Although its adoption was listed as an agenda item and a final vote on it was expected, the 2024 Lower Saucon Township budget did not go to a vote at council’s Nov. 15 meeting.
Council did, however, consider a proposal that wasn’t on the agenda to lower township property taxes by more than 50 percent. Council previously voted to lower taxes by 1.25 mills in 2020.
Council president Jason Banonis proposed the 2024 reduction in the township millage rate from 4.39 mills to 2.0 mills after confirming with assistant township manager/director of finance Cathy Gorman that there is $7.1 million in the township’s cash reserves and that the township is expected to receive approximately $2.5 million in revenue from Bethlehem Landfill next year.
Banonis highlighted a recent court case, Wolk vs. School District of Lower Merion, which he said was relevant to Lower Saucon’s finances.
In 2022, the Lower Merion Township school district in Montgomery County agreed to settle the class action suit that was filed by residents who had challenged a tax increase it approved in 2016.
According to the Main Line Times & Suburban website, the tax hike was approved “despite the school district having amassed tens of millions of dollars in budget surpluses over several years.”
Six years later as part of the settlement, the district agreed to pay back a portion of the taxes residents had paid while admitting no wrongdoing related to district budgeting, the news site reported.
A tax increase proposal was not included in the 2024 Lower Saucon Township budget that council was expected to vote on Wednesday.
“In my opinion, anyone who opposes (the proposed tax reduction) 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.”
“It’s the taxpayers’ money. It’s not ours,” agreed councilman Tom Carocci.
Council vice president Mark Inglis, however, offered that, “I don’t think you can run a township on a savings account.”
“I don’t want to subject the township to needless litigation,” said Banonis, after again referencing Wolk vs. School District of Lower Merion; a comment that elicited laughter from some members of the meeting audience. “There’s complaints that I heard from the public that they don’t like our legal spend, and I hear them loud and clear. And I’m trying to avoid legal spend. So I think one way to do that is to not allow–open that risk to get sued in a class action or otherwise and be forced to return that money, and spend a lot of money defending that issue. I think it’s pointless.”
The vote against the tax reduction was 3-2, with Banonis and Carocci in favor of it and Inglis, councilwoman Priscilla deLeon and councilwoman Sandra Yerger opposed.
DeLeon asked when the budget–which will be readvertised–would be brought back to council for another vote.
Council solicitor Linc Treadwell said that depending on when it can be advertised, a special meeting might need to be held in December.
Council’s next meeting and its last scheduled meeting this year is set for Wednesday, Dec. 6 at 6:30 p.m. at Lower Saucon Town Hall. Meetings are also livestreamed on the township’s YouTube channel.
The township property tax rate is separate from its .75 mill fire tax, for which a reduction was not proposed.
The budget discussion referenced in this story begins at approximately 1:09:30 in the YouTube recording of the Nov. 15 meeting.