Increased municipal staffing levels in 2013 forced the hand of Salisbury Township Commissioners to pass those costs on to residents in the form of a 13 percent real estate tax hike.

Salisbury Commissioners, during their Thursday night agenda meeting, unanimously approved a $6.671 million 2014 general fund budget that carries a .19 mill real estate tax increase.

A Salisbury homeowner with a property assessed at the township average of $207,817 will now pay $334.80 per year in real estate taxes, an increase of $39.49. In 2013, the same homeowner paid $295.31 in property taxes.

The tax hike closed a budget gap of $241,566, that was largely due to staffing increases in the 2013 budget, according to Township Manager Randy Soriano. 

"It's a modest increase. You really had no choice," Soriano told commissioners.

Soriano said that the township has drawn down its fund balance from 2007 through 2013 by 5.7 percent, using it to offset yearly budget shortfalls.

He added that the township's hiring of an additional police officer and several public works employees in 2013 cemented the need for a tax increase.

Salisbury's total millage stands at 1.61103 mills for 2014. Of that, 1.34155 mills are earmarked for the township's general fund with another 0.20861 mills targeted for the fire department.

Another 0.06087 mills provides library services for township residents who must use facilities in other cities and towns, most notably in Allentown, as Salisbury does not have a public library. A November voter referendum to keep the library tax in place was overwhelmingly approved.

Soriano said Salisbury's municipal tax rate of about 7 percent is in the same ballpark as other townships of the same size. Residents pay 17 percent of their taxes to Lehigh County and another 76 percent is levied by the Salisbury Township School District.

"It's the only tax we can raise. It's the only reliable money we get every year," he said. "We're at the threshold of 1 percent Earned Income Tax and all the other taxes are at the max. Real estate tax is the only place we have latitude."

In other business, Soriano told commissioners a recent grant of $177,000 received from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) will allow the township to fast-track its plans to begin trail improvements at Lindberg Park.

The township wants to construct a series of walking trails around the perimeter of the Lindberg Park with the main goal being an interpark trail that connects to the Little Lehigh Parkway.

Earlier this year, the township secured a $160,000 Green Future Fund grant from Lehigh County for the project.

Building the trails at the 40-year-old park is the first phase of Salisbury's ultimate plan of completing $2 million worth of improvements over the next 10 years.