36 Layoffs, Recreation Cuts Rejected by Town Council

Lawrence Township Council members, during their meeting Tuesday, rejected a budget-balancing proposal that would require the firing of 36 township employees, and instead voiced support for a referendum seeking voter approval of a tax increase.

Thirty-six township employees – including eight police officers and all emergency medical technicians – would need to be laid off and all recreation programs for children and adults eliminated in order for Lawrence Township to balance its 2012 budget under the latest alternative municipal spending plan unveiled by Township Manager Richard Krawczun.

The proposal, presented to members of Lawrence Township Council at their meeting Tuesday evening (Feb. 21), is not something that Krawczun supports in any way; it was simply the township manager’s response to a request made by council members for another alternative to the .

“I want to be very clear – unequivocally clear – this is a response to council’s request for information,” Krawczun said as he began to discuss the layoff plan. “I’m not making these recommendations. As I’ve pointed out to many people, many times, when we look down the bench to put somebody in the game, everybody’s [already] in the game. We have no substitutes... I keep hearing, ‘Run it like a business.’ In order to do the service correctly, we need these people.”

After listening to the specifics of the proposed layoffs and gutting of the recreation department, and the likely effects they would have on the township, council members resoundingly rejected the idea.

While adoption of a formal resolution authorizing such a referendum was put off till their March 6 meeting, all five council members voiced their support for holding – as per one of Krawczun’s earlier recommendations – a referendum in April asking township voters to approve an increase to the municipal tax rate that exceeds the state’s 2 percent tax levy cap.

"Personally, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night." - Mayor Jim Kownacki

Mayor Jim Kownacki said he could not stomach laying off so many township workers. “Personally, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night,” he said.

Councilman Greg Puliti said the layoffs would devastate the township’s ability to function and provide essential services like public safety. “I can’t tell you how many civic meetings I’ve had about the burglaries in Lawrence Township [which have] risen because of the economic times. We’re going to cut one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight [officers]? We’ll never solve any crimes in this town if we do that,” he said.

Under the plan presented by Krawczun Tuesday evening individual layoffs or selective cuts to the recreation department would not be helpful because all 36 layoffs and the elimination of all recreational programs would be needed to save enough money to plug the $2,275,000 gap that is at the heart of this year’s municipal budget dilemma.

Eliminating all recreation programs, leaving only funding for senior citizens’ programs and a handful of township special events, for example, would save only about $203,000, while firing the township EMTs and switching over to a contracted ambulance service would save only about $335,000, according to Krawczun.

Krawczun noted that nearly half of the township’s $42.35 million 2012 budget is made up of fixed costs – such as debt service, liability insurance, and fire hydrant fees – that cannot be touched.  

(A complete copy of the layoff proposal can be found in PDF format in the media box above. Audio from the meeting is also available from the media box. Budget discussions can be heard in the meeting audio Part 2 file).

"...What do we use to protect our firemen, our police, and all our road workers if there’s a hurricane or something like that? And that’s why I would not eliminate the EMS service." - Councilman Greg Puliti

As has been discussed at previous meetings, Puliti stressed the fact that the township’s budget difficulties are "not the result of a spending problem," but instead the product of the bad economy and the loss of $167 million to the township’s tax base in the last five years as the result of successful commercial and residential property tax appeals. He said he keeps hearing township residents asking the question, “Gee, didn’t council see this coming?”

“Mr. Krawczun saw this coming three years ago,” Puliti said. “We didn’t push this problem off. In the past three years we’ve had reductions of employees up to 10 percent, we’ve increased user fees to where they’re almost not user-friendly, we’ve refunded outstanding debt when something’s callable and it’s a lower interest and we can pay the cost so we can save money… We bid electricity out. We’ve had phone and energy audits. We bid out the phone service. We froze other appropriations and had reductions. We’ve reduced capital expenditures and, as you’ve heard before, Mr. Krawczun is getting us on a path of pay-as-you-go capital budgeting with no debt service. These are things we’ve done in the past three years.”

Puliti said he is adamantly against eliminating the township’s municipal emergency medical service because the township, ultimately, would have no control over a contracted ambulance service.  

“In an emergency when, let’s say, it’s a county emergency or there’s an emergency in another town, we have no control over those contracted ambulances. Even though we’re contracted with them, trust me, if the military says they need them, or if the county says they need them, or if the state says they need those ambulances, they’re gone. So what do we use to protect our firemen, our police, and all our road workers if there’s a hurricane or something like that? And that’s why I would not eliminate the EMS service,” he said.

Powers agreed, saying “In terms of EMS, sure you could outsource it, but then, guess what, once you outsource it you are at the mercy of the outsourcing company. He’s going to give you a discount that first year to entice you to switch over to that service but then once he has you switched over and that first contract ends, now you have no alternative but the outsourcing company. What do you think he’s going to do in that second contract? That teaser rate is going to disappear and it’s going to be higher… It’s a short-term gain, long-term loss.”

With regard to the township’s recreational programs, Powers said the youth sports and other activities offered to township children help combat childhood obesity and Type II diabetes, both growing problems throughout the United States. “Think about that next generation coming up in terms of the cost to our health system if we don’t do something to intervene and give recreational opportunities to our youth to stay active. They’re on the computers all the time,” he said.

Puliti noted that recreational programs also help keep children out of trouble with the police.

Having to use 97 percent of the surplus fund to balance this year’s budget would leave the township financially unable to respond to a natural disaster such as a hurricane or other unforeseen crisis.

When , he noted that in under to stay below the state’s 2 percent tax increase cap, the municipal tax rate would need to be increased by 5 cents and nearly all the township’s available surplus – or $4.87 million out of $5.02 million – would need to be used as revenue to balance the $42.35 million township spending plan.

That 5-cent municipal tax rate hike – from $0.84 per $100 of assessed property value to $0.89 – would mean the owner of a home assessed at the township’s current average of $160,828 would pay an additional $80.41 in municipal taxes in 2012.

Having to use 97 percent of the surplus fund to balance this year’s budget would leave the township financially unable to respond to a natural disaster such as a hurricane or other unforeseen crisis, and would also create “catastrophe” in 2013 because not enough surplus would be available as a revenue source to help balance the 2013 budget, Krawczun has said.

Krawczun has told council he estimates it will be possible to “regenerate” about $2.6 million in surplus this year, through the collection of delinquent taxes, along with fines and interest, and “unanticipated” revenue like fines generated by the red light traffic enforcement cameras on Route 1. That, according to Krawczun, means the township can use an equal amount of surplus as revenue to balance this year’s budget. But in order to leave the remaining money untouched in the surplus fund this year for use later in 2013, the township must find another way to plug the resulting $2,275,000 hole.

With that in mind, during the Feb. 7 council meeting, Krawczun presented his original budget-balancing alternatives.

Under the referendum plan, voters would be asked to approve an additional 9-cent municipal tax rate hike (in addition to the aforementioned 5-cent increase) that would generate the money needed to balance the budget. The additional 9 cents, bringing the municipal tax rate up to $0.98, would result in the average township homeowner paying $144.75 more.

The township could save money – and, in turn, balance its 2012 budget – by removing the cost of trash collection from its operational expenses. But such a move would cost the average Lawrence Township taxpayer more.

If voters reject the referendum, the only likely alternative council will have – short of implementing the layoff plan – will be to adopt one of the other two alternatives Krawczun presented to council on Feb. 7.

Under those two scenarios, the township could save money – and, in turn, balance its 2012 budget – by removing the cost of trash collection from its operational expenses. But such a move would cost the average Lawrence Township taxpayer more than the referendum option.

Currently, trash collection and trash disposal “tipping” fees are paid by the township through its municipal budget, with the costs being shared equally – through the collection of municipal taxes – by both homeowners and commercial property owners, even though commercial properties do not benefit from the trash collection services.

Under the first of those scenarios, the “solid waste utility” option, residential trash collection in Lawrence Township would continue to operate as it currently does – with the services provided by a contracted trash company – but the funding for trash collection and disposal would come not from taxes but from a separate fee assessed against homeowners; homeowners would receive a separate bill from the township for trash service, much like they currently receive a bill for sewer service. 

The other option would see township homeowners shopping around for their own trash vendor – similar to how they would choose a cable television provider – and entering into individual contracts for trash service with that vendor.

In both of those cases, commercial property owners would not share the cost of trash collection, as they currently do through their payment of municipal taxes.

“While it is not an easy $11 to add onto your bill every month, I think that it is significantly less painful than $30 a month." - Councilwoman Cathleen Lewis.

If voters pass the referendum option, the average homeowner would pay about $144 more per year or $12 more per month as a result of the added 9-cent tax rate increase. Under the “solid waste utility” option, the average homeowner would pay about $336 more per year or $28 more per month, and under the individual trash subscription option the average homeowner would pay $360-plus more per year or $30-plus more per month.

Another advantage of the referendum option, Krawczun and council members have noted, is that municipal taxes are deductible on individual income tax returns, representing further savings, whereas trash user fees are not deductible. That $12 in taxes extra per month resulting from the referendum being approved would drop to $11 or less per month through income tax deduction, depending on the individual taxpayer’s tax bracket.

During Tuesday evening’s meeting, Krawczun also briefly discussed another potential budget-balancing option – holding an accelerated tax sale – but he explained why the negatives outweighed the positives and told council that he would not recommend such a move.

“It is clear to me that this township has taken steps to try to mitigate these problems over the last few years and it’s also clear that there’s not a one-size-fits-all magic solution to this problem other than asking township residents for additional money,” Councilwoman Cathleen Lewis said toward the conclusion of Tuesday’s meeting.

“While it is not an easy $11 to add onto your bill every month, I think that it is significantly less painful than $30 a month. I think that we need to continue to look for other ways to use the monies that the township gives us wisely, and I think we’ve done that, but I do not think there are other small cuts that are going to make up that windfall,” she said.

Richard February 24, 2012 at 05:13 AM
I agree with Angelo. And,Dan what planet are you living on? Every time you vote yes for more school taxes that $ doesn't go toward better education, it goes for increase in salaries. Voting for a municipal tax increase only enables the addicts. For too many years there has been too much waste & living the high life, now that there is a debt they are scrambling to instill fear in us that the township is going to collapse if the taxpayers don't shell out more $. Be empowered and, don't let them intimidate you by all these threats...
Richard February 24, 2012 at 05:15 AM
Right on, Cathy G.
Richard February 24, 2012 at 05:20 AM
I like the idea of non-council looking at the budget...Why not? Corporations & small businesses are reducing hours & benefits to keep their doors open ....why is Lawrence township giving pay raises & keeping recreation programs during hard times? It is unethical & just plain stupid ! Can someone post the date we get to vote on this tax increase, please ?
Richard February 24, 2012 at 05:27 AM
You are brilliant.....I hope you can discuss this at the next town council meeting, I think it is March 1st..We need your help & others who really know about gov't budgets, etc.. This pleading for more $ is never going to stop....every 6 months there will be another excuse.
NYC February 24, 2012 at 08:43 AM
Over the past year municipal employees lost more then 10% the of their pay between paying an increase in health care benefits and pension contributions. There is your 10% cut across the board. This is money saved that the town doesnt have to pay out. The employees will pay even more each year saving more money with each increase. The employees have taken 0% raised during the last contract years as a good faith measure to save the tax payers money. The big bad unions have been more than reasonable in Lawrenceville. BUT of course enough is never enough. You give 1 the manager wants 2, you give 2 the manager wants 4. Then the employees are made to look greedy because giving is never enough. Add in the retired employees that haven't been replaced and there is more savings. Add the towns money magnet red light camera and more money that wasn't here before. I don't claim to understand municipal budgets but money is money. There are still plenty of ways to save money some good ideas have been mentioned here. All the little cuts should be exhausted before anyone is laid off. Lay offs should only happen after overtime is cut, cars are parked, schedules are tightened and it is an absolute last resort. I'm embarrassed for that these ideas were even mentioned and I have nothing to do with it. I get up at 3am to goto work everyday just to pay more taxes. This is perfect
Dianne February 24, 2012 at 02:48 PM
I work for the State of NJ, we had to take mandatory Furlough days, I suggest that Township take one furlough day a month, this will save money. Just like the State, we have to pay more towards, medical and pension. Township should do the same here and you will see how much you will save. I have not receive a raise in over 5 years, not like the Township employees receiving 4% pay raises. Here are other suggestion and ways to save money: Duplication of services with Mercer County (MC)and Lawrence Township (LT) Board of Social Services (MC) Aging Office (LT) Housing & Community Development (MC) Housing Division (LT) Public Works Office (MC) Public Works (LT) Health Office (MC) Health Office (MC) Recreation (MC) Recreation (MC) This is just a start with Consolidation and Duplication of services with all Municipalities. Let Lawrence be the first to start, you will see how many other municipalities will follow.
Lawrencevillegal February 24, 2012 at 05:27 PM
Diane's ideas are just scratching the surface but they are part of the transformative solution required. Each of the departments she lists are filled with unnamed, unelected bureacrats [Not people any better or worse than those in the private sector. It is just that government is run so that there is little-to-no transperancy into the majority of who these people are, what they do, and what their budgetes are, etc.] each with their own budgets needing line item review. Most, if not all, of the budgets are also driven by bloated, government, over-regulation or wrong-regulation. Removing/changing regulation will reduce costs and improve efficiency. This is the type of solution our elected officials should be pursuing. Meanwhile, our elected politicians are trying to frame the discussion around muni employees that we know and see and care about each day - cops, firefighters, clerks, maintenance staff keeping who keep our muni vehicles and parks and infrastructure operating, etc. This is not a solution or even on the right path to a solution. The reality is that decades of poorly run governement are what our currently elected officials have inherited. It is their duty as elected officials to recognize the magnitude of the problem and develop a truly transformative change in organization, structure, polocies, procedures and budgets of government. Lou Nanne: Pretty lofty goal, Herb. Herb Brooks: Well, Lou, that's why I want to pursue it.
Linda February 24, 2012 at 08:16 PM
You know Dan with all due respect you are either the Kool aid drinker or you have a personal vested interest in the tax increase.
Linda February 24, 2012 at 08:21 PM
My answer is FIRE RICHARD KRAWCZUN and get a new manager if he can balance the books. How dare he extort yet more money from the taxpayers of Lawrence. What good was it for Christie to put a cap on property taxes only to have these commie leaches turn around and tell us if we don't go along with the increase we will pay for garbage etc. Way I see we are already paying for garbage with Krawczun and the musical chairs council.
Winston February 24, 2012 at 08:45 PM
Obviously...you are either part of the 40% that pay no taxes, overhead on the municipal payroll or someone with some serious issues...
Linda February 24, 2012 at 09:15 PM
Every taxpayer in Lawrence should attend this meeting. It is time these cronies are held answerable as to where every penny of our tax dollars are going. Every year it is like a "shake down" from this losers.
larry February 24, 2012 at 09:35 PM
Make your cuts across the board not just 2 departments. Does brush have to be picked up every month. Set the rules then enforce them with fines. You have extra money coming in. If you live out of the township use your own car to commute. Cut the fat you know there are some positions in the town you do not need just put there to take care of the politicians buddies
T B February 24, 2012 at 09:39 PM
Just a suggestion but why not take the township issued vehicles away from the two people who drive over an hour to work. Wouldn't that save some money. The Director of Public Works and the deputy Police Chief drive over an hour to work each day in township issued vehicles. If you don't live in the Township you should not be driving a township issued vehicle. I also would like to say after living in different townships our roads are clear within 24hrs of a snow storm. Hamilton, Ewing and Trenton take days to clear their roads of snow. Cutting any type of employee is NOT worth it but cutting back within the township could help not taking people's jobs away from them.
Senseless February 24, 2012 at 10:51 PM
There is no reason for the deputy chief to take his car home. He doesn't respond back to Lawrence, check the records. The chief lives in town and there is always a sergeant and enough officers working to handle a situation until a higher ranking officer shows up. His personal car will get him here just as fast and he can pick up his car from the police station. He also uses his police car for off duty security jobs why? Why does Krawczun allow this money wasting practice? It is not a benefit the taxpayers can afford anymore. It is not a lot of money but it is a start. How could you propose layoffs when this waste is happening. The PW director should not be driving a township car that far either. If essential personnel is that essential they should live closer or their assigned cars should be assigned o the next lower ranked person that lives in town since they will be the ones showing up in an emergency first anyway.
T B February 24, 2012 at 11:13 PM
Couldn't agree more Senseless! When is the next township meeting because these are valid points that NEED no HAVE TO be brought up!
Linda February 25, 2012 at 01:08 AM
Hi Cathy g, I would agree with you, however I would not like to share with towns that are currently sanctuary cities because of the large burden they carry. I am not willing to make concessions and then have to end up paying yet even more taxes to support that. :- )
T B February 25, 2012 at 01:16 AM
I have been doing yard work this winter, the weather has made that possible and thats probably why they only have 1 truck out picking up sticks and leaves. If they weren't there picking up leaves and sticks then people would complain. My biggest compliment is to the Public Works department. The parks are kept up, the roads get plowed, and they do a GREAT job at it. When I lived in Ewing, Hamilton and Trenton they barely do anything. At least Lawrence does a good job!!
Richard February 25, 2012 at 05:05 AM
Someone please post the dates of the meetings.. Also, I believe there is a school board vote for more money on April 17th. Another money pit.
Richard February 26, 2012 at 02:58 PM
Guy, you must be a beneficiary of this tax increase. Why are you telling Angelo how to discuss an issue? Ha....it's not right. By the way it's Angelo...not Angela.
LHSAlum02 February 26, 2012 at 06:28 PM
I agree that this should be looked into. I also heard from some cops that the cops are trying to get some kind of diff. way of getting off. They are trying to get the taxpayers to pay extra money for this time off. Do not have the whole story but maybe some of the cops on here can tell us about it. I heard that this hearing may cost us taxpayers PLENTY if the cops win.
Joe Russo February 26, 2012 at 08:52 PM
Facebook members. Please become a fb friend, to Lawrence FOP, the fraternity of Lawrence Twsp. PD. We post many photos of LTPD Cruisers in action, opinion and commentary. You're invited to participate, share an opinion or comment. Joe Russo,
Linda February 26, 2012 at 08:52 PM
Richard I believe April 17th is when the will have the referendum for the tax increase as well.
iBrain February 27, 2012 at 11:38 AM
Www.app.com and click data universe. Look at the salary for the manager who is giving suggestions on how to cut costs.
probable cause February 27, 2012 at 01:48 PM
There is no reason for the Head of Recreation to drive the Expedition around town either. He doesn't live far from the municipal building where he can drive his personal car to and from work everyday, like normal people. Also what about the health inspectors and other people who are on call who are called out in the middle of the night and never can come out at that time needed. Why do they need to bring home their cars if they can never answer or respond to fire calls, etc. The people who should bring their cars home, don't. Like the fire inspectors. No reason why they have to drive their personal vehicle to the municipal building and pick up their car during the middle of the night for a fire. I work for the state and do not agree that everyone who needs a state vehicle should be able to bring it home with them. DRIVE YOUR PERSONAL CAR TO WORK AND PICK IT UP FROM THERE., LIKE ALL OTHER HUMANS DO.
probable cause February 27, 2012 at 02:29 PM
Not to mention the deputy chief at Lawrenceville Fire Sta. 23 took the township vehicle for his own little personal vacation 3 1/2 hrs away in PA back in Jan. No wonder why they can never respond to calls. I don't pay taxes for them to use township gas to take his girlfriend on a getaway.
Richard February 27, 2012 at 06:19 PM
Let's not forget that there will be a total township property assessment done this year into 2013. Tons of new money will be made from increases in our tax bills. Some folks will be paying double !!! Especially if you have an older home. Why should we vote for an exception to the 2% cap when Lawrence will be bringing in more money anyway from the new assessments? Some argue that there will be homes that are overpaying now and, it will bring in less tax money for the township but, those homes are few & far between. Let's face it, most homes in Lawrence have been here for over 50 to 100 years , I have been paying taxes in Lawrence for over 60 years now...I get a $250 discount for seniors. Wow !
Midget February 27, 2012 at 08:46 PM
Beth or probable cause? Pick a name and for once in your life stop starting trouble.
Joe Russo March 03, 2012 at 09:47 PM
I read the following Contract Awards on the Lawrence Township Website. These were awards for January 2011. David Roskos, Esq,Sterns & Weinroth Attorney, Planning Bd. $50,000, Special Council, Planning Bd. $60,000. Attorney, Zoning Bd, $12,000 Edwin Schmierer, Esq. Mason, Griffin & Pierson, Zoning Bd. $42,000 Clark, Caton, Hintz, Planning Consultant, Planning Bd. - $180,000, Zoning Bd. $30,000. Arora & Assoc. Traffic Consultants, Zoning Bd. $10,000 " " Planning Bd. $17,500. These are a part of the contract awards, available for all to see on the website.
Michele March 16, 2012 at 08:36 PM
Thank you NYC for standing up for the Township employees and pointing out their increased health benefits and pensions costs as well as the fact that they have already gone a few years now WITHOUT pay raises. I don't think it registered with Ms. Dianne that the township employees have already been going through this the last few years specifically to try to save the township money. I'm not sure what township employees she is referring to that received 4% pay raises but it certainly wasn't my husband, who is a township public works employee and will be one of those laid off should it manage to come to that. A 10% pay cut to our family would be detrimental, might as well lay them off instead to collect unemployment and further the burden on the state. That's sort of like sweeping a mess under a rug isn't it? You can't see it but you're also a resident of NJ, so it's still there, problem not solved.
T B March 16, 2012 at 09:06 PM
Michelle I couldn't agree with you more! (Sorry what Michelle wrote is below and I couldn't respond there.) My husband is also a Public Works employee and if he losses his job we have NOTHING. His benefits and pay is all the income we have coming in. I would not survive without his health insurance, literally!!! My husband HAS NOT recieved a pay raise in a LONG time and we pay more for our benifits so what else do you want to take away from them, their jobs?! We would lose our home and I would lose my health battle. I know others who work with my husband are in similuar situations and by cutting jobs would be destroying families!!


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