By a 4-1 vote, the Bethlehem Township Board of Commissioners agreed to a reduce an originally proposed real estate property tax hike from 38 percent to 18.4 percent Monday night.
The decrease would take takes the reqired amount of real estate tax on homeowners within the township down to 1.1 mills. During several recent public meetings on the 2016 budget, numerous residents voiced their concerns over the sizeable proposed tax increase.
Bethlehem Township’s last property tax hike was over 20 years ago in 1993. For a township home with an average assessed value of $200,000, the lesser tax increase amounts to just over $110 yearly or $9.17 per month, according to Township Finance Director Andrew Freda. The only dissenting vote was cast by commissioner Michael Hudak who accused his fellow commissioners of back-peddling when they agreed to reverse a previous decision of a one-time 50 percent grant cut and then reinstated it in the 2016 budget for the Bethlehem Township Athletic Association (BTAA), the official governing body of the Bethlehem Bulldogs.
According to Freda who offered a budget summary as part of the meeting, budget line items collectively were reduced by nearly $337,000 which afforded the tax reduction. Township manager Melissa Shafer said reduced tax increase also was achieved by reducing the township’s “rainy day fund” allotment to 7.95 percent from the recommended benchmark reserve of 10 percent thus trimming just over $500,000 from the total general fund which balances the budget.
“I think the commissioners heard the public loud and clear they were interested in smaller and more frequent tax increases as opposed to larger hikes over longer time periods, Shafer said. Following a thirty-day public inspection, Freda said a final vote on next year’s budget will occur at the commissioners’ Dec. 21 meeting.
In other matters, the commissioners viewed an initial sketch plan for a new church complex to be located on a 21-acre parcel located at Bethman and Church Roads east and adjacent to the Franciscan Friary on Church Road in the township. Parishioners of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church currently located on 20th Street in Easton propose to build a 500-seat church hall, a 350-seat sanctuary, and administrative offices in three phases.
They noted they have been making provisions for a new church for the past 15 years and plan fundraising to finance the projects. Parish President Aristede Manolas cited a lack of parking, no handicapped access, and lack of building insulation as reasons for the relocation and construction which members said would be a complex larger in size than Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Bethlehem. The church now returns to the township’s planning commission to secure further approvals of its plan.