenue if it was to start charging for zoning permits.
The other proposal involves cuts to the township’s brush collection schedule. Those changes, while only saving about $10,000, would free up a considerable amount of “man hours” that would allow public works department employees to focus on other needed tasks, according to Krawczun.
He also reminded council there had been talk about possibly reorganizing the recreation department and ending recreational offerings. At the Aug. 21 council meeting, Krawczun explained that eliminating all recreational programs but maintaining services for senior citizens and limited funding for special events such as the Memorial Day parade would save the township only $60,000 because previously-collected revue generated by program participation fees and field rentals would be lost.
In July Krawczun advised council that one potential solution to the budget problem was to lay off nine additional employees, including four police officers. At that time, the tax levy cap overage was closer to $1 million.
But at the Sept. 18 meeting Krawczun noted that the overage subsequently dropped to the current amount of about $725,000 as a result, primarily, of the transfer of four Lawrence Township police officers to Hamilton Township in late August and the retirement of another officer. Two of the officers who transferred had been set to be laid off with other municipal employees on Aug. 31; the other two were among the nine township workers included in the 2013 layoff proposal discussed in July.
Krawczun, on Sept. 18, further indicated that additional municipal positions have unexpectedly become vacant and suggested that, in lieu of some of the proposed layoffs, some of those positions not be filled.
He did not, however, specify exactly how many layoffs would then be needed.
“Due to life circumstances in a couple of these cases, there will be some openings that we haven’t filled, vacancies that we haven’t put new employees in,” he told council. “One is in the department of public works. [Another is] a civilian person in the police department. There is a person who advised us this week of her pending retirement and she will be leaving. We would like to try to have this position go from fulltime to part-time. There was a person who was laid off effective on Aug. 31 but had retired previously. We had anticipated that person continuing in their position. They went from fulltime to part-time. And they decided to retire.”
Krawczun also noted that there could be “a reduction in the appropriation for per diem firefighters.” Currently the township hires volunteer firefighters to help staff the township’s daytime “duty crew” when one of the four fulltime firefighters are off. Volunteer firefighters are also currently being hired on a per diem basis, Monday through Friday, to fill two other fire engine driver positions that had been vacant pending the results of a state Civil Service test but which were then eliminated as part of the township layoff plan that took effect on Aug. 31.
Also still on the table for council’s consideration, Krawczun said, is a proposal he put forth on July 17 whereby municipal government involvement – and related expenses – in garbage collection could be completely eliminated in favor of a system whereby residents would be responsible for securing contracts with their own individual trash haulers.
“The other proposal that was mentioned was the elimination of trash collection… That sill remains an open matter,” he said.
Bulk Pickup Fee
Krawczun concluded his talk about the 2013 tax levy cap overage problem by discussing his bulk trash pickup fee proposal.
By charging a $55 annual fee per “residential location,” the township could generate an additional $400,000 more in revenue, he said.
“The advantages for the flat fee are there are a tremendous savings in administrative costs – there would be no need for establishing a system where individual residents would have to come in and buy a sticker or some other way to pay for that pickup and have proof of that payment at their household,” Krawczun explained. “Another advantage of the flat fee is it would, basically, remain seamless, aside from the fee, the current collection system… You would be able to, just like you do now…you have a couch, you put it out; you have a large item, you put it out…
“The disadvantage is that some residents are going to pay this fee and not necessarily use the service because they may not have any bulk items or metal items to put out,” he conceded.
Under a “sticker program” for bulk pickup, only those people using the service would actually pay for it. But such a program would generate administrative costs for the township because a system would have to be created to issue stickers and enforce compliance with the program, he said. There would also be more restrictions on what could and could not be put out, he said.
“The sticker system is going to require additional enforcement because what’s going to occur is that if someone’s not aware that they need the sticker or if they didn’t buy enough stickers because they decided to put out more items than they originally had planned, we’re going to have a situation where we’re going to have a lot of trash on the streets…” he said. “Now we’re going to have a situation where this trash, this bulk, could end up being in front of someone’s house and not be returned to their residence…
“The other problem you’re going to have is you’re going to have illegal dumping because somebody’s going to say, ‘You know what, I’m not going to pay $25 to get dishwasher taken away from the curb. What I’m going to do is throw it in the back of my car and one morning, early on my way to work, I’m going to throw it on the side of the road.’ You’re going to have more illegal dumping,” he said.
A sampling of three trash vendors in the area revealed that bulk trash pickup fees vary by vendor, with one offering a flat $35 pickup fee regardless of the item, while another’s charges depended on the type of item - $11 for a chair, $25 for a couch and $50 for a piece of exercise equipment, Krawczun said.
Here are some excerpts from Krawczun’s talk about the bulk trash pickup fee:
“Last meeting I talked about bulk collection and metal collection. Right now, Lawrence Township currently provides residents with the collection of metal, or what we also call white goods – appliances, air conditioners, dishwashers or other metal-type items. A resident would call for a pickup, the pickup gets scheduled, and then the crew goes out and collects that on Monday. In addition we have spoken about in the past, and I don’t know if it was with this current sitting council, but we have spoke about in the past fees for bulk collection.
“Right now our bulk collection is included with curbside trash collection, at no additional charge. The weight of those collections goes into our overall tonnage, where we pay a fee to Central Jersey Waste, for pickup at the curb, and it’s included in the tonnage for what we pay as a tipping fee to the Mercer County Improvement Authority. We have internally spoken about this idea, and we’re going to go over what we think some of the advantages and disadvantages are.
“What we are suggesting, in lieu of charging for trash, at this time keeping trash collection in the budget, one alternative may be to create a fee for bulk collection but charge the fee to all the residential units. We are suggesting fee of $55 per residential location that would generate, if you do the math, a little more than $400,000, but we wouldn’t collect 100 percent of the amount due. So what are the advantages and disadvantages of a flat fee for metal and bulk pickup?
“The advantages for the flat fee are there are a tremendous savings in administrative costs – there would be no need for establishing a system where individual residents would have to come in and buy a sticker or some other way to pay for that pickup and have proof of that payment at their household. A lot of municipalities use this sticker program where you buy a sticker for each item or a flat fee for a number of items. When the hauler comes by, they see the sticker and they know to collect your trash. But you’ll see there are also some problems with that as we go on.
“Another advantage of the flat fee is it would, basically, remain seamless, aside from the fee, the current collection system. You would put your bulk out. You wouldn’t have to set up a schedule. You would not have any administrative compliance as the resident. You would be able to, just like you do now…you have a couch, you put it out; you have a large item, you put it out. You have a refrigerator, you’re going to call and it’s going to get picked up. All of that would continue.
“The disadvantage is that some residents are going to pay this fee and not necessarily use the service because they may not have any bulk items or metal items to put out. But we think there are some trade-offs to that consideration.
“A sticker fee – one of the advantages distinctly is you pay for what you use – if you put out a couch, you pay for the couch; if you put out a rocker, you pay for the rocker; you’re only paying for what you actually use. But some of the disadvantages are the purchase of the sticker will prolong that process, meaning that, you know, it’s trash day, it’s Tuesday, I’ve been meaning to put this chair out, [but] I can’t put it at the curb because I now have to go through the process to get that sticker, either online or go to town hall, because I physically need that.
“Again, the sticker system is going to require additional enforcement because what’s going to occur is that if someone’s not aware that they need the sticker or if they didn’t buy enough stickers because they decided to put out more items than they originally had planned, we’re going to have a situation where we’re going to have a lot of trash on the streets. People are going to put things out. It’s the same problem we have with brush. People put the brush out and it’s left on the roadway much earlier than the scheduled pickup.
“Now we’re going to have a situation where this trash, this bulk, could end up being in front of someone’s house and not be returned to their residence. Why? ‘I had somebody assist me carrying it down,’ or ‘I‘m an elderly person and my family member or neighbor helped me put it down to the street and I can’t get it off the street.’ So you’re going to have that problem…
“There are still costs to the resident – all these administrative costs and enforcement. The sticker system will have more restrictions. Residents [will need to be] much more compliant. Right now there is a lot of latitude in what we allow residents to put out at the curb.
“The other problem you’re going to have is you’re going to have illegal dumping because somebody’s going to say, ‘You know what, I’m not going to pay $25 to get dishwasher taken away from the curb. What I’m going to do is throw it in the back of my car and one morning, early on my way to work, I’m going to throw it on the side of the road.’ You’re going to have more illegal dumping.”
For Municipal Budget Background, See:
- Sept. 27: “Twp. Ratables Take $7.8 Million Hit from Tax Appeals”
- Sept. 26: “Non-Profit Donates $1,250 to Lawrence Twp. Appeal”
- Sept. 20: “Lawrence Council Considers Outside Bids for Emergency Dispatch”
- Sept. 11: “Contract Awarded After Revaluation Funding Approved”
- Sept. 11: “Compromise Being Eyed in Public Participation Debate”
- Sept. 7: “Privatization of Police Dispatching, Ambulance Services Being Considered”
- Sept. 4: “2013 Budget Gap to Again be Discussed by Council”
- Aug. 29: “Public Participation Hot Topic at Twp. Council Meetings”
- Aug. 27: “Lawrence Twp. Says Goodbye to Four Police Officers”
- Aug. 23: “Introduced Ordinance Would Authorize $800,000 for Township-Wide Property Revaluation”
- Aug. 23: “Appeal to Tax-Exempt Groups Nets $2,101 Donation”
- Aug. 20: “Lawrence Cops Seeking Transfers to New Department”
- Aug. 2: “Council Sends Out Appeal to Tax-Exempt Groups”
- July 20: “Council Authorizes $199,500 More for Legal Services”
- July 18: “Council to Ponder More Layoffs, Ending Garbage Pickup”
- June 21: “Cuts to Township Brush Collection Schedule Proposed”
- June 11: “Township to Seek 'Voluntary Contributions' from Tax-Exempt Organizations”
- May 24: "Amended Municipal Budget Adopted, Layoffs to Happen"
- May 24: "Letter to the Editor: 'Day of Reckoning' for Lawrence"
- May 18: “Letters to the Editor: Police Chief Should Retire”
- May 16: “Township Council Moves Forward With Layoff Plan”
- May 14: “Letter to the Editor: ‘Don’t Give Up the Ship”
- May 2: “Patch Readers: No Cuts to Police”
- May 2: “Township Council to Decide Budget Changes by May 15”
- April 25: “Balancing Lawrence Township’s Budget”
- April 20: “Help the Council Balance the Budget”
- April 20: “Council Gets an Earful in Wake of Referendum's Defeat”
- April 18: "Tax Increase, School Budget Shot down by Voters"
- April 16: “Governor Weighs in on Municipal Tax Referendum”
- April 16: “Sample Ballot for Tuesday’s Election Contains Error”
- April 13: “Letter to the Editor: Resident Opposed to Tax Hike Urges Council to 'Go Back to Drawing Board'”
- April 12: “Municipal Tax Referendum Forum to be Held Tonight”
- April 11: “Letter to the Editor: Township Manager Explains 'Need' for Tax Referendum's Approval”
- April 10: "Letter to the Editor: Municipal Tax Referendum is 'Best Option to Preserve Services With the Least Cost'"
- April 2: "Residents Grill Township Officials on Tax Referendum"
- March 28: “School Budget, Municipal Tax Referendum Subjects of Rival Meetings Thursday”
- March 26: “Municipal Budget Introduced, Stage Set for Tax Increase Referendum”
- March 26: “Last Chance to Register to Vote for School Board & Tax Referendum”
- March 20: “Township Manager Answers Tax Referendum Questions”
- March 14: “Trash ‘User Fee’ Would Be Mandatory If Tax Referendum Is Voted Down”
- March 8: “Usage Rate for Sewer Bill to Increase 15 Percent”
- Feb. 23: “36 Layoffs, Recreation Cuts Rejected by Town Council”
- Feb. 9: “Details of Tax Referendum, Other Alternatives Given”
- Jan. 18: “Township Manager Presents Proposed 2012 Budget, Recommends Referendum to Exceed Tax Increase Cap”