Lawrence Township has so far received at least one donation in response to the letter it sent out earlier this month asking dozens of tax-exempt organizations and non-profit institutions in the township to consider making a “voluntary contribution” equal to 25 percent of what they would pay in property taxes were they not exempt.
“I would like to report that we have had a positive response from SERV Behavioral Health System,” Township Manager Richard Krawzcun reported during Tuesday evening’s (Aug. 21) township council meeting.
“SERV operates a group home on Darrah Lane,” he said. “They have submitted a check in the full amount requested of $2,101. Again, this is a single family home that they use as a group home on Darrah Lane.
“Their executive director was very responsive and clear about the services provided [by the township] and felt it was appropriate to make a contribution for this purpose,” Krawczun related.
The idea of approaching tax-exempt groups for a payment in lieu of taxes was discussed at the .
While some of the groups that received the township letter already make voluntary annual donations, the letter specifically urged these groups to consider a donation equal to 25 percent of what their municipal tax liability would be.
In a news release issued on Aug. 1, Krawczun explained the reasoning behind the appeal:
Tax exempt organizations, excluding government owned properties, located in Lawrence Township, account for $287,584,000 in assessed value for which no real estate taxes are collected. The amount that assessment would generate for just municipal real estate tax revenue is $2,500,000, which is greater than the budget gap that Lawrence faced in 2012.
Lawrence Township has been confronting many budgetary challenges. Some of those challenges are dramatic reductions in state aid, declines of miscellaneous revenues and less available surplus as budget revenue due to tax appeals. Since only 2010 Lawrence Township has lost $160,287,000 in ratables due to tax appeals. The township is responsible for the full refund of all successful appeals including the full portion of county and school taxes. In response to these challenges, staff has been reduced from 212 employees in 2008 to 182 employees in 2012, outstanding debt has been refinanced, fees raised and capital spending reduced.
The Township Council has pointed out that the township has tightened its belt and residents have shouldered the burden of higher taxes. Now the tax exempt organizations are being asked to consider providing a voluntary contribution to support municipal services. The council has asked that any contributions be received before Oct. 31 in order to facilitate the preparation of the 2013 municipal budget.
"The Lawrence Township municipal government is responsible for a wide range of services, public safety, public health, maintenance of roads, buildings, parks and community development operations,” Mayor Jim Kownacki said in that Aug. 1 news release. “Residents, businesses and visitors all benefit from these services, as do the tax exempt property owners within our community."
After Krawczun made his announcement at Tuesday’s council meeting about SERV’s contribution, Councilman Michael Powers said, “I think we should send a thank you note to the SERV folks.”
Powers went on to suggest that Krawczun follow up the letter with phone calls to some of the larger tax-exempt groups to make sure the appropriate people at those groups actually received the township’s letter.
“In the larger organizations, sometimes there’s a black hole in terms of where that letter goes,” he said.