LOWER MACUNGIE TWP., Pa. - For the first time in 12 years, Lower Macungie residents may start paying a township property tax in 2014.
But that proposal, made by township manager Bruce Fosselman Thursday night, still is a long way from being approved by the five township commissioners.
Even if Fosselman gets the amount he asked for, the new tax is not likely to bust anyone's budget.
Residents whose homes are worth $100,000 will pay just $33 a year.
Those whose homes are worth $200,000 – which Commissioner Ron Eichenberg said is about the median value of homes in the township – will pay $66.
And those whose homes are worth $300,000 will pay $99.
By comparison, Fosselman said township residents with properties worth $100,000 pay $379 in property taxes to the county and $1,612 to East Penn School District.
Those with homes worth $200,000 pay $758 to the county and $3,224 to the school district.
And those with homes worth $300,000 pay $1,137 to the county and $4,836 to the school district.
Commissioners, who were getting their first look at the 2014 proposed budget prepared by Fosselman and the township staff, did not voice their opinions about it – although at least one of them looked visibly unhappy.
Eichenberg, president of the commissioners, predicted the proposed tax will be hotly debated by commissioners and the public.
"It's not pleasant news," said Eichenberg. "But we've had a great run of 12 years of zero tax."
Quoting President Franklin Roosevelt, Eichenberg said: "Taxes are the dues we pay for membership in organized society."
Fosselman said in 2002, the last time Lower Macungie had a property tax, the township had 19,200 residents. In 2014, he said it is projected to have 31,500, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Public hearings on the $19.5 million township budget are scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct, 1, Oct. 9 and Oct. 29 in the township building at 3400 Brookside Road.
Eichenberg anticipates good attendance by residents at those hearings.
Fosselman predicted implementing the proposed tax is not going to be popular.
"We have a lot of work ahead of us," he said.
"Most communities are deciding how much they should raise their taxes," he said. "We're deciding if we should have a tax.
"I want you to name me one community in Pennsylvania that doesn't have a property tax. I'm not saying we should have it because everyone else does. But it's time, gentlemen…The time is here."
He noted one argument against the tax is that once it exists, the township will increase it every year. He told commissioners: "If we do have a tax, it's our job to make sure we keep the tax down. We've done that since 2002."
Stressing Lower Macungie's many attributes, the township manager told commissioners the increase is needed to sustain the first-class quality of life in the township.
"I'm blessed to live in this township," said Fosselman. "I've lived here since 1987."
He praised Lower Macungie's excellent quality of life and reeled off many of the township's more than $96 million worth of assets-- including 1,000 acres of park land and open space, 29 parks, 26 miles of walking/bike trails, three community centers, a library, a community swimming pool and more than 130 miles of paved roads.
Fosselman doesn't believe residents want to see that quality of life diminished by having the swimming pool remain closed until July, streets not promptly plowed in winter or not repaved when needed.
He told commissioners most residents think they already do pay a township real estate tax.
As for the cost of that tax, the manager said he has to pays $120-a-year tax just for a streetlight in his neighborhood.
Money generated by the new property tax would be used solely for capital projects. Fosselman said the township's capital project fund has a $1.6 million deficit. The .33-mill increase he proposes would generate $1.05 million.
He said the township had a $5-million fund balance at the start of this year, down from $8.6 million in 2008. He said Lower Macungie has been dipping into that balance over the last 5-10 years to help pay off capital projects.
He explained the township now wants to maintain a reserve fund balance of at least $3.9 million – 20 percent of its total budget.
He told commissioners that money should not be used to balance the capital projects fund deficit.
"We can't be dipping into the reserves too much," he said, adding if the township needs to replace just one bridge or repair one sinkhole, it will have to dip into that reserve fund.
"If we're going to have a community we're proud of, we should invest in it," said Fosselman. "We're investing in our future."
Echoed Eichenberg: "This is not an easy decision but, as leaders of the community, it's up to us to make the tough decisions and plan for the future."
Septic system inspection program coming
Also during the meeting, officials surprised 63-year-old Guy Bieber, Lower Macungie's sewage enforcement officer, by honoring him for his 40 years of dedicated service as a township employee.
In October, commissioners will discuss and vote on a proposed septic system management program that is set to begin in January. Their final vote probably will be Oct. 17.
Bieber, who thought he was going to the township meeting to give a presentation about that state-mandated program, told commissioners Lower Macungie has 972 properties with on-lot sewer systems.
Under the new township law, those systems will have to be pumped out and inspected once every five years.
Bieber wants public forums to explain the new program to residents before it begins in January
The program is designed to make sure on-lot systems are properly operated and maintained, to prevent failures that can threaten human health and the environment.
Township Engineer William Erdman said such systems often can be repaired for hundreds of dollars "at most" and it costs about $300 to have them pumped out every five years.
But he warned people can be forced to spend $30,000 to $40,000 to replace systems that fail. "It's saving people cost in the long run."
Companies that pump out septic systems will submit reports to the township about any problems observed, which will prompt Bieber to go out and inspect those systems. He also will inspect systems if a homeowner asks him for advice or if he gets complaints about a malfunctioning system.
Police study complete
On another subject, it was announced that a special public meeting about the feasibility of establishing a township police department will be at 7 p.m. Nov. 12 in the township community center, next to the municipal building.
Dr. Gary Cordner, the consultant who was hired to do the study, will make a presentation about options for Lower Macungie but will not make a recommendation, said Commissioner Roger C. Reis.
He said Cordner's Power Point presentation will be followed by a Q&A session with the public. A representative from Pennsylvania state police, who now provide police coverage to Lower Macungie, also will attend that meeting.
Reis indicated it will be up to the commissioners to decide how to move forward after that meeting is held.
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