Township Gets Taste of Voters' Wrath
Lawrence municipal budget question, school board tally were among the very few to get nixed by voters in New Jersey this year.
In the end, Lawrence Township voters made it clear that they wanted nothing to do with an 17.8 percent municipal tax hike, and they did so by voting in overwhelming fashion.
By a 2-1 margin, voters nixed a 9-cent municipal tax rate increase -- which was on top of an approved 5-cent hike -- that the township sought to balance the 2012 municipal budget without further cutting staff or services.
The Lawrence school budget also went down, though by a relatively narrow margin, in what school board President Laura Walters called "collateral damage."
“Residents of Lawrence Township are concerned over taxation, not just taxes from Lawrence Township municipal government but all levels of government," Lawrence Township Manager Richard Krawczun told Patch after the votes were tallied Tuesday night. "I think there’s justified frustration about the economy, justified frustration about the job market and justified frustration over the poor timing of all of these difficult trends culminating at one time.”
And yet, the Lawrence vote stands out as an outlier when placed within the context of the rest of the state. A Medford tax referendum similar to the one in Lawrence was OK'd and, according to the state School Boards Association, voters approved 90 percent of school budgets (63 of 70) on Tuesday, one of the highest approval percentages in recent memory. Lawrence, during a contentious February meeting in which some board members raised concern about the timing of the municipal vote, joined 69 other school districts in the state in not moving its election to November.
The contrast in results between what happened at the state level and what happened in Lawrence makes it clear that what happened on Tuesday was very much a local matter and not necessarily part of a larger anti-tax trend in New Jersey.
Let's be clear, New Jersey residents have not been happy with their tax bills for a while, but their anger -- at least as it is demonstrated by the results of local elections -- seems to have subsided some.
In Lawrence, however, the anger remains palpable. On Monday, for instance, in comments attached to a story and poll on the tax referendum, Patch users expressed their outrage over the vote.
"This makes me sick," said one user. "Every town has had tax appeals and loss of ratables, I guess those towns came up with other solutions like CUTS! You have a Rep Gov telling the residents of these two towns to vote no and a Dem Senate Pres pushing for legislation to end the extortion of imposing new fees. Seems like everybody gets it but our Council."
Another users blamed the township manager and council, saying "there is a reason only 2 out of 566 are voting on a referendum and that reason is INEFFECTIVE MANAGEMENT."
Are they correct? It is true that there are mitigating circumstances, including the large loss of ratables. But there is no dismissing their anger and the people on the council are going to have to listen.