The Lawrence Township Council discussed ways of moving forward after a referendum that would have raised municipal taxes beyond the state-imposed 2 percent cap was rejected by voters by a 2 to 1 margin on April 17. An unofficial tally had 2,501 residents voting against the measure, while 1,282 voted for it.
To Mayor Jim Kownacki’s disappointment, the failed referendum – which would have raised municipal taxes by nearly 17 percent – puts more pressure on the council to generate alternatives that are reasonable for the residents.
“I felt that, over the past two months, the manager and council worked very hard to explain it (the referendum) to the residents and felt that this was the best solution for them instead of having them pay the trash fee directly,” Kownacki said. “Now, I feel that we’ll be paying more.”
The statutory deadline for adopting a budget has already passed, but because of the referendum, the township has a few more weeks to officially adopt it.
“We would be shooting for a May 1 adoption,” Township Manager Richard Krawczun said. “I think that there are options that are going to be discussed. I don’t know what they are yet, but they will be discussed.”
The residents’ suggestions at the meeting included avoiding the advocated trash collection user fee by the council.
Three residents who spoke offered to volunteer their services and expertise as financial advisers and business specialists, to form a committee to involve the public’s ideas and work on other alternatives.
Although the council was set to introduce and possibly approve the trash collection fee at the April 18 meeting, Councilman Michael Powers suggested the council review the ordinance to try to come up with a better solution because of the voiced resentment by the residents.
“Like it or not, there’s a perceived arrogance that we have as a governing body, and for us to move forward would just compound that,” Powers said. “So, what I think we need to tell these residents is, ‘We’ve heard your voices.’”
Powers recommended putting together a committee in the past, composed of residents who are qualified to handle things such as the budget, to receive valuable input and try to improve the town’s current situation.
“Let’s tap into their brain power and hear what they have, in terms of finding solutions,” he said. “We’re elected officials, but it’s not an us vs. them situation.”
Councilman Greg Puliti mentioned how Krawczun made a list of suggested cuts from the municipal departments, and replied to Powers’ comment by proposing three volunteers from the town review it with the council.
This motion was approved, which will create the new committee of three residents, and it will allow the public to have a larger say in what happens with the new budget. .
Along with the failed referendum, the school board’s 2012-13 budget was also rejected on April 17, which left the council with another problem to solve.
Krawczun supplied a “defeated process” presentation to council members that was prepared by the school board.
“It provides good information and guidance on what areas of the school budget may be reviewed and considered for change by the governing body,” he said.
After meeting with school board members, Krawczun said the starting point for discussion needs to begin within the next couple of weeks because of the approaching deadline for a revised school budget.
“Although the statutory deadline for certification appears to be May 21, there are a lot of things that need to be done well in advance of that date,” he said.
He proposed holding a joint meeting of the school board and council to work on an earlier deadline of May 4, which would give the school board more time to review and accept or reject changes made to the tentative budget.