Lawrence Township Council members during their meeting last Tuesday (Sept. 4) took two significant actions related to the township-wide property revaluation ordered by the Mercer County Board of Taxation.
First, with Councilwoman Cathleen Lewis out of town, the four council members present unanimously voted their approval of an ordinance authorizing a “special emergency appropriation” of $800,000 to pay for the revaluation, under terms that will allow the township to spread that cost out over a five-year period.
Without the passage of such an ordinance, the township would have had to account for the full amount during a single budget year – 2013.
Then, moments later, council members unanimously approved a $729,780 contract with Professional Property Appraisers, a Delran-based company that submitted the lowest of five bids the township received for the revaluation work.
As Krawczun , Professional Property Appraisers will be responsible for revaluating all properties in Lawrence Township except for Quaker Bridge Mall and its four “anchor” stores (J.C. Penney, Lord & Taylor, Macy’s and Sears).
The township plans, through the use of a separate professional services contract, to have those mall properties revaluated by a firm that has experience dealing with such large retail establishments, he said.
“Lawrence Township was ordered by the Mercer County Board of Taxation to conduct a revaluation of all property in Lawrence Township. We have gone out to bid award. The next item is the award of that bid. This ordinance will provide the funding to implement that order,” Krawczun said as he explained the ordinance to council members prior to their vote.
“And, I should point out, an order by the county board of taxation is equivalent to a court order. So we are obligated to follow their directive,” he continued. “Under the local budget law, a municipality may use this provision, the special emergency appropriation, to fund the cost of that reval over a period of five years; so one-fifth each year. It will require the issuance of emergency notes. Those notes are retired one-fifth each over the next five budget years, beginning in 2013, with the idea they are paid in full at the end of the five-year period.
“So this will provide the funding for the execution of the contract and the implementation of the revaluation program. In addition to the cost of the next contract that you will see it will also provide – which we will bring forward at the next meeting – a professional services agreement to do the revaluation of the Quaker Bridge Mall and the anchors. We have carved those out of our specifications because we wanted to make sure we hired a firm that had expertise in large regional malls,” he said.
In response to questions posed by West Church Road resident Richard Siegel, Krawczun explained that “the last revaluation conducted in Lawrence Township was 1993, with implementation in tax year 1994. Municipalities are required to have their assessed values equal 100 percent of market value. For year 2012 we are just shy of 50 percent – we are at 49 percent.
“In addition, the board will look at sales data of individual properties that deviate from market value to assessed value by more than 15 percent, up or down. And our deviation was as high as over 17 percent. Once you go past the 15 percent threshold it catches the interest of the county board of taxation,” Krawczun said, noting that the new property assessments – and corresponding municipal tax rate adjustment – that result from the revaluation will not take effect until 2014.
Krawczun said public meetings will eventually be scheduled to be held around town at which the revaluation process will be fully explained.
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Also during the Sept. 4 meeting, council approved two items related to the Lawrence Hopewell Trail: a $180,840 bid award with All Surface Paving Inc. of Point Pleasant for the construction of a segment of the trail adjacent to Lewisville Road on land owned by Bristol-Myers Squibb, and an ordinance authorizing a pedestrian crosswalk on Lewisville Road to link the new trail segment on BMS property with a new trail segment to be constructed on the neighboring Lawrenceville School campus.
Krawzun stressed that no municipal funds will be used for the new trail segments or the pedestrian crosswalk. All funding, he said, comes from a grant issued to the Lawrence Hopewell Trail Corp. by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission.
Council members on Sept. 4 also approved an ordinance increasing certain inspection fees charged by the township, an action which Krawczun estimated will raise about $30,000 in additional revenue for the township.
And council introduced an ordinance which, if approved at the next meeting on Sept. 18, will allow the township to raise additional revenue by selling off certain township-owned parcels to contiguous land owners.
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Also during the Sept. 4 meeting, Krawczun submitted to council members for their future consideration a memo written by Township Engineer James Parvesse in which Parvesse estimates the township could generate an additional $20,000 or more in revenue if it was to begin charging for zoning permits.
The township currently does not charge for such permits. In his memo, Parvesse offered a table outlining the fees charged for certain zoning permits by Ewing, Hamilton, Hopewell, Princeton and West Windsor. The fees shown on that table ranged from $25 to $100 each.
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And during the public participation segment at the start of the Sept. 4 meeting, it was noted that Krawczun had recently met with Pin Oak Drive resident Allen Cohen and Pine Knoll Drive resident Amy Davis to review the township’s budget.
The offer to meet was made at the Aug. 21 council meeting in answer to the two residents’ questions about the township’s finances in light of the budget problems the township faces going into 2013.
In response to that meeting, Cohen voiced his support for Krawczun’s management of the township.
“Unlike some residents, I do not begrudge the compensation being paid Mr. Krawczun. He has a very challenging job and he appears to do it professionally and with integrity,” Cohen said. “I would like to make a request of Mr. Krawczun, through the town council, of course. I would like to see a plan for downsizing the Lawrence Township government to bring costs in line with long-term projected revenues so we don’t have serial layoffs year after year. Mr. Krawczun should be given free rein to go over each department, each personnel, free of political interference or favoritism, free of ‘sacred cows,’ without any politically-inspired retribution against any employee, and objectively assess where we can cut, outsource and become more cost-effective. Let the chips fall where they may. The council, of course, can modify or reject any recommendation.
“Mr. Krawczun is the proper person to do this; not me, nor any other resident-become-instant-municipal-management-expert. And there are many different ways to proceed, from furloughs to permanent reductions of hours and layoffs. It may also mean reducing the hours departments are open to serve the residents. It is complicated and there is a cascade of residual ramifications any time you do something like this. So it needs someone with the highest expertise, which Mr. Krawczun has. But first you undertake the cuts I outlined and others I haven’t before you proceed to personnel reductions. The changes I’ve outlined are not entirely equitable. A pay freeze is much more painful to a person making $50,000 a year than to one making $100,000. But not having a job is a lot worse,” Cohen said.
Full audio from the Sept. 4 meeting can be found in the media box above. Also available are copies of the ordinances and the township engineer’s memo.
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