Both Eichenberg and Reis are reaching the end of their terms as township commissioners, because they did not win re-election. In January, they will be replaced by commissioners-elect Ron Beitler and Brian Higgins.
Conrad said those two new commissioners will have to deal with the consequences of implementing a property tax, “yet they did not have the ability to weigh in as commissioners.”
Home rule charter needed?
In addition to recommending taking money from the township’s capital reserves for the 2014 budget, Conrad suggested increasing Lower Macungie’s earned income tax as a long-term alternative to re-instituting a property tax.
But he acknowledged there’s a big catch: “We have a 1 percent limit on our earned income tax. The first class township code prohibits us from raising it above 1 percent.”
He said Lower Macungie could raise that tax if it adopts a home rule charter. He recommended the township explore doing that in 2014.
“Right now we’re severely limited in our ability to raise any revenue outside the property tax,” explained Conrad.
Pugliese said moving toward a home rule charter is a good move and predicted many township residents will support it. Township officials said adopting a home rule charter can take 18-24 months.
“We need the money now,” said Eichenberg.
Eichenberg vs. Pugliese
Pugliese stood to support Conrad, urging the commissioners to hold off and find some other solution to a property tax.
Pugliese indicated that once the township has a property tax it will not only remain, “but there’s a very good chance that it will creep up every year.”
Fosselman first publicly proposed the property tax in September. Since then, township officials wrestled practically line by line with the proposed budget, during a recent series of public budget meetings.
But Pugliese said he’s not seen any “selling points” from the township explaining why he should have to pay a new tax for capital projects.
He admitted: “I haven’t attended all the meetings” but suggested the township should have done more to explain to its residents why the capital projects are needed and why a property tax is needed to pay for them.
Countered Lancsek: “We’ve had numerous budget meetings, but no one shows up. If anybody is that interested, they should attend some of the meetings and look at the numbers.”
Eichenberg told Pugliese: “I didn’t see you at a single budget meeting. And now you’re here questioning what we did.”
Fosselman repeatedly has said the proposed tax will cost Lower Macungie residents whose homes are worth $100,000 just $33 next year. Those whose homes are worth $200,000 will pay $66 and those whose homes are worth $300,000 will pay $99.
But Pugliese maintained very few properties are worth only $100,000 in the township. “Most are $300,000 and above.”
An angry Eichenberg suggested Pugliese’s remarks are contrary to his position when he was a township commissioner.
“As a commissioner, you were an advocate of a tax, because you did not want the [reserve] fund reduced,” said Eichenberg. “Now you’re taking an exact opposite position. I question your motivation.”
When Eichenberg advised Pugliese his time to speak was up, another man in the audience loudly growled: “He’s not done.”
“I don’t understand what it is that you’re going to tax me to fund,” complained Pugliese before returning to his seat.