Bethlehem Press

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Proposed 2018 budget holds firm

Tuesday, November 28, 2017 by Bernie O’Hare Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

Commissioners voted unanimously Nov. 20 to advertise a budget for next year that holds the line on taxes for a second year in a row. But to do so, officials will have to dip into cash reserves. They will start 2018 with an opening cash balance of $3.2 million, but expect to have only a little over $2 million left at the end of the year.

The spending plan will maintain the current real estate tax of 7.09 mills. According to Finance Director Andrew Freda, this translates to an annual tax bill of $647 for the average taxpayer.

In addition to real estate taxes, the township imposes an earned income tax (0.5 percent that will also remain steady. Freda predicts that the annual earned income tax payment per household will be $415.

Of the $18.5 million the township will spend next year, nearly $8.5 million is budgeted for public safety, about two per cent more than in 2017. Nearly a third of the tax bill will fund police protection.

Commissioner Tom Nolan proposed establishing a fire tax for vehicle purchases and equipment at the two volunteer fire departments. But the other commissioners preferred waiting until next year, when two new commissioners join the board.

“This is another important item that they’re going to live with,” said President Michael Hudak.

In other business, commissioners tabled an ordinance that would prevent trash haulers from collecting before 6 a.m. Howard Kutzler called it a “quality of life issue,” saying residents should be able to “at least sleep until 6 o’clock.” Malissa Davis suggested seeking input from the garbage collectors. Hudak ssaid he has spoken to one waste collector who would like to collect at businesses at 5 a.m., but said those businesses are in residential neighborhoods. He was the sole dissenter to Kutzler’s motion to table.

Though there’s no fire tax, there is a tax break coming for volunteer firefighters. Commissioners unanimously agreed to advertise an ordinance that will exempt volunteer firefighters from up to $1,000 in earned income tax every years. “This is long overdue,” said Kutzler. “The volunteers to this community save this community a lot of money.”

Commissioners also voted to advise the district attorney that a DUI Center lease of the Coolidge Building should be extended only one year instead of five. The township wants to consider other uses of this property. Kutzler warned that it has been a steady source of revenue and has augmented the police presence in the township.

Finally, commissioners agreed to send a letter to Governor Tom Wolf, opting out of any mini- casino that might be possible in the township. Kutzler was opposed, noting that “the Township has benefited heavily from the gaming industry.” At Tom Nolan’s suggestion, township officials will talk to Lehigh Valley Planning Commission first.