Editor's Note: The following formal statement by township resident Amy Davis was read during the public participation segment of the special Lawrence Township Council meeting held last night (May 23). It is presented here in its entirety as a Letter to the Editor.
The Day of Reckoning is here in Lawrence Township. For years, our governing body has watched revenues decline, dipped more into its surplus, increased taxes and failed to make any substantial cuts in spending. As a result, our town now has a $2.275 million hole to fill in its budget.
The solution the township manager recommended and our elected officials approved was a public question to pass a 17 percent property tax increase, in addition to residents already facing a 15 percent increase in the sewer rate. As if that wasn't shocking enough, part of the increase would go towards funding raises for all municipal employees. To add further insult to injury, the council threatened residents that if the tax increase was defeated, residents would be forced to pay a new $336 annual garbage fee.
Well, the intelligent residents of Lawrenceville called your bluff. The tax increase was not only defeated 2-to-1 but angry residents have appeared at every council meeting since the election and have unanimously spoken against any new user fee being added to the municipal budget. Legislation has also been introduced to prevent your effort to make an end-run around the state's 2 percent cap by creating a new garbage fee.
The state's 2 percent cap was enacted because residents in New Jersey are feed up with paying already high and ever-increasing taxes. You blame the 2 percent cap for your current financial troubles but it's the only thing currently protecting taxpayers from being taxed to death. We know reasonable cuts and sacrifices can be made. We have all been doing it for many years in our own homes. Now we demand that our governing body do it. To put it simply, we don't spend what we don't have, so why should you?
The question that should have been presented to voters was "higher taxes or spending cuts" not “higher taxes or an additional garbage fee.” Regardless, the residents of Lawrenceville have given you their answer loud and clear. Make the necessary spending cuts because any increase over the allowable 2 percent cap is more than what we can bear.
Every year, I attend the school district's budget presentation and I am always very impressed with how articulate and connected the superintendant and business administrator are with the residents of Lawrenceville. Their presentation is always very thorough but put in simple terms so the average resident can understand where we've been, where we are and where we want to go. Long term planning and fiscal responsibility are always stressed as a top priority.
This past year at one of the school budget meetings, a parent asked the superintendent and business administrator if they had considered exceeding the 2 percent cap to provide better services. Without a moment's hesitation, they both responded that they did not feel the taxpayers in Lawrenceville could afford to pay more and thus were committed to staying well below the permissible 2 percent cap. They got it and they were right.
In sharp contrast, a few weeks later I attended one of the municipal budget meetings hosted by our township manager with two council members present and the message I received was that the taxpayers have to pay more because the residents don't want less services. Despite my and many others in the audience best efforts to convince them otherwise, they refused to listen. I hope you're listening now and understand that if you fail to generate new revenue and do not increase savings you will be forced to make more cuts. There is no other option.
Despite our recent troubles, we live in a great town and we should continue the conversation by attending future council meetings and having more citizen interaction with our governing body so we can make it an even better, more affordable place to live. I hope our mayor, council and township manager will join us in our efforts to achieve that goal.
- Amy Davis, Lawrence Township resident