Bethlehem Press

Friday, March 22, 2019

Bethlehem Township increasing tax rate; Hanover Township holds line

Monday, December 24, 2018 by Bernie O’Hare Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

At their Dec. 17 meeting, Bethlehem Township Commissioners voted 4-1 for a 9 percent property tax hike in 2019. Voting ‘Yes’ were Vice President Malissa Davis and commissioners Kristine Blake, John Gallagher and John Merhotten. Voting ‘No’ was President Mike Hudak. He voted against both the budget and a fire tax policy that restricts the anticipated fire tax revenue to the acquisition of fire vehicles.

This decision follows three budget hearings. The proposed spending plan was available on the township website and could also be physically inspected at the municipal building over the past 30 days.

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 next year.

In addition to real estate taxes, the township imposes an earned income tax (0.5 percent). The average annual earned income tax payment per household is $415, and will remain unchanged.

For the first time, the township has imposed 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.

In a detailed budget message, Manager Doug Bruce’s cites several reasons. Under negotiated union contracts, wages have increased between two and three per cent. 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 funds has increased $100,000. Workers compensation insurance has skyrocketed 27 percent. Unfunded stormwater mandates will cost $250,000- 750,000 per year. Also, the township can no longer count on any casino grants, upon which it relied for $250,000 per year. 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.”

There was no discussion before the budget vote from any of the commissioners or the public.

“We’re $17 million in debt, we have some fire trucks we need to purchase, hence my Yes vote,” explained Commissioner John Merhotten. “I’d love to go through the budget with anybody and explain what we’re not paying for.”

The audience included NorCo GOP Chair Lee Snover, who left the meeting soon after the vote.

Hudak called the fire tax a “feel good” measure that won’t really accomplish anything.

Meanwhile, in nearby Hanover Township (NC), supervisors adopted their 10th straight no-tax-hike budget at their Dec. 18 meeting. Manager Jay Finnigan credits their 0.50 mill fire tax as one of the main reasons. It enables the township to plan ahead for major capital purchases without incurring debt. The millage rate, which has remained the same since 2008 and includes the fire tax mills, will remain at 3.90 mills. This is about half that of Bethlehem Township.

Hanover Township has been debt free for the past three years.