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Lower Saucon Township's $6.6 million budget holds the line on taxes

Published On: Dec 24 2013 03:13:49 PM EST   Updated On: Nov 07 2013 12:24:49 AM EST
Lower Saucon Twp Council

Lower Saucon Township residents will not see a municipal tax increase next year under a preliminary budget approved by township council Wednesday night.

The $6.6 million preliminary budget keeps the current millage rate at 4.39 mills, or .439 per $100 of assessed value. That means a Lower Saucon Township property owner with an assessed value of $100,000 will pay $439 in real estate taxes.

The budget calls for 4.14 mills of collected tax to be placed into the township's general coffers with the remaining .25 mills earmarked for fire department purchases.

Council members Tom Maxfield, David Willard and Ronald Horiszny voted in favor of the preliminary budget with Priscilla deLeon voting against. Council President Glenn Kern was absent.

The 2014 budget uses $1.1 million in savings from 2013 to close a $930,000 gap, according to Township Manager Jack Calahan and Director of Finance Cathy Gorman.

However, the lone sticking point council members addressed prior to passing the preliminary budget was the proposed transfer of $500,000 from the township's landfill account into its contingency fund. The contingency fund would stand at just $131,000 after its use to close the 2014 gap.

Both Calahan and township solicitor B. Lincoln Treadwell urged council to approve the transaction, stating that council cannot move money between accounts during the first three months of 2014.

Calahan and Treadwell told council that if they deferred moving contingency funds into the 2014 budget, the township would have trouble meeting obligations in early 2015.

"We've historically been criticized for moving funds out of the landfill account," Calahan said. "But, this is a hedge against economic disaster."

Maxwell questioned what the landfill fund line item is for and stated it was revenue, just like any other line item.

"I'm not happy with a low contingency fund," he said. "Our job is to present an accurate budget. If there's a hole in the budget, we'd better find a way to patch it."

Willard noted that any extra spending must be approved by council and that he would rather see $631,000 in the contingency fund than $131,000.

About 72 percent of the township's proposed General Fund budget for next year is allocated to, more or less, fixed expenses, including contracts, benefits, insurance, utilities and compensation packages. The township has the fifth-lowest tax rate out of the 17 municipalities in Northampton County.

Council will vote on the full budget in December.

In other business, council tabled moving on an ordinance that would limit for-profit soliciting and peddling within the township to 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For-profit solicitors would need to apply for a $100 permit from the township every six months under the ordinance.

The Lower Saucon Township Police Department made the recommendations to council for the revised ordinance, stating it wouldn't object to Saturday solicitations.

The current Lower Saucon solicitation ordinance allows for peddlers to knock on doors from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. from Monday through Saturday.

Charitable organizations, such as the Girl Scouts, would be exempt from the ordinance's limitations.

Township residents, according to the proposed ordinance, would be able to opt out of for-profit solicitations by signing up on a list.

Council members said religious organizations wouldn't be limited by the ordinance.