New Lower Saucon budget in limbo after failed motion to slash property taxes
LOWER SAUCON TWP., Pa. — While the township's budget outlook for 2024 is set to keep taxes steady and finances balanced, township council this month never got around to voting onthe originally advertised budget approved in October.
Instead, council at its Nov. 15 meeting discussed slashing property taxes, from 4.39 mills to 2 mills, following a proposal from Council President Jason Banonis. Councilman Thomas Carocci later seconded the motion.
The vote failed 3-2, with Council Vice President Mark Inglis opposing with councilwomen Sandra Yerger and Priscilla deLeon.
The last change to the township’s property tax was a 1.25-mill reduction approved in 2020.
Money in the bank
Banonis and township Finance Director Cathy Gorman went through some of the budget highlights, which lists the current tax rate as 5.14 mills. That’s a real estate tax set at 4.39 mills and a .75-mill fire services tax.
Lower Saucon is advertised to currently have $7.1 million in cash, $3 million in unrestricted savings and an incoming $2.5 million in revenue from Bethlehem Landfill host fees.
Banonis then spoke of Wolk v. School District of Lower Merion, a case from February 2016 surrounding a proposed 4.4% tax increase for the school district in Lower Merion Township, Montgomery County.
Since the district reportedly had tens of millions in budget surpluses, residents sued the district following the tax hike discussion to prevent it from being put in place for the 2016-2017 school year.
A 2022 settlement ultimately called for the district to pay back $27 million to local taxpayers.
“It’s my position first, that the government should not be holding taxpayers’ hard-earned money in a savings account. I think the taxpayers should keep their money. Second, the township, this township may be subject to litigation and costs that would force it to return, at additional cost, taxpayer money in reduced taxes.”Lower Saucon Twp. Council President Jason Banonis
Banonis said he didn’t want Lower Saucon Township to potentially face a similar debacle.
“It’s my position first, that the government should not be holding taxpayers’ hard-earned money in a savings account,” Banonis said. “I think the taxpayers should keep their money.
“Second, the township, this township may be subject to litigation and costs that would force it to return, at additional cost, taxpayer money in reduced taxes.”
Banonis continued, saying that local families are facing financial hardships due to the Biden administration.
He asked Gorman whether or not a potential tax cut would still lead to a balanced budget while also maintaining current services in the coming year. Gorman said “yes.”
“Anybody who opposes that is simply a tax-and-spend person, who wants to redistribute our taxpayers’ hard-earned money and wealth,” Banonis said. “They don’t appreciate the value of people’s earnings, and they want to hoard our residents’ money for whatever purposes they have.”
Gorman said the township is estimated to have about $279,000 left “after everything is said and done.” That doesn’t include the $7 million in the bank, which is a mix of restricted and unrestricted funds.
“I kind of agree with Jason [Banonis] that it’s the taxpayers’ money; it’s not ours,” Carocci said.
“I don’t think we can run a township on a savings account,” Inglis said. “I don’t think that’s good fiscal management.”
“I don’t want to subject the township to needless litigation,” Banonis said, again referencing the lawsuit and case from Montgomery County.
Many of the people in attendance laughed following his comment.
“There’s complaints that I’ve heard from the public that they don’t like our legal spend, and I hear them loud and clear,” Banonis said.
“I don’t think we can run a township on a savings account. I don’t think that’s good fiscal management.”Lower Saucon Twp. Council Vice President Mark Inglis
Council solicitor Lincoln B. Treadwell said to advertise a revised budget in the newspaper again would require it to remain for public review for 10 days. And if those 10 days weren’t up before the Dec. 6 council meeting, officials would have to hold a special meeting.
Following the revised budget vote, Banonis continued on to new business. DeLeon asked if there was going to be a vote on the originally advertised budget approved on Oct. 18.
Banonis said there wasn’t another motion made to vote on the original budget, so that’s why he proceeded to other agenda items.
“Do it December 6th,” Carocci said. “Let’s move on.”
Following that, no motion was made on council’s agenda item involving fixing the earned income, real estate transfer and local services taxes for general purpose.