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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.

Tax Increase, School Budget Shot Down by Voters

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: “”

 

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