BETHLEHEM TOWNSHIP-Township facing possible 9% tax hike
At their Nov. 18 meeting Bethlehem Township Commissioners voted unanimously to advertise a budget for next year that imposes a 9 percent tax hike. This decision follows three budget hearings. The proposed spending plan can be reviewed on the township website or physically inspected at the municipal building. A final vote is planned for Dec. 17.
For the first time, the township is considering a fire tax set at 0.15 mills. Under state law, money collected through a fire tax must be set aside in a separate account and may be used only for the township’s two volunteer fire departments.
At the current real estate tax of 7.09 mills, the annual tax bill is $647 for the average taxpayer. With an increase in millage to 7.74 mills, taxes will increase to $705 for the average homeowner.
In addition to real estate taxes, the township imposes an earned income tax (0.5 percent). The annual earned income tax payment per household will be $415.
Why a tax hike? Manager Doug Bruce’s detailed budget message cites several reasons. Under negotiated union contracts, wages have increased between two and three percent. Health insurance costs have risen 8.7 percent. Debt service next year on four loans over the past nine years will be over $2 million. The cost of the pension fund has increased. Workers compensation insurance has skyrocketed 27 percent. Bruce describes the township a “mature, nearly built-out municipality where annual revenues have not quite been keeping up with annual expenses for the better part of a decade.”
Resident Bill Spanogle complained, “You want to raise my taxes, and my fixed income neighbors are not very happy about that.” He wanted to know where the extra money is going, and complained there should be an executive summary explaining the need in half a page. He also argued a tax hike should be voted on by the public.
In other business, commissioners voted unanimously to approve a $15 rate hike for nonresidents at the community center. They also agreed to advertise an intermunicipal cooperation agreement with Hanover Township and Bethlehem city to provide sewer service for a development proposed along Township Line Road. They voted to approve a settlement agreement with Birchwood Commons that will permit the development of an old trailer park along Freemansburg Avenue. They also voted unanimously to elect Malissa Davis as vice president of the board.
The five commissioners now are President Mike Hudak, Vice President Malissa Davis, and Commissioners Kristine Blake, John Gallagher and John Merhotten.