Taxes potentially down, sewer fee up

By ROBERT LINNEHAN | The Cherry Hill Sun

On the same night town council held its public hearing for the 2010 fiscal year budget — which includes a tax break for residents — it also approved an increase in the township sewer rate for commercial and residential properties.

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The near $64 million 2010 fiscal year budget will see taxpayers in the township with an average assessed home of $140,000 have a decrease in their winter and spring tax bills by about $42. The tax rate will decrease by about 3 cents, from 85 to 82 cents per every $100 of assessed property value.

Mayor Bernie Platt said this fiscal year budget would keep the township’s tax rate as the lowest in Camden County.

“In September, I delivered a budget to town council that reflected our priorities in these challenging times. This budget contains a $42 reduction on the average household and still funded our objectives for a safe, clean community,” he said. “I have worked with the governing body to preserve our mission as a premiere municipality in the region while delivering the lowest municipal tax rate in the county.”

On the heels of the public hearing, the council also approved an increase in the sewer rates for residential homes and large commercial properties in Cherry Hill. Any home connected to the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority treatment system, the ordinance states, will pay a charge of $95 a year.

Senior citizens will pay a charge of $85.50.

It’s an increase of about $20 a year for residents, Chief of Staff Dan Keashen said. Senior citizens will only see an increase of about $18.

Councilwoman Sara Lipsett said this year was a tough budgetary cycle, but the decision to increase the sewer rates was the best solution.

“We’re still going to see a tax decrease, even with the sewer increase,” she said.

The amendments to the ordinances were not passed unanimously, as Councilmen Frank Falcone and Dennis Garbowski both voted against the increase for residential sewer fees. Falcone also voted against the increase for commercial properties.

It’s not the correct time to be thrusting this increase for sewer fees on residents, Garbowski said. The councilman said he receives phone calls each day from unemployed residents who are struggling to get by in this economy, he said.

“Right now is not the right time for this ordinance,” Garbowski said.

Several residents spoke up against the timing of the sewer fee increase. Nancy O’Dowd, Cherry Hill resident and former board of education member, said the increase comes just eight weeks after the council touted a reduction of the tax rate in the 2010 budget.

“I feel as if there is a bait and switch being pulled on the residents of this town,” O’Dowd said.

Platt defended the increase of the sewer fee, claiming the township’s sewer maintenance budget is now operating at a deficit.

Thousands of sewage systems throughout the country are failing, he said, and Cherry Hill can’t afford to have its system fall into that same trap.

“Now we have the opportunity to do the right thing and properly fund our infrastructure, making the proper repairs. More than 9,400 sewage systems are failing throughout the country and tonight’s amendment will ensure we continue to operate an efficient sewer system,” he said. “You only have to read today’s ‘New York Times’ about ongoing failures from unmaintained sewers throughout the country and the harmful pollution being caused as a result.”

The sewer fees haven’t been increased for residents since 1991, Council President Steve Polansky said. Also, the majority of commercial properties in the township won’t be affected by the amendment, only the high volume commercial users.

“Right now we recognize that our sewer fees didn’t support the costs of operating our sewer systems,” he said.

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