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Proposed School Budget Calls for Tax Rate Increase

The Lawrence Township public school district’s $66.7 million proposed budget for the 2013-2014 school year would require a 6-cent increase to the school tax rate, but several unknown factors like health care expenses mean the tax hike could go up.

The public got its first look at the Lawrence Township public school district’s proposed budget for the 2013-2014 school year when Business Administrator Thomas Eldridge presented a PowerPoint overview of the $66.7 million spending plan during Wednesday evening’s (Feb. 13) meeting of the Lawrence Township Board of Education.

(A PDF copy of the PowerPoint overview is available from the Patch media box to the right, together with audio of Eldridge’s presentation.)

“We’ve created a budget that’s an ‘as is’ budget, which means that we don’t have new initiatives in this budget. We kept the curriculum and the goals exactly as they are and brought it one step forward. It doesn’t mean that we’re not improving. It simply means that we’re true to these goals,” Eldridge said.

As currently drafted, the budget calls for a total tax levy of $61.3 million, an increase of about 3 percent over the budget for the current school year. The tax levy increase for general operations, without debt service included, is 2.6 percent.

As a result, the school tax rate for 2013-2014 would increase 6 cents to $2.41 per $100 of assessed property value. The owner of a home assessed (for tax purposes) at the township average of $160,828 would, in turn, pay $3,876 in school taxes, or about $96.50 more than the current school year.

But in his presentation, Eldridge stressed that there are many variables still in play that could require changes to the budget. For example, he said, the district will not learn how much state aid it will receive for 2013-2014 until after Gov. Chris Christie makes his state budget address on Feb. 26.

And the district is also awaiting clarification on what impact the Affordable Health Care Act will have when it goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2014. That legislation, Eldridge explained, will require employers of 50 or more people to offer family health care coverage to employees who are not considered full-time but work an average of 30 or more hours per week.

The district, he said, could potentially need to increase the 2013-2014 tax rate even more to cover the costs of providing such health care to the more than 60 employees who fall into that category.

Part of the reason the tax rate is increasing is because the township’s tax base has declined by $27.1 million in the last year due to successful tax appeals by property owners, Eldridge noted.

“I’m going to ask you to no longer think of our budget in terms of tax rate. I’d recommend that as you look at any budget in Lawrence Township right now. The reason being is because the tax rate is unstable due to the ratable base. Instead I’d ask you to turn your attention to the actual growth in the amount of actual dollars collected.

“Lawrence Township Public Schools over the last five years have increased by 3 percent. That’s it,” he said. “The actual number of dollars we’ve asked for over a five-year period – not 3 percent each year – over five years we’ve gone up 3 percent. Over that same five years the Consumer Price Index has gone up 7 percent. It’s clear that in that time we’re beating inflation.”

Because the district’s budgets in the past few years were well below the state’s tax levy cap, particularly the last two years, the district was able to “bank” some of the allowable tax levy increases that it did not need in those years. That “cap bank” is what will allow the district for the 2013-2014 budget to raise the school tax levy beyond the state’s 2 percent limit, Eldridge explained.  

“Not only did we not go up to our cap, but in some years we actually rolled backwards. And had it not been for a loss of ratables you would have actually seen decreases in taxes due to Lawrence Township Public Schools. The difference between what the tax cap allows us and where we are right now is $3.7 million that we did not raise.”

After the district is notified of the amount of state aid it will receive, it will send its proposed budget to the office of Mercer County’s executive county superintendent of education for review. The district will then hold a formal public budget hearing on March 21.

Last year, the district proposed a $67.17 million budget, with a 3-cent increase to the school tax rate, for the 2012-2013 school year. After that budget was rejected by voters in the April 2012 school board election, , which cut the tax rate hike to 2 cents.  

In November 2012, acting upon legislation signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie earlier that year, the Lawrence Township Board of Education voted in favor of moving the annual school board election from April to November.

As part of that legislation, the district will now not be required to submit the 2013-2014 budget for voter approval provided that the spending plan complies with the provisions of the state’s 2 percent tax levy cap – something which, through the use of the “cap bank,” the district will do, according to Eldridge.

 

grill master February 15, 2013 at 12:05 PM
“Lawrence Township Public Schools over the last five years have increased by 3 percent. That’s it,” he said. “The actual number of dollars we’ve asked for over a five-year period – not 3 percent each year – over five years we’ve gone up 3 percent. Over that same five years the Consumer Price Index has gone up 7 percent. It’s clear that in that time we’re beating inflation.” I love this statement, as if it's supposed to make us feel better about the increase.
Senior Citizen February 15, 2013 at 01:57 PM
enough with the tax increases in lawrence township already! senior citizen
Richard February 15, 2013 at 02:42 PM
I agree with Grill Master & Senior Citizen. They use alot of psychology when raising taxes @ using a home that costs $160,000 as an example....Come on now, where is there a home in Lawrence that only costs $160,000. The real increase will be around $ 350- $600 a home. There is so much waste in our school system; everything from the janitorial dept. to the superintendent's extravagant salaries and, perks. Why doesn't the township and, schools cut more spending and, learn to live without like we are doing at home and, in the "real world workplace!"
Linda February 15, 2013 at 04:34 PM
All these sobs know is RAISE TAXES! Oh, and I love the new verbiage, FEES! Come on people, when are you libs going to vote these people out? I can no longer enjoy any recreation in my retirement because the cost of healthcare (I do not have medicare yet), food and TAXES! I am sick to death of paying for everyone else's benefits and pensions! My husband went to pay the taxes the other day and said to the woman there " I wish these taxes would go down!" and she replied " I feel the same way!". What he should have told her was " I can feel this way because I am paying for your benefits my dear and that is why my taxes are high!" Just wait until the commies come into to our homes to reaccess our property taxes!
Linda February 15, 2013 at 04:38 PM
oops....*reassess!
Richard February 15, 2013 at 07:00 PM
Linda, I feel the same way except that it is not just the Democrats that raise taxes in Lawrence....go back and, look at your older receipts. It is just habitual for all townships to keep raising taxes instead of doing without or wasting money. And, also, it's not the commies that are reassessing our houses. That is a process that must be done all over the United States....some towns have it done every year. Problem is....when they decide to assess our homes at 3 times what they are now , how fair is that.....we will have to pay taxes on a price that we didn't buy that home at. That was argued in Southern NJ and, guess what, the residents won !!! We need to stick together on this one and, not blame political parties for the assessment process. Some townships even give Seniors a break on the school taxes....But, not in Lawrence.....they want Seniors to leave so, they can have younger folks who make more money and, don't complain about the tax hikes. Those school taxes don't go toward education ,.....they go toward pay raises!!!
Lynden Arden February 15, 2013 at 09:00 PM
When do we get to add armed security guards to protect the children? Apparently, we can't afford to pay the teachers as it is.
Cynthia Harrison February 15, 2013 at 09:13 PM
I am 4th generation, born and raised in LT and I am raising the 5th generation here in LT. But may not be if taxes keep going up, may not be able to afford to stay in LT. I gave back to my community free of charge for 15 years, providing Emergency Services as a VOLUNTEER here as did other members of my family. Never asked for a dime and the residents benefited from free emergency services. I really don't know where the extra money is going to come from. Taxes keep going up, but the pay checks remain the same. I think that the Board of Education and Township Council should give us some suggestions as to how residents can find that money. We have already cut back on almost everything. When I can't balance my home budget, I don't go around asking other people for money, I make adjustments to my spending, isn't that what the BOE and Township should do?
Overtaxed February 15, 2013 at 10:16 PM
Here we go again! Lawrence Twp School Board should be ashamed on themselves to have so many school administrators in this township: secretaries, managers, technicians, curriculum specialists, directors, bookkeepers, coordinators and God knows who else (see: www.ltps.org ). Lawrence school district administrator - median salary $129,644 (median years of experience: 18) New Jersey school administrator - median salary $119,491 (median years of experience: 19) Median salary of $129,644 is over 2 times the median teacher salary in Lawrence, which is $61,840. The above data is for the 2010-11 school year!
Chief Wahoo February 15, 2013 at 11:49 PM
Schools , town and county. Each is going to take as much as they can before the collapse. The public leeches know the host is almost dead. You paid them all this money for very little on return and you are still going to wind up homeless because you cannot keep up the rate of all the layers of theft. It's just a matter of time. Unless you all stand up and finally say enough is enough.
grill master February 16, 2013 at 02:15 PM
Cynthia, they do not understand the concept of "doing without" or "cutting back". These administrators are making the same salaries that, I know first-hand, are being made by equivalent positions in the private sector. They have been doing it for so long that they would never give up those salaries. In the private sector if revenue goes down, salaries and positions are cut. In government if revenue is down they just take more from taxpayers.
Richard February 16, 2013 at 04:08 PM
The citizens of LT voted NO on the last vote for raise school taxes. Why isn't this tax raise being voted on? Why are we having taxing without representation in Lawrence? Cynthia, I hear your pain....I am also selling my home because I live on fixed income and, after living in Lawrence for close to 60 years I can't afford my home that I raised my children in and, expected to live and, die here peacefully. I am worried and, anxious day by day about money and, being able to pay my bills and, prescriptions because Lawrence Township has now managed to consume half of my retirement money. No One should ever have to pay 50% of their earnings just to pay for their home taxes !!! That is what most seniors are doing now in Lawrence township. I know that township employees will never have to see that day with the pension packages they have and, that we give them.
Sick of LT BS February 17, 2013 at 12:51 AM
Don't forget the board of Ed employee who used the boe truck on a weekend to move his son from one house to another. We the taxpayer paid for that too. Don't tell me that there are not employees abusing taxpayer money.

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