L. SAUCON TWP., Pa. - Lower Saucon Township's 2021 budget may cut the total real estate tax 20% to 5.14 mills from 6.39, relying on $12 million in reserve funds as a cushion.
The potential expansion of the Applebutter Road landfill, which pays about $2 million annually to the township, also backed up Councilman Jason Banonis's proposal to cut the millage.
Township Manager Leslie Huhn presented a draft $8.53 million general fund budget for 2021 operating expenses to borough council Wednesday, a slight reduction from 2020. The total, including capital costs and special funds, is $11.7 million. A final vote on the plan is due later this year.
"It's only fair to give back to the taxpayers," Banonis said in proposing the cut. He said the township will run about a $1.9 million surplus this year. Currently, Lower Saucon charges 5.39 mills on real estate and an additional 1 mill to support its volunteer fire services. The fire assessment was already due to be cut by a quarter mill.
Real estate millage of 4.39 mills, as proposed Wednesday, plus 0.75 mill for fire service, would total 5.14 mills. In 2020, the township tax on a home assessed at $120,000 at 6.39 mills was $766.80. If council approves the new rate, the 2021 bill would be $150 less at $616.80. That would save the homeowner about 41 cents per day.
Banonis's motion to cut the real estate portion of the tax to 4.39 mills was approved by a 4-1 vote, with President Sandra Yerger, Banonis, Thomas Carocci and Priscila deLeon in favor. Kristin Stauffer opposed the cut, saying the reduction could make the township more dependent on landfill revenue for daily operations.
Banonis said the landfill's current lifespan is about three years, but a proposed expansion could extend that to eight years.
"I think it is definitely doable," township Finance Director Cathy Gorman said when asked about the 1 mill decrease. "We have plenty in reserves to cover us for awhile" and Lower Saucon has no long-term debt.
Huhn said the township has so far weathered the coronavirus pandemic well. Earned-income tax receipts will exceed projections, which she said indicates many residents have been able to work from home or are essential workers. The township has reduced expenses across the board, she said.
"The township is in sound financial shape," Huhn said. She said one small revenue source, the cable television franchise tax, is expected to dip as more residents switch to streaming services. This year's expected cable tax revenue this year is $115,434, about $2,000 more than projected in 2021.
Banonis thanked Lower Saucon employees for doing a good job during the pandemic and made a motion to increase most township employee salaries 3%. That passed 5-0.
When he sought 4% increases for Huhn and Police Chief Thomas Barndt, the two Democrats, Stauffer and deLeon, voted no, saying 3% was enough for all. Republicans Banonis, Yerger and Carocci carried that vote, 3-2.
Carocci questioned the township's contributions to some non-profit groups and asked that the administration confirm that Lower Saucon residents are being served by organizations that receive taxpayers' money.
DeLeon and Stauffer challenged a plan to link financial support for the township's two fire companies to the timetable of a planned combination. DeLeon said getting volunteers is difficult. Firefighters risk their lives for others and deserve the township's full support, she said.
Council voted earlier this year to reduce contributions to the Steel City Volunteer Fire Company and Lower Saucon Fire Rescue if the two services do not meet a deadline to merge. The two fire companies are private but receive funding from the township.
Lower Saucon Fire Rescue President Scott Krycia told council during the Zoom meeting Wednesday that the coronavirus pandemic could lead to delays in the merger that are beyond the firefighters' control.
The proposal by deLeon and Stauffer to lift the merger timetable failed along party lines.