One day after Lawrence Township voters defeated both the school budget and a municipal budget referendum to exceed the 2 percent state budget cap, 50 aggrieved voters confronted the Lawrence Township Council to demand tax relief without “arrogant threats” that their trash collection would be cut.
They called for a review of the $43.3 million municipal budget and suggested more “belt-tightening,” even if it means laying off municipal employees, at Wednesday’s public hearing on the budget.
And they got swift action. The council agreed to meet with three local residents with financial backgrounds who stood up and volunteered their expertise free of charge to assess and cut the budget.
Ira Marks, a certified public accountant and certified financial planner, got the ball rolling by suggesting a financial committee of volunteers and offering his free services. He was joined by Max Ramos, a sales manager, and Marvin Van Hise, an attorney with banking experience as a state employee.
Councilman Michael Powers initiated the formation of the financial review committee after noting the audience was still, waiting for the council’s response, following the close of the 40-minute public session, where they aired their tax concerns.
Earlier, Municipal Manager Richard S. Krawczun said the municipal budget is being reviewed by the state and would likely be acted upon at the council’s next meeting on May 1. Had the electorate approved hiking the budget above the 2 percent cap, it would have added 14 cents to the municipal tax to close a $2.2 million budget gap.
The school budget will also be reviewed by the township council for appropriate cuts, which drew the ire of resident Andrea Pennington, who raised four children in local schools and works as a realtor.
“The school budget prepared by Tom Eldridge (school business administrator) was under the 2 percent cap, but it was defeated because voters were angry about the municipal budget and the threat that they would have to pay for private trash pickup if they didn’t agree to raise the municipal budget and tax rate,” she said. “Maybe you should you should take your municipal budget to him.”
The school budget, which was defeated 1,982 to 1,770, required a 3-cent school tax hike to compensate for the township’s loss of $38.3 million in tax ratables due to successful 2011 tax appeals.