As expected, members of Lawrence Township Council during their meeting Tuesday evening (March 6) adopted a resolution officially authorizing the township to conduct .
Township Manager Richard Krawczun also announced during the meeting that Lawrence Township customers of Ewing-Lawrence Sewerage Authority will see a 15.23 percent increase to the usage rate used to calculate their sewer bill during 2012, an increase of about $85 for the “average” customer.
Discussions about state aid, the redevelopment of Brunswick Pike, capital improvement plan recommendations for 2012, and the transfer of two liquor licenses to Quaker Bridge Mall also took place at the meeting Tuesday.
For full background on the 9-cent municipal tax rate increase referendum, see the following stories:
- Feb. 23: “”
- Feb. 9: “”
- Jan. 18: “”
The New Jersey Division of Local Government Services must approve the wording of the referendum question as it will appear on the April 17 ballot. Krawczun said preliminary approval has been given by the division but the township has filed an appeal because “currently the language, as it appears, is somewhat confusing and technical.”
Created in 1951, Ewing-Lawrence Sewerage Authority (ELSA) provides sewer service to Ewing and Lawrence townships, as well as a small area of Hopewell Township by way of Ewing Township’s network of pipes. The authority operates a 10.5-acre waste water treatment facility located off Whitehead Road in Lawrence, and has 10 pumping stations – seven in Ewing and three in Lawrence. Since there are more sewer connections in Ewing, 60 percent of fees charged to the municipalities by ELSA are paid by Ewing Township customers and the remaining 40 percent are paid by Lawrence Township customers.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Krawczun explained that Lawrence Township’s share of the ELSA bill for 2012 is $5,239,967.82 – an increase of $674,332.49 over 2011. As a result of that increase, the rate that ELSA customers in Lawrence will have to pay this year will be $4.54 per 100 cubic feet of water used, a 60-cent increase over the $3.94 rate charged in 2011. Using 14,200 cubic feet as the annual water consumption average, Krawczun said the average ELSA customer in town would pay $686.68 (including a $42 annual service fee) this year, compared to $601.48 (including the $42 service fee) last year.
When he appeared before township council Feb. 21 to discuss the increase, ELSA Executive Director Robert Filler explained that while ELSA’s budget for 2012 increased just 0.3 percent compared the 2011 budget, the authority has seen a significant decline in the revenue it receives from new construction connection fees, application fees and investment interest. About $1 million in revenue came from those sources in 2009, but just $395,000 was received in 2010 and only $150,000 last year.
“We’ve got a plant now that’s 60 years old and we have to constantly invest to keep it up-to-date,” he told council. “There’s no other place for us to get income but come to our townships, our two customers, and we’re going to try our best not to come for more next year…We have not shortcut service. We are still providing the same 24 hour service we always have. Yes, we are paying more for chemicals, more for energy, more for labor, more for insurance, more for everything else, but we have also fine-tuned our operation along the way – replacing where we had to replace personnel, and not replacing where we did not have to.”
An ordinance formally setting the new sewer rate will be introduced at the next council meeting on March 20.
(Audio of Filler’s presentation to township council can be listened to in its entirety by . Filler’s presentation begins at the 1:30 mark of the Feb. 21 Audio Part 1 file.)
Also at the Feb. 21 meeting, township council adopted a resolution calling upon the state legislature to restore full funding to municipalities across the state by giving those municipalities their rightful “energy tax receipt” revenue (money collected by the state from utility companies for taxable property located within the municipalities).
Following up on that resolution, Krawczun on Tuesday passed out a document showing that from 2001 through 2011 the state has shortchanged Lawrence Township by a total of nearly $11 million in energy tax revenue and other state aid.
During last year alone, going by the official calculation formula, Lawrence Township should have received $6,692,606 in state aid. Instead, the township received only $3,795,009, a shortfall of $2,897,597.
“I think it should be pointed out so folks understand, when you look at these documents, that [in 2011] alone, if you base it on what the state was statutorily-obligated to give us – $6.6 million – we are at a deficit of $2.8 million,” Councilwoman Cathleen Lewis said. “If we indeed had that money that the state is obligated to give to this municipality we would not have to have a referendum this year, correct?”
“Absolutely not. And you would not have a 5-cent tax increase prior,” Krawczun responded.
Brunswick Pike Redevelopment
Also on Tuesday, Krawczun noted that a meeting took place Feb. 22 involving the township, the state Department of Transportation and engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff concerning the long-delayed plan to redevelop Brunswick Pike (Business Route 1) from the Brunswick Circle to Lake Drive.
“This has been a long project but we have an updated schedule,” he told council. “This year, they will finalize all the right-of-way plans. There is a small portion of right-of-way that needs to be acquired at the intersection of Whitehead Road and Brunswick Pike due to the installation of a roundabout. Final design plans are scheduled to be completed for January 2013. They will be reviewed and speced-out and then advertised for bid by December of 2013, with a March 2014 start date for construction. It is anticipated that construction will take approximately one year.”
Capital Improvement Plan
Krawczun also on Tuesday presented to council his recommendations for expenditures in the 2012 capital improvement plan. Among the $2.75 million in recommended expenditures are $650,000 for road repairs and improvements, $500,000 toward the purchase of a new fire truck, $265,000 for equipment for the police department to take part in a proposed new county-wide emergency radio system, $225,000 for a new street sweeper, $150,000 for new lighting at Colonial Lake Park and $30,000 for a new dog park at Hamnett Park.
“The items included in the capital improvement plan are just that. It is a plan. It is not the authority to spend any public funds. The only authority to spend public funds comes from the budget, capital ordinance or our trust accounts. That being said, an item must be included in the plan to then proceed to inclusion into a capital ordinance,” Krawczun explained.
With regard to the proposed dog park, Krawczun said, “I think it’s important that we recognize that there are some civic groups that have become very active and organized and are willing participants in their own neighborhoods. I think the Colonial Heights Civic Association is our newest example of neighbors coming together, willing to participate in their own community. I think that this is one of our ways to respond to that organization, to work with them to provide them a facility for their neighborhood... We’re hoping that this will generate additional community engagement through this asset.”
(A copy of the recommended capital expenditures can be found in the media box above; Krawczun’s discussion of the capital expenditures begins at the 11:45 mark of the meeting audio, which is also available from the media box above.)
- Among the 14 resolutions adopted by council on Tuesday were two approving the transfer of two liquor licenses to Lawrence Associates, which with partner Simon Property Group owns Quaker Bridge Mall. One of the liquor licenses was previously held by Lawrence Grill LLC, a restaurant at the mall, and the other held “in pocket” by Lawrence Liquor LLC of 2495 Brunswick Pike (Lawrence Shopping Center).
- An ordinance adopted by council Tuesday officially approved the appointment of Susan E. McCloskey as the township’s new municipal tax collector, replacing Alice Fish who retired March 1. The appointment of McCloskey, a longtime employee in the tax collector’s office, expires Dec. 31, 2016.