New Garden board approves real estate tax hike11/22/2023 11:26AM ● By Richard Gaw
After a nearly four-hour, exhaustive deliberation of statistics, discussion and public input, the New Garden Township Board of Supervisors voted to advertise a motion to increase real estate taxes in the township by 1.05 mills beginning in 2024. The board is expected to officially adopt the increase at its Dec. 16 meeting.
Under the new scenario, township residents will see their real estate taxes increase from 1.72 mills to 2.77 mills, which will raise their taxes from an average of $319.92 to $515.22 annually – and monthly from $26.66 to $42.94.
This new tax structure served as a “half increase” from the original real estate tax proposal delivered by township Manager Christopher Himes to the board on Oct. 16 that if accepted would have increased millage rates from 1.72 mills to 3.9 mills on homeowners – a 120 percent jump. Further, it would have charged a household with an assessed home value of $30,000 an additional $9.75 per month in 2024 – and $65.40 for the year. For households whose home values are between $100,000 - $250,000, homeowners would pay $60.45 in monthly real estate taxes – a monthly increase of $33.79 and $725.40 a year.
While the “half increase” tax scenario will not raise as much revenue as the original proposal, Himes said that it will still be able to pay for general fund operations.
In a thorough, two-hour presentation before the board, Himes again turned over every single stone of the township’s finances to support the need for a tax increase. Rehashing the fine details of his previous overviews – which in addition to his Oct. 16 presentation have also included a State of the Township discussion in late August, four workshop sessions, two online Q & As with residents and one in-person meeting with residents – Himes said that the township’s expenditures have risen significantly over the last several years, rising from $3.7 million in 2016 to a projected $6.3 million for 2024.
Meanwhile, Himes said, the cost of township services has dramatically increased, some of which include ambulance/rescue, engineering services, finance, fire, parks, police and public works.
Despite seeing these increases, the township continued to institute a 1.62 mill real estate tax rate while its expenditures soared to nearly $8 million by 2022, all of which leaves the township with a $1.8 million deficit heading into 2024.
The township’s leading priorities heading into 2024, Himes said, will be to balance the township’s budget; leverage its fiscal strengths; fund critical capital projects such as road paving, making improvements to the Township Building and investing in stormwater projects; increase the number of township staff; achieve a return on investment on the township’s capital projects; and continue to address budgeting inefficiencies.
Overlapping his earlier presentations, Himes zeroed in on the township’s need to tighten its financial belt by creating a sustainable growth model; finding methods of collaborating with other agencies regarding public safety; reassessing the township’s capital priorities such as open space and land acquisitions; and investing in economic development that will make it more attractive for future business development.
‘We have no more to give you’
During the meeting’s first public comment phase, 16 residents – many of them representing an organized coalition of opposition -- expressed their displeasure with the proposed tax increase and urged the supervisors to “take a pause” before ultimately reaching a decision.
Harlow Pointe resident Clair Aiello said the proposed budget and tax increase is “unreasonable and dramatic” and creates an additional hardship for township residents that is exacerbated by the rising presence of inflation, rising gas prices and soaring wastewater rates for AQUA customers. Given the rising cost of living in New Garden Township, Aiello said that she and other residents have recently questioned whether they will continue to live in the township.
“Why do we stay here if we are not being taken care of?” she asked. “Why do we stay if decisions are made that keep negatively harming us and seem to lack significant planning and thoughtful examination and consideration?
“We have no more to give you.”
Sixteen-year township resident Rona Devane said that she opposes any millage increase and pointed to the much lower millage rates levied by neighboring towns and municipalities.
“We need to be asking, ‘How are they managing? What are we doing that is different?’” Devane told the board. “Is it because we have too many assets? We really need to start considering expenses.”
Referring to her own analysis of township revenues and expenditures, Somerset Lake resident Suzanne Palma told the board that in 2022, township residents paid over 30 percent more in real estate taxes than in neighboring municipalities, and nearly 50 percent more per housing unit. She said that the originally proposed budget would force New Garden residents to pay 149 percent more in real estate taxes than those in comparable towns, and 182 percent more per home.
“…By raising real estate taxes, you will make it more difficult to attract people to this town, especially remote workers like me, and getting more earned income tax revenue will become harder, not easier to accomplish,” Palma said.
She urged the board to not raise real estate taxes -- calling the action an unsustainable solution – and to reach a balanced budget by cutting expenditures.
Harrogate North resident Margo Woodacre called the proposed tax increase “both alarming and unsettling.”
“With such increases in our taxes along with the taxes we already pay in this township – school, county, township and earned income tax – those of us with limited incomes such as seniors and the disabled have already been hit hard enough with an excessive rate increase [to our wastewater bills], and all of this is worsened by inflation,” she told the board. “I am contemplating leaving New Garden Township if the costs continue to be placed on us, the residents.
“As our board of supervisors, I hope that you listen to our concerns, and responsibly spend our tax money – money out of our pockets – so that we can continue to live in New Garden.”
‘…and now you have a whole boatload dropped on top of you’
After the board reached their decision, the floor was again opened to public discussion, during which time board member Troy Wildrick unearthed the elephant in the room – the fiscal mismanagement of former board members that now compels the township to seek additional means of revenue by instituting a tax increase.
“What world do we live in with a bunch of unicorns and rainbows that everything else goes up but taxes don’t have to be increased?” he said to the audience. “I think [the township’s tax structure] would be much more palatable if it was managed properly, [in the form of] little increases in two-year increments so that you can adjust your family budgets to it. We now have 12 years under our belt, and now we find ourselves in a ****-hole, and now you have a whole boatload dropped on top of you. That’s what I don’t agree with. Hopefully, we can find some solutions that Chris [Himes] has put forth so that we can ease into this.
“The problem is that nobody ever wanted to take these little [tax increase] bites, and we all saved it to the end, and then when the bill does come due, we say, ‘How’d that happen?’ It was supposed to be done incrementally over a period of time. That’s what bothers me.
“Every one of us is trying to the best we can with the cards that we were dealt,” he added.
When asked to respond to Wildrick’s comments suggesting that the former board’s decision to hold the line on real estate tax increases may have been a mistake, supervisor Steve Allaband – who was on the board during that time – did not respond, under advisement from township Solicitor Winifred Sebastian.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].