Angry at proposed tax increase to bail-out sewer authority
Washington Township board of supervisors faced off against an angry, name calling crowd of taxpayers on Tuesday night. The board of supervisors had called a special meeting to hear public comment on a proposed tax increase of 2 mills on real estate. The proposed tax increase would help to alleviate the financial burdens of the Washington Township Municipal Authority (WTMA).
Township Solicitor, Daniel Becker, gave a synopsis to the large crowd of why Washington Township finds itself in the position to increase taxes. Becker explained several years ago a previous board of supervisors agreed to guarantee the loans of the Washington Township Municipal Authority (WTMA). The authority, a separate legal entity from the township, had built a new sewer facility in anticipation of a great deal of real estate development. The development did not occur because of the housing slow down. The result is the authority has a debt of $12 million that the township is obligated to pay if the sewer authority defaults on its loans.
Becker said the board of supervisors has considered three options. It can raise taxes to meet the authority’s loans, take a “blended” approach that increases taxes and sewer rates, or wait for the sewer authority to increase sewer rates. Currently, sewer bills are $926 per annum and are some of the highest in the state. A “blended” approach or a tax increase forces all property owners of Washington Township to share in the cost of the municipal authority’s loans. Many of those township residents are not connected to sewer. It has not been determined yet what approach the authority will take concerning raising sewer rates.
Washington Township resident, Matthew Wright, suggested if the board of supervisors voted to increase taxes by 2 mills the township “was making a charitable donation to the bond holders who have made a bad investment.” Many of the people in the crowd remarked it might be worthwhile to allow the sewer authority to file for bankruptcy. The sewer authority has not suggested bankruptcy as an option. Solicitor Becker noted, “The authority is not considering the option of bankruptcy at the moment. If the bankruptcy court takes an action, it would make it hard for the township to get a loan.”
Jeffrey Hess, a resident with a private septic system and well, remarked he purchased his property because it was not connected to public water and sewer. Hess said, “It is ridiculous to pay for what I cannot use. The authority got itself into this mess and it can get itself out.”
Many people mentioned that they had lost jobs or were working at the same job for less pay and could not afford an increase in taxes. One resident complained that there is a great deal of fat in Washington Township’s budget that could be trimmed. She said, “My husband and I live within our means, so should the township.” She suggested the township should cut down on paper usage and patch items in need of repair such as a roof instead of replacing it. Additionally, the resident wanted the board of supervisors to forgo their salaries for the coming year.
A second class township such as Washington Township with a population of less than 6000 is required by state law to pay its board of supervisors $1850 per year. After taxes a township supervisor earns $133.50 each month.
John Wynn, a Spring Valley Village resident, noted most municipal authorities are not dependant on taxes for support. Wynn said, “If new housing is successful, then eventually the sewer authority will come out from taxpayer support. New development such as Spring Valley Village, a senior community, will help the school district because there is a tax base but no children in the schools. It will help the authority to sell sewer connections, and it will help businesses.” Wynn continued, “If sewer rates are increased over $1000 it creates a psychological barrier to real estate sales. Buyers won’t buy and it will turn people away.”
The board of supervisors read an email from Dan and Willard Stauffer. The Stauffers wrote to express their opposition to higher taxes. The Stauffers argued they have a septic system and a well. To have a private waste system they must have a larger amount of land than someone who has public sewer and water. More land results in higher taxes. They must maintain their own system and pay to have their waste hauled away. If their septic system or well fails they must replace it.
The Washington Township board of supervisors gave no hint whether they will vote for a tax increase or not. On Tuesday, December 13 the board of supervisors will vote on the townships’ 2012 budget. A tax increase will be approved or denied at that time.