Beitler also agreed it’s unfair that commercial and industrial property owners now “don’t pay a dime.”
Just before the vote, Brown said: “We’ve got a study that says every year for the next five years we’re going to need a million dollars to fix the other things that are going to go wrong. We have to do what’s necessary.”
Tax increase misconceptions
Before the vote, Fosselman gave a detailed presentation explaining why the tax is needed and addressing misconceptions about it.
“We are not implementing a property tax,” he argued. “We have a property tax in place since the 1940s. What we’re doing is establishing a new tax rate. For the last 12 years our tax rate has been zero. We’re proposing a .33 mill rate for the 2014 budget.”
Fosselman said the tax will be used only for capital projects, stressing it will not be used to create a township police department or as any kind of incentive for the Hamilton Crossings project.
In response to a resident’s question, commissioners also said it is not true that Lower Macungie needs a real estate tax in order to participate in a tax increment financing plan for Hamilton Crossings.
Fosselman said “it’s just not true” that the new tax automatically is going to increase every year.
He even claimed that .33-mill rate could be lowered in 2015, “if some of the commercial and industrial projects that are forecast come to fruition.”
Eichenberg agreed, saying: “Our tax rate will most likely come down.”
Fosselman said the township’s capital improvements plan shows $1 million to $1.25 million will be needed every year for the next five years, “so we already know a third of a mill is probably all we’re going to need.”
The no votes
But Reis was skeptical.
“The old saying is that nothing is as permanent as a temporary tax,” said Reis. “We live in a time when the solution to most of our problems is to raise taxes. My biggest concern is that once you start this, there’s no stopping it.
“We haven’t done enough to cut the costs and try to economize.”
Reis won some applause from the audience when he said he was voting against the tax. “The vast majority of people that are emailing me and calling me are telling me they do not want this tax hike.”
Conrad, who also voted no, philosophically opposes property taxes, which he calls regressive.
He said not having any property tax is great, because it attracts people and commercial development to Lower Macungie.
Conrad unsuccessfully proposed Lower Macungie should use $400,000 of the township’s cash reserves to pay for only some of the capital improvements that the administration proposes funding with a property tax. He said that will require cutting out $650,000 worth of expenses in the capital budget.
He made a motion to do that, but did not get a second from any of his four colleagues.
Referring to Conrad’s recent efforts to rally public support to stop the property tax, Eichenberg said he respects everyone’s right to debate the budget but that debate should have been initiated in September, rather than two weeks prior to approval of the budget.
Conrad responded: “To insinuate that at some point it’s too late to have a discussion or engage residents is an insult to a commissioner’s obligation. There is no right or wrong time to start a debate or discussion.
“I have been making my voice heard since early September when we started this discussion and have been pursuing alternatives since then.”
“Did you read the budget?”
Thursday night’s meeting was the sixth public meeting where the 2014 budget and property tax were discussed. The first was on Sept. 19.