Final approval of Lower Macungie Township’s 2014 budget is still nearly two months away, but three of five township commissioners support imposing a property tax on residents for the first time in 12 years.
On Tuesday night, Commissioners Doug Brown, Ron Eichenberg and Jim Lancsek voted to direct Township Manager Bruce Fosselman to prepare a budget that includes the property tax.
Commissioners Ryan Conrad and Roger C. Reis voted no.
Eichenberg, who is president of the commissioners, said he is a proponent of the tax. “We have to step up and be leaders and do the fiscally responsible thing,”
Lancsek said he does not like the new tax, but agreed with Eichenberg.
“This township was fat and happy for many years,” said Lancsek. “It has offered a way of life that’s pretty good for zero taxes. It’s time to pay the check.”
Brown said he is not yet prepared to adopt the tax, but added he’s “fine with it for now” and it “makes good financial planning sense.”
Said Reis: “I don’t think I can support it at this time.”
Conrad was the only commissioner who did not offer an opinion before the vote.
But after the meeting, Conrad explained he has opposed the tax ever since the township manager proposed it in September. Conrad called property taxes a regressive form of taxation that is not based on people’s ability to pay but on the value of their homes, “which you have little control over.”
Conrad added: “I don’t think it’s the right thing for our township.”
He said other forms of taxation should have been more thoroughly explored.
Conrad also said no board member who voted yes was committing to approving the tax, only to including it as part of the budget presentation.
Based on the 3-2 vote, the proposed budget with the tax increase will be formally presented to the public at next week’s commissioners meeting.
The township manager said Lower Macungie is facing a deficit in its capital fund of more than $1 million. He said $6 million worth of public works equipment has to be replaced.
“We can work magic, but we can’t work miracles,” said Fosselman. He added implementing the property tax “will not be the most popular thing to do, but we think it’s the right thing to do.”
Lower Macungie residents have not paid any township real estate taxes since 2002.
Fosselman said the proposed one-third-of-a-mill tax will generate about $1.1 million, which will be used to pay for capital improvements.
He said that increase will cost average homeowners in Lower Macungie
$33 to $99 a year, depending on the value of their homes.
The township manager said many Lower Macungie residents assume they already have been paying a township real estate tax for years.
He said others are saying: “This is going to tax me out of the community.”
Fosselman said the owner of a $300,000 home in the township will pay a
$99 township tax, compared to a $4,800 school tax to East Penn School District.
“I don’t think it’s fair to say this tax will burden township residents,” he said.
Concurred Lancsek: “This is minimal.”