Rush Township supervisors on a split vote on Friday morning adopted a revised 2010 budget that increases the property tax rate by 1.5 mills, or 36.4 percent. The action followed almost an hour of questions, comments and opinions from the 30 or so people who attended the 9 a.m. meeting.
The 5.62-mill tax rate means that the owner of a home assessed for taxes at $50,000 a year would pay $281, up $75 over last year's tax bill.
In addition, supervisors increased the sewer rates for customers in Hometown from $117.81 to $172 per quarter. Customers in Lake Hauto saw their bills decrease, from $180 to $160 per quarter.
The 1.5 mills will be dedicated to road improvements, supervisors said. They have opened an account at Mauch Chunk Trust Co. to deposit the additional tax revenue as it comes in.
Supervisors Robert Leibensperger Jr. and Chairman Steve Simchak voted in favor of the budget and its accompanying tax increase. Supervisor Shawn Gilbert voted against it.
The discussions and debates that preceded the budget adoption concerned sewers, road improvements, police, a township Web site, the purchase years ago of an adjacent building using sewer fund money, the road crew's wages and duties, grants and the cost of the township's case against former Police Chief Robert Romanick.
Most of the residents' ire was sparked by the tax increase. In December, the former board had adopted a budget that called for the property tax to stay the same at 4.12 mills. But when a new supervisor, Leibensperger, began his term in January, the majority shifted and the spending plan was re-opened and revised.
Leibensperger said the tax increase was needed to rectify past administrators' failings, a position that drew dismay from the crowd, which included at least three former supervisors - Marion Lazur, George Pinkey and William Sanchez Jr.
It was "inaccuracies that were done by previous administrators that caused the shortfalls," Leibensperger said. He said the road work that needs to be done would cost about $15 million if done all at once instead of over a period of years.
Lazur objected to Leibensperger's contention, saying that during her tenure, supervisors were frugal. "We watched the money and didn't waste it like you people are," she said.
Sanchez asked questions about expenditures, and Pinkey advised supervisors to have sewer and road workers keeps logs of their mileage and whereabouts. Another residents suggested that instead of spending $7,000 or so to hire a company to develop the Web site, supervisors instead have a high school student did it. Simchak and Leibensperger explained that a professional is needed because the developer would have to be responsible for protecting the township's site from hackers and be available at all times to respond to any problems.
Some older residents questioned the need for a Web site, and supervisors explained that it would allow people to access information on their own rather than take township employees away from their duties.
Pinkey drew chuckles and nods of agreement from residents when he took supervisors to task for hiring a new engineering firm. Pinkey said the township "changes engineers like some people change underwear."