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Tax Increase, School Budget Shot Down by Voters

Lawrence Township voters rejected the municipal tax referendum by a 2-1 margin. The discussion of how to amend 2012 municipal budget will begin tonight (Wednesday, April 18) at the next council meeting.

Updated: 2:45 a.m. March 18.

By a 2-1 margin, Lawrence Township voters on Tuesday (April 17) rejected the 9-cent municipal tax rate increase that the township administration and council had sought in order to balance the 2012 municipal budget.

With absentee ballots not yet included, a total of 2,501 no votes were cast in the municipal tax referendum, compared to 1,282 yes votes. Those 3,783 votes amount to 19.4 percent of the township’s 19,450 registered voters.

Also on Tuesday, township voters rejected the Lawrence Township public school district’s 2012-2013 budget by a vote of 1,982 to 1,770 – a margin of just 212, again with absentee ballots not yet included.

Elected to full three-year terms on the township school board were Jo Ann Groeger, Kevin Van Hise, and Thomas Patrick. An unexpired term with two years remaining was won by Joshua Wilson. Michael Horan ran uncontested for an unexpired term with one year remaining.

In a strange twist, however, Wilson earlier this month notified the school district and local media outlets via email that he wished to withdraw from the election due to “an unforeseen personal obligation.” But because he did not withdraw from the race by the March 5 deadline set by the state, his name remained on Tuesday’s ballot.

Now having beaten out two other candidates for the two-year unexpired term, Wilson must decide whether to actually serve on the board or submit a formal resignation letter.

Municipal Referendum Defeated

“Residents of Lawrence Township are concerned over taxation; not just taxes from Lawrence Township municipal government but all levels of government. 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,” Lawrence Township Manager Richard Krawczun said after the votes were tallied Tuesday night.

“My reaction is to continue what our plan has always been, whether the referendum passed or failed, and that plan is to continue working on the budget to find economic efficiencies, to reevaluate programs, to devise not just a short-term plan but a long-term fiscal plan that will provide stability to the Lawrence Township municipal budget,” he said.

Krawczun said the process of discussing how to amend the 2012 budget will begin at the next township council meeting, which will be held tonight (Wednesday, April 18) at the municipal building beginning at 6:30 p.m. (The meeting agenda and Krawczun’s pre-meeting memo can be found on the township’s website.)

Tuesday’s referendum was held because the 9-cent increase sought by the township exceeded the state’s 2 percent tax levy cap and voter approval was needed to balance the 2012 budget that way.

The $43.35 million spending plan already 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 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.

The additional 9 cents, had it been approved by voters, would have raised the municipal tax rate to $0.98, increasing the 2012 municipal tax bill for the average home owner by another $144.75.

What Happens Next

With that extra 9-cent hike rejected by voters, Krawczun and the council must now find a way to cut about $2,275,000 from the budget.

One option previously discussed would require the township to eliminate all recreation programs and fire 36 municipal workers, including essential personnel like eight police officers and all ambulance staff. At the time of that discussion, council members resoundingly rejected the plan because of the devastating effect it would have on township services.

The other option that Krawczun and council members have considered – and which they have said was likely should the 9-cent referendum be rejected – would see the township cut the cost of residential trash collection and disposal from the municipal budget, and instead institute a new mandatory trash “user fee” that would be assessed against all residential property owners in town. Such a fee has been estimated at costing about $336 per year

Krawczun said he planned to inquire today with the state Division of Local Government Services about the “statutory requirements that dictate the amendment process for the budget.”

“I think it’s important to recognize that this is not something that should be rushed to decision. This is something that needs to be thorough and it needs to be done in a way that we are careful so that the results are what’s intended and not unplanned. We don’t want to do this haphazard,” he said. “We will have the opportunity to lay out a plan that will comply with statute and a timely and organized adoption of the budget so we can fiscally manage the balance of 2012.”

Krawczun said that while his recommendation will likely be to “move forward” with the trash user fee, all options will be presented to council and the final decision what to cut from the budget will rest with the township’s governing body.

Mayor Jim Kownacki Tuesday evening said that he was disappointed with the referendum outcome and felt that that 9-cent tax increase was the best way to preserve township service.  

School Budget Defeated

School district officials were equally unhappy Tuesday evening.

“I’m disappointed. We worked really hard to stay within the [2 percent] cap and not cut any programs, not cut any staff,” district Superintendent Crystal Lovell said.

“We’re disappointed but we understand the voters’ sentiments,” school board President Laura Waters said. “I think we were collateral damage [from the municipal tax referendum].”

Waters said the school district’s Finance Committee will sit down on Thursday to take another look at the defeated school budget – which included a 3-cent school tax rate increase – to see where possible cuts can be made.

Township council, meanwhile, will conduct its own review of the school budget, with the power to order the district to reduce the overall budget by a specific amount. The district, in turn, will then have to make cuts equal to that amount or file an appeal with the state’s education commissioner.

“We will work closely with town council to provide a mutually-acceptable number,” Waters said. She said the focus will be – “as always” – on providing students with the best education possible.

Lovell agreed, saying, “We’re going to try to keep the cuts as far away from the kids as possible.”

“We presented a budget that, I think, was frugal and fair,” Waters said “I just hope the council understands that any substantial cuts will impact the kids.”

School Board Elections

This year’s school board election was unusual in that in addition to electing three members to three full three-year terms, voters had to fill a one-year unexpired term previously held by David Donahue and a two-year unexpired term previously held by Ginny Bigley.

Donahue, who was elected in the April 2010 school election, , while last summer just a couple months after the April 2011 school election.

last year by the school board to temporarily replace Donahue and Bigley until Tuesday, when voters could decide for themselves who would serve the remaining years of those two terms.

Meanwhile, the three full board positions up for grabs Tuesday are held until the end of this month by Michael Brindle, Thomas Patrick and Kevin Van Hise.

Brindle and Patrick were elected to their current terms during the April 2009 school election, while by the school board to serve the remaining year of the term previously held by in March 2011 due to work commitments that prevented him from attending meetings.

Brindle has been on the board for 21 years and Patrick for six years.

Capturing the most votes Tuesday among the five candidates who competed for the three full terms was Groeger with 2,144 votes. Winning the other two spots were Van Hise with 1,871 votes and Patrick with 1,420 votes.

Brindle and Martin Hopkins came up short with 1,315 and 949 votes, respectively.

Winning the unexpired term with two-years remaining was Joshua Wilson, whose vote total of 925 beat out Delores B. Reid (883 votes) and Aiyar (715 votes).

If Wilson, following up his earlier emailed desire to withdraw from the election, submits a formal resignation letter, the school board will then have to appoint someone to fill the seat until the April 2013 election, when voters will themselves elect someone to serve out the remaining year of the term.  

And Michael Horan, running unopposed for the one-year unexpired term, captured 2,419 votes.

 

Lawrence Township Municipal Tax Referendum

Yes

1,282

No

2,501

(Absentee ballots not included; vote totals unofficial until certified by the county clerk.)

 

Lawrence Township 2012-2013 School Budget

Yes

1,770

No

1,982

(Absentee ballots not included; vote totals unofficial until certified by the county clerk.)

 

Lawrence Township Board of Education

 (Three Full 3-Year Terms)

Jo Ann Groeger

2,144

Kevin Van Hise

1,871

Thomas Patrick

1,420

W. Michael Brindle

1,315

Martin Hopkins

949

(Absentee ballots not included; vote totals unofficial until certified by the county clerk.)

 

Lawrence Township Board of Education

(One unexpired term with 2 years remaining)

Joshua Wilson

925

Delores B. Reid

883

Murali Aiyar

715

(Absentee ballots not included; vote totals unofficial until certified by the county clerk.)

 

Lawrence Township Board of Education

(One unexpired term with 1 year remaining)

Michael Horan

2,419

(Absentee ballots not included; vote totals unofficial until certified by the county clerk.)

 

For School Budget and School Board Background, See:

  • April 16: “”
  • April 13: “”
  • April 12: “”
  • April 2: “”
  • March 28: “”
  • Feb. 29: “”
  • Feb. 29: “”
  • Feb. 15: “”
  • Jan. 11: “”

For Municipal Tax Referendum Background, See:

  • April 16: “”
  • April 16: “”
  • April 13: “”
  • April 12: “”
  • April 11: “”
  • April 10: ""
  • April 2: ""
  • March 28: “”
  • March 26: “”
  • March 26: “
  • March 20: “”
  • March 14: “”
  • March 8: “”
  • Feb. 23: “”
  • Feb. 9: “”
  • Jan. 18: “”

 

T B April 20, 2012 at 02:10 AM
Carter Road is County not Lawrence Public Works
Somefacts April 20, 2012 at 02:20 AM
The cop was probably on a side job. The company pays the town for the price of the cop and the car. The town actually makes a few bucks on this. It is not costing you anything. Just the facts.
Naomi Mat April 20, 2012 at 02:24 AM
Hey TB, I'm trying to learn and I really want to know. I just checked the map and the corner of Carter Road and Van Kirk (where I saw this incident) is in the boundary of Lawrence Township. And there was a Lawrence Township Policeman there. It looks Lawrence to me. But I seriously do want to know what you are trying to tell me. I can only make better decisions when I am better informed of the world around me.
armyvet April 20, 2012 at 02:52 AM
I was unaware they are exempt by state law . The issue is coming up with a idea how to fix the mess. If there were minimal waste in our budget I would have no problem voting for the increase to keep services and so no one gets layed off. but believe me when i say i know alot of people in lawrence and am on multiple commitees and I hear about the ridiculous waste in spending from friends who work for the township and I have seen it first hand. If they raised Riders tuition 17% because of bad decisions you would be angry and i would not blame you.
Patrick April 20, 2012 at 03:01 AM
The township isn't after the schools to pay taxes, he is after the residents at Lawrenceville School who live in houses on campus that are considered tax exempt. They are not temporary homes like dorms nor for students. They are homes that just happen to be on campus, and receive the full benefits of living in the township tax free. There is a document detailing this on the township web site.
grill master April 20, 2012 at 12:25 PM
Someone else had mentioned this, and it probably would not happen but the union contracts need to be re-negotiated. In the current economic climate they shouldn't be getting any raises. Many on here are whining about people losing their jobs, they don't have to lose them, they can just take a pay cut. I'm sure they could save a million by cutting some salaries or just not giving pay increases.
grill master April 20, 2012 at 12:30 PM
So according to your logic, I better just keep working my tail off so that the people serving my community get a higher wage. It becomes very frustrating and difficult to get ahead financially when any increase you make, if any at all, gets taken away due to an increase in taxes.
Alex April 20, 2012 at 12:34 PM
Good thing the tax increase was voted down and if a trash collection fee is imposed we should be able to choose who the township awards trash collection contracts to. Current company is very inconsistent usually in my area the start collection early am but now the come at random times sometimes it seems that they are not picking up trash at all
concerned mom April 20, 2012 at 12:51 PM
grill master, yes, it is hard to get ahead isn't it? Now picture being a public worker who is also getting the same tax raises as you are, being asked to pay more toward insurance, and everyone thinks you don't ever deserve a raise to cover it. And year after year you are asked to take pay freezes, and you do it, and everyone still hates you and thinks you deserve less. WE ARE ALL IN THE SAME BOAT! Stop blaming the public employees salaries for your financial woes. Trust me, they are suffering too!
T B April 20, 2012 at 01:10 PM
My husband works for Public Works and they DO NOT do that road. Its a county road therefore the County takes care of that.
T B April 20, 2012 at 01:15 PM
Just a thought but if we get rid of people at Public Works who is gonna clean the roads in the snow and ice and work 12+ hours not any of you. Our parks are cleaner then Ewing, Trenton, Hamilton and Hopewell. Cutting ANY of these jobs will hurt Lawrence Township NOT make it better. People want cuts but forget these are the people who work hard to make Lawrence look good and care for LAWRENCE Township roads!!!!!!
T B April 20, 2012 at 01:22 PM
Concerned Mom we are def taking a hit. We have had pay freezes, step raise freeze and have to pay more for health. Everyone wants to point fingers escpecially when they have NO clue what they are talking about!
Alex April 20, 2012 at 02:04 PM
Private contractors if contracts are awarded to private companies for snow removal it would save the township money. As for public works employees they not only do snow removal there is plenty of other things that they can do. Lets be honest here public works employees dont clean our roads every day and it doesnt snow every day during the winter. This past winter is an example, How many snow storms did we have? Awarding private companies contracts will ensure a job done in a timely a proper way. Private companies are about keeping customers happy and if they want to get contracts awarded they are going to do anything possible to do the best job they can.
T B April 20, 2012 at 02:15 PM
You are right they don't clean the roads everyday but they cut grass and keep the parks clean. Do you want our parks to look like Moody, I think not! Also by cutting all thoes jobs people will lose their homes, we def would, and I don't see how that is gonna help Lawrence Township when most of the employees live in Lawrence. My husband has been with the township 10 plus years and without his income we would have a home. My husband works very hard and so does his co-workers. Everybody is willing to cut the laboreres, the same people who work their asses off, and forget they have families too!!! How would like to lose your home because your job got cut?
T B April 20, 2012 at 02:20 PM
Their are other ways to save money but cutting jobs will increase unemployment and people unable to pay their mortgage or taxes in Lawrence if they cut these jobs!!! Who is that helping??? I 100% support the township workers and all they do to keep the township BEAUTIFUL!!!! The laborers don't get paid that much and they clean ALL the parks, including the bathrooms, and the roads. They get letters telling them what a GREAT job they do. Now that everyone is worried about money no one cares about any of them...DISGRACEFUL!!!!!
Angelo Longo April 20, 2012 at 02:31 PM
Trenton has one of the highest tax rates in the state, so higher tax rates do not equate to a better town!!!
T B April 20, 2012 at 02:40 PM
Sorry if I come off to strong to people but my husband losing his job means we have nothing and I will fight to the end for NO layoffs!!! My husband is my only means of income with my health so NOTHING anyone says here will change my mind.
Chief Wahoo April 20, 2012 at 02:55 PM
what about the people in private sector, who lost their jobs and still are required to pay the property taxes to pay your husbands salary at the threat of losing their house if they do not or can not
T B April 20, 2012 at 03:09 PM
My heart goes out to anyone who has lost their jobs...but why make more people lose their jobs?! Thats not a solution thats a problem.
T B April 20, 2012 at 03:10 PM
So even more people can collect unemployment and more people lose their homes...doesn't make sense to me!!!!
T B April 20, 2012 at 03:49 PM
Not sure why but I know for a fact that Lawrenceville Gardens Apartments doesn't pay for garbage. How is this possible?
Patrick April 20, 2012 at 04:04 PM
Wahoo, what about them? Last month 11,000 private sector jobs where lost, the only thing offsetting that and keeping the unemployment rate in the great NJ recovery is the addition of over 3000 public sector jobs. You have to look at this thing organically... as in you can't separate the parts to complete the sum. The public sector basically kept Lawrence from becoming Trenton. Many who live here, work for the state... This is a public sector community. I know Brick is tied to the military, and the beach, so I think you need a tad more context in your posts.
Let's Dance April 20, 2012 at 04:35 PM
Thank God the majority of residents in Lawrenceville are not clueless like a few of the people here. Please don’t just be concerned, get informed and if you’re relying upon one paycheck to pay for two or more, go out and get a job like the rest of us. If you choose not to work, then don’t complain about loss of income if your public employee spouse doesn’t get a raise the town can't afford or loses a job that the town should never have filled. We (those who want cuts) are NOT against the municipal workers, but this town is not a charity…it’s funded with taxpayer money. Unfortunately, like the school district this election, they are merely the collateral damage of irresponsible spending and poor long-term planning by our elected council. Hey, and why would the Twp Manager want cuts, a 4 day work week or lower raises when he and his wife take home well over $200,000 a year in taxpayer funds? Talk about a conflict of interest if I ever saw one. I guess he's smart enough to know a great gig when he sees it for his own family, who cares about the Lawrenceville families that have to foot the bill.
T B April 20, 2012 at 05:05 PM
For your information I would get a job but my health is poor and I'm unable to work. So before you make judgements you "Let's Dance" should know all the facts!!!! And I'm not complaining he didn't get a raise I'm perfectly ok with that so AGAIN BACK OFF!!!!!!!!!!!!! You do not know all the details but wish to bash people...GROW UP!!!
T B April 20, 2012 at 05:09 PM
Also I'm not complaining I'm saying the Public Works Dept has already taken cuts and still continue so thats why they shouldn't be laid off.
concerned mom April 20, 2012 at 05:13 PM
I agree TB. I chose to stay home to raise my children, at least until they are in school because the cost of day care is more than half my salary (as a teacher by the way). I also don't believe you are "in the majority". Unfortunately not a lot of people voted. I personally do not know a single person who feels the way that you do. Those of us with little children would like them to be well educated and safe and we will pay for it. I am done here though. I have voiced my opinion. If you folks ruin the town by laying off our workers or cutting our rec dept (which is mostly the senior center by the way and I haven't heard anyone volunteer to cut that), I'll just move. Sadly, that is what a lot of people who don't want to get involved with your political fight are doing anyway. I hate to see where this town will be in 10 yrs if you have your way.
grill master April 20, 2012 at 05:23 PM
No one is "blaming" the public employees. The council and manager, yes, they are being blamed for their poor planning and lack of foresight. Yes we are all in the same boat, but what is your solution to get out this boat? Is it for us to pay more taxes? Yes, my family is paying more for health insurance this year too. But we bite the bullet and pay it, not go whine about not getting an increase in salary to cover it. So I really don't understand your point. And as far as "thinking that everyone hates you and think you deserve less"...most likely you don't work in corporate America if you think that is not the case everywhere else.
Stinki Garbaage April 20, 2012 at 05:30 PM
10 years from now: A council that can govern (and Lead) Same Great town Same awesome residents Same exorbitant taxes (NOT) What if taxes actually went down? Oh No!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
grill master April 20, 2012 at 05:57 PM
Yes, I have small children in the school system too, which is why I voted YES to the school budget!!! I boggles my mind that there are actually people stupid enough that did not grasp the concept of the school budget and municipal budget being two separate items!!
Tom April 20, 2012 at 06:52 PM
If by paying a couple of hundred dollars a year more in taxes I can keep my neighbors employed, then yes, I will work my tail off to help my neighbors if that's what it takes. It's called being part of a community and caring about someone other than myself. You might want to try it. It makes you feel pretty good at the end of the day.

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