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School Budget, Municipal Tax Referendum Subjects of Rival Meetings Thursday

Lawrence Township taxpayers will have to decide whether to go to the school board's formal budget hearing or Township Manager Richard Krawczun's public forum about the municipal tax increase. Both meetings are scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, March 29.

With two important meetings scheduled to take place at the same time in different locations tomorrow (Thursday, March 29), Lawrence Township taxpayers will be forced to decide if they want to spend their evening learning more about the township school district’s budget or the municipal budget. Tax increases are included in both budgets.

The Lawrence Township Board of Education will hold its formal hearing on the 2012-2013 school year budget at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Commons.

Meanwhile, also at 7 p.m. Thursday, Township Manager Richard Krawczun will appear at a public forum – hosted at the on Slack Avenue by the Colonial Heights Civic Association – to discuss the 2012 municipal budget and the municipal tax increase referendum that will be presented to voters on April 17. 

At the school board meeting, school district Superintendent Crystal Lovell and Business Administrator Tom Eldridge will discuss the $67.17 million school budget, which carries a 3-cent increase to the township’s school tax rate. Members of the public will have an opportunity to ask questions and make comments before board members vote to formally adopt the budget.

That adoption will send the budget to township voters to approve or reject on April 17, at which time voters will also (filling three full terms and two unexpired terms).

The 3-cent hike will increase the school tax rate to $2.36 per $100 of assessed property value, meaning that the owner of a home assessed (for tax purposes) at the township average of $160,828 will pay about $3,795.54 in school taxes this year, or about $48 more than last year.

District officials have said the 3-cent increase is solely the result of the by residential and commercial property owners.

Details about the school budget can be found on the school district’s website, in the district’s monthly newsletter “The Link,” and also in previous stories on Lawrenceville Patch (see story list below).

Lovell and Eldridge will also discuss the school district budget at two upcoming PTO meetings that will be open to the general public. Those meetings will take place at 7 p.m. on April 3 at Eldridge Park Elementary School and at 7 p.m. on April 4 at Slackwood Elementary School.

During the municipal tax forum at Slackwood firehouse, Township Manager Krawczun will discuss the township’s $43.35 million budget for 2012 and explain how a decline in revenue – particularly from a cumulative decrease of over $167 million in ratables due to successful tax appeals over the last five years – has created financial problems for the township.

The 2012 budget includes a 5-cent increase that will raise the municipal tax rate from $0.84 per $100 of assessed property value to $0.89, meaning that the owner of a home assessed (for tax purposes) at the township average of $160,828 will pay about $1,431 in municipal taxes for 2012, or about $80 more than in 2011.

On top of that 5-cent increase, the budget also includes a 9-cent increase to the municipal tax rate that township voters will be asked to approve on April 17 through a referendum held in conjunction with the school board election and school budget vote. Voter approval is needed because the 9-cent increase exceeds the state’s 2 percent tax levy cap.

The additional 9 cents, if approved by voters, will raise the municipal tax rate to $0.98, increasing the 2012 municipal tax bill for the average home owner by another $144.75.

Krawczun has repeatedly explained that the additional 9-cent tax increase is needed to avoid the township having to use 97 percent of its surplus fund to balance the 2012 budget. To take the surplus fund so low would leave the township financially unable to respond to a natural disaster or other unforeseen crisis, and would also create future “catastrophe” because not enough surplus would be available as a revenue source to help balance the 2013 budget.

Krawczun has also said that spending is not to blame for the township’s budget woes, blaming instead the decline to the tax base and decreases in state aid in recent years.

If voters reject the tax referendum on April 17, the township will be forced to revise the budget by cutting expenditures. And the way that will be done, Krawczun and township council have said, is that the cost of residential trash collection and disposal will be removed from the municipal budget. All such trash costs will instead be covered by a new mandatory “user fee” assessed against all residential property owners in town.

With estimates placing that user fee at about $336 per year, Krawczun and council members have repeatedly noted that, for most homeowners, the 9-cent tax rate hike would ultimately cost less than the trash user fee. They have also stressed the fact that municipal taxes are deductible on individual income tax returns, whereas a trash user fee would not be deductible.

During the forum, members of the public will be given a chance to ask Krawczun questions about the budget and referendum. Krawczun will appear at another such forum that will be held at 7 p.m. on April 12 in the community room of the at 2211 Lawrence Rd. (Route 206).

 

For School Budget and School Board, See:

  • Feb. 29: “”
  • Feb. 29: “”
  • Feb. 15: “”
  • Jan. 11: “”

For Municipal Tax Referendum, See:

  • March 26: “”
  • March 26: “
  • March 20: “”
  • March 14: “”
  • March 8: “”
  • Feb. 23: “”
  • Feb. 9: “”
  • Jan. 18: “”
Michele Sullivan March 28, 2012 at 01:07 PM
Unfortunately, parents of children at LIS will have to decide between attending either tax meeting or if they prefer to attend the school pla. Ben Franklin and LES parents are also faced with a similar dilemma as both schools are hosting a Science Fair and Math Carnival and an Aspiring Authors Night respectively. All of these events have been clearly posted on the LTPS calendar for months.
Time Warp March 28, 2012 at 01:38 PM
There have been at least a few opportunities for citizens to attend public presentations about budgets from each of the government bodies - both the council and the school district. They have been held in various locations at different times. The information presented is also available online and upon request to all. With so many ways of becoming informed, it is inevitable that there will be some scheduling conflicts. There is no dilemma. Rather, there are choices about how and when one wants to become informed - for the very few who actually bother to learn about this stuff in depth.
Michele Sullivan March 28, 2012 at 04:41 PM
With regard to the school budget proposal, I agree that there have been and will be alternate times for PRESENTATIONS. However, the difference is Thursday's hearing is in front of the entire Board of Education, and is more than an opportunity for the public to view the presentation, but rather an opportunity for the public to voice their opinion on the budget. Hence the dilemma. I am very interested in how the school budget will affect the education of my children, however, I will not be able to attend as I will be enhancing my child's learning experience by attending the Science Fair. I also wonder if those school board members who have children in the district will be faced with the same dilemma, attend the meeting or perhaps miss attending a school sponsored event at their respective schools.
Charles Dismukes March 28, 2012 at 07:02 PM
LTPS should reschedule the municipal budget and BOE meetings, or face the public response of its citizens. Township officials, both BOE AND MUNICIPAL, are required by law to provide ample time for public input. Prior BOE scheduled PRESENTATIONS of proposed budget items that are crowed out by a parade of LTPS students and faculty "cherry picked" by officials to deny time for real meaningul public input is a sham. This Lawrence resident does not accept this smoke screen tactic to stiffle public input. Reschedule the BOE and Muncipal meetings and allow adequate time for thoughtful input on how our taxes will be spent. Charles Dismukes
Charles Dismukes March 28, 2012 at 07:52 PM
Township officials propose to increase municipal taxes by a whopping ~6%, despite a substantial increase in revenues from the automated traffic fines collected at Rt 1 / Franklin Corner Rd (~10x more than expected!). Here is a proposal to REDUCE municipal taxes that is sensible since it directly tie this new source of income to the services it displaces. Public safety has been improved and thus the need for police service has been reduced. The sensible action is, therefore, to reduce support of the police budget by the amount gained from the automated traffic fines, about $100K/month since they started operating in January.
Charles Dismukes March 28, 2012 at 08:44 PM
Tomorrow night the BOE proposes to pass a school budget which spends $24.4M on "Regular Ed", a 1% increase, and $10.8M on "Special Ed", a 3% increase, according to the budget posted last January. According to this one metric, LTPS spends 44% of its "educational" budget on special needs. The number of students supported in each group has not been disclosed and the student/(teacher+administrator) ratios are also not disclosed. I can assure you that these ratios are strongly skewed in favor of special Ed. The per student cost for "educating" the average student in LTPS is about $15-16k/y/student. We have not been given the per student costs according to either of the above groups, only the average. However, in 2010, an administrator disclosed at a BOE meeting that one special Ed student cost $360K for one year to "educate". In January 2012, LTPS paid the costs for another special needs student to be schooled outside of our district education at $279K/2y , 2010-2011, tuition + litigation. CONTINUED
Charles Dismukes March 28, 2012 at 08:46 PM
The main priority of the five year plan as stated by Dr. Lovell during the January priority presentation is to increase the graduation rate. In other words, the single most important goal of the present administration is to focus financial and manpower on the lowest % ranking group in the entire school district. Now lets compare this to the average student at the middle of the bell curve - your child? The priorities of the BOE and the Superintendent in the last multiple years has been to reduce funding of the educational programs that serve the majority of Regular Ed students. The list of cut backs in the core educational programs that were proposed or adopted by the BOE that I am aware of (a fraction of the actual) are: -elimination of the PACE program three years ago (grouping of students by ability - a proven learning strategy), -the reduction of Kindergarten instruction to half days in 2010 (saved by the LTPS teachers who accepted a pay cut instead) -increase in Kindergarten class size from 17 to 24+ -reduction of the G&T program to an infinitesimal size/impact (G&T has been renamed G&S for gypped and shafted by some parents) -please add other educational programs here CONTINUED
Charles Dismukes March 28, 2012 at 09:01 PM
I do not believe that a BOE that proposes eliminating Kindergarten for all children, while expanding non-educational programs that serve the few, no matter how needy, is actually serving the needs of our children or our community as a whole. We depend on LTPS administration and teachers to produce K-12 graduates who can compete for colleges and jobs, to build the economy, so that we, their parents, can retire with security and peace of mind. LTPS ranking in Mercer County public school has dropped from 4th to 6th in the last ten years. Demographics or BOE policy? You be the judge.- You do not have to pass a budget that fundamentally denies the rights of your children or your neighbors children to equal access to educational resources. Demand that BOE and the Township reschedule the budget meetings to non-coincident nights, then show up an vote.
HeavenHelpUs March 28, 2012 at 09:05 PM
This conflict isn't just BoE vs town meetings--there is an LES Aspiring Author event, Ben Franklin school science fair and an LIS play. Let's not forget softball, baseball, soccer and lacrosse--all taking parents away from these very important meetings.
Frank Lee March 28, 2012 at 09:32 PM
The BOE meets more than monthly. The regular meetings are scheduled several months in advance. There are three opportunities for public comment at each meeting. The budget details have been available for at least several weeks. The scheduling of tomorrow's hearing is constrained by NJ State requirements. You are correct about board members; these volunteers have scheduling conflicts too. There is no way to schedule a meeting that will not create conflicts for some.
Frank Lee March 28, 2012 at 09:38 PM
Nonsense. Nobody is stifled. The board president asks for public input at every meeting. Frequently, nobody has anything to say. Listen to the audio at your own convenience, any time. It's all on web. I don't believe questions weren't accepted at any presentations. You probably just didn't like the answers. Your conspiracy theory about cherry-picking and smoke-screens is ridiculous.
Frank Lee March 28, 2012 at 09:40 PM
Do you propose that LTPS defy federal law and court rulings about the education of special needs students? That's an interesting proposition. Why don't I see your name on the coming election ballot?
Frank Lee March 28, 2012 at 09:54 PM
I'm guessing by your earlier use of quotation marks and the phrase "non-educational" that you don't think that educating special needs students is really education. I invite you to offer your plan for this population. You don't seem to have a problem spending money on "the few" when it is a group that you deem worthy. Transparent. The district serves all students. Some cost more to educate. You want a secure future? Pay for it.
Frank Lee March 28, 2012 at 09:55 PM
That's right. There are far more events than any single person can attend. Conflicts come from all directions, for all parties. That's life.
Waya Walmart March 28, 2012 at 10:24 PM
I have a doctors appointment that night.
Michele Sullivan March 29, 2012 at 01:00 AM
During the presentation regarding the budget I learned that the LTPS budget is approximately $500K below the 2% allowable cap imposed by the state of NJ. Additionally, Dr. Lovell stated that the district was, in a sense, punished in the past by the state government because we were able to "come in under budget" and consequently our funding was reduced." When I asked Dr. Lovell if she was worried that perhaps coming in under budget this year might send the same message to the government, her response was "we're hoping that doesn't happen again." Seriously? Forgive me, but is our school district really HOPING we don't lose more funding? Aren't we taught to learn from our mistakes? I would rather the district increase the budget to the full 2% and restore some of the programs that were previously cut. It scares me to think that we may have to cut even more programs because we "hoped" wrong. With regard to the date of the hearing, the school district calendar did not have evening events scheduled for March 20th, 26th or 27th. However, the district chose the 29th as the evening for the hearing, a night when three schools have activities clearly listed on the calendar.
Prudence Pennypincher March 29, 2012 at 06:26 PM
You misunderstood, Michele. The district was not punished for taxing too little. It was punished for maintaining a reserve fund in the surplus account. The money was simply taken by the State, and there was no way to know it would happen. There is no assurance that the State will do something similarly fickle, regardless of what course is taken. All one can do is hope, unless you have a crystal ball. But if you want to spend more on education, that's refreshing to see. What does your crystal ball tell you about the availability of a quorum of school board members on those other dates? Does it say anything about when the county superintendent reviewed the budget prior to sending it back to the district?

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