By Danielle DeSisto, BCT Staff Writer
LUMBERTON — The township has filed a formal complaint against the Mount Holly Municipal Utilities Authority, continuing its fight to be involved in the MUA’s decisions that impact the town’s ratepayers.
The complaint filed with the New Jersey Local Finance Board argues that the MUA failed to “consult and review” with Lumberton officials before approving its 2017 capital budget and programs, and that officials also were not briefed on previous budgets.
The township was not invited to participate in the development of the capital plan, and did not review or approve the proposal, according to the complaint.
The complaint alleges the MUA certified that it had reviewed the documents with Lumberton and other towns it serves in its submission to the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs.
The municipality is requesting a full audit of the authority’s budgets and capital plans from 2012 to 2017 and of all payments made by the MUA to Mount Holly Township during that same period, as well as full monitoring of the 2018 budget process.
Township officials have made multiple requests to the MUA for Lumberton to be recognized as a host community with appointment power and representation on the authority’s board, and for residents to receive the same discounts as Mount Holly ratepayers. Lumberton entered a sewer service agreement with the MUA in 1986.
The discount enjoyed by Mount Holly residents, paired with rising rates, has divided the MUA and some of the towns it serves, particularly Lumberton. Eastampton, Hainesport, Westampton and parts of Moorestown also have sewer service agreements with the MUA.
Mount Holly residents receive a 33 percent discount on sewer connection and meter fees, and a 25 percent discount on sewer flow rates, compared with the other towns serviced by the MUA, according to Lumberton Mayor Sean Earlen.
“It’s very troubling that the Mount Holly MUA has repeatedly approved budgets, rate increases and capital improvement plans without proper notification to Lumberton and other affected communities, thus circumventing public participation,” Earlen said. “Equally troubling is that for several years the Mount Holly MUA falsely certified that proper notification was made.”
As part of its capital budget documentation, the MUA is asked to confirm whether each municipality or county affected by the actions of the authority had participated in the development of the capital budget and reviewed or approved the plans. The MUA indicated that the towns it serves were involved and approved the 2017 budget, but Lumberton officials said they were never consulted.
The MUA’s attorney, Tom Coleman, said in a letter to Lumberton’s attorney on May 12 that he could officially confirm that “no special notification was provided to the Township of Lumberton or any other municipality served by the Authority at or before the budget was adopted.”
Coleman added that MUA Executive Director Robert Maybury was planning to implement a new policy to ensure that affected towns receive information prior to the adoption of future budgets.
Coleman declined to comment Thursday.
“So basically, they knew they needed to consult with the townships on an annual basis, and they didn’t,” Lumberton Township Administrator Brandon Umba said. “So how can we be sure that they are going to change this behavior if they knowingly didn’t do it in the past and the fact that they refused to contact us before we hired an attorney?”
Maybury said towns served by the MUA receive notification by mail of rate hearings every year.
Lumberton chose to reach out to the Local Finance Board because it is the only body that can force the MUA to abide by regulations and properly audit and monitor the authority. Officials hope the board’s review will prevent future conflicts.
The Mount Holly MUA has repeatedly said its township ratepayers are entitled to discounts because the municipality is a host community to the authority’s facilities. Representatives have also said Mount Holly has bonded for the construction and multimillion-dollar upgrades of those facilities since the plant was built in 1948.
Lumberton Township would like to thank Haley Werner for all of her fundraising efforts to install a “Thin Blue Line” down Municipal Drive in support of the Lumberton Police Department.
The Following Is An Update Letter From Mayor Earlen & The Township Committee Regarding The Mt. Holly MUA
Friends and Neighbors,
Earlier this year, I wrote to you on behalf of the Township Committee in response to the many complaints we received from Lumberton residents regarding the 40% increases in the Mount Holly Municipal Utilities Authority’s (MUA) sewer bills over the past three years. At that time, we pledged to work to address the unfair billing rates charged by the MUA and the absence of any Lumberton representation on the MUA board. We appreciate the overwhelming support you have expressed for our efforts to fight for what is fair for Lumberton residents. I am writing to give an update on these efforts.
As you may recall, the Township Committee has raised three issues with the MUA, beginning with the decision to increase Lumberton’s residential and commercial sewer rates by more than 40% since 2013. Second, Lumberton residents do not share the same “host town” benefits that Mount Holly residents enjoy, even though the MUA’s sewer processing facility is physically constructed in Lumberton Township. Mount Holly residents enjoy sewer rate and connection fee discounts of 25% below the rates paid by Lumberton residents. Third, although Lumberton is the largest town that the MUA serves, our township has never been represented on the MUA Board and therefore, we believe that our concerns are not being appropriately or adequately represented. The MUA Board is currently comprised of individuals appointed by the Mount Holly Township Council only, including several Mount Holly Council members. As such, it is little surprise that Mount Holly residents enjoy such generous discounts at the expense of Lumberton taxpayers. Lumberton Township has been fighting to receive the same “host town” sewer rate reduction as Mount Holly residents, along with two seats on the MUA Board so that Lumberton’s rights are properly represented.
Sadly, we have had to resort to hiring a special counsel and filing numerous Open Public Records Act requests in order to gain answers to the concerns raised by our residents. The documents reveal that Mount Holly Township consistently uses the Mount Holly MUA to fund the municipal budget. That means the exorbitant fees paid by Lumberton residents are being used to fund Mount Holly Township. Over the last several months, we have also learned the following about the MUA.
- In addition to charging Mount Holly residents and businesses lower rates, the Mount Holly MUA Board makes a yearly payment of $365,150 to the Township of Mount Holly as a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT). In fact, in 2013, two months after the MUA voted to raise Lumberton’s rates, the Board passed Resolution 2013-67, which amended its budget to increase that PILOT amount from $240,150 to the current $365,150.00. When asked how the MUA will fund this increase, the Deputy Director of Finance stated (as recorded in the minutes of August 8, 2013), “the recent rate increase will cover the additional appropriations.” To put this in perspective, the Mount Holly Town Council appoints its own members to the Mount Holly MUA, who in turn send hundreds of thousands of Lumberton ratepayers’ dollars back to the Mount Holly Council for their budget. This is just wrong and unjust to the hard working residents of Lumberton.
- In what we believe to be a hollow attempt to satisfy one of our complaints, the Mount Holly Township Council, without any consultation with the Lumberton Township Committee, appointed one Lumberton resident to the MUA Board. It is our opinion that this is a callous act to give the appearance of openness and cooperation when in fact nothing could be farther from the truth. This new Board member has not contacted any member of our Township Committee, nor Township administration to discuss your complaints or what is right and just for Lumberton’s ratepayers.
- Now, to our amazement and disgust, this week the Mount Holly MUA notified Lumberton Township that it is increasing sewer connection fees AGAIN. Already amongst the highest in the Burlington County, this additional increase in connection fees presents an even greater barrier to growth for Lumberton businesses and developers, putting Lumberton at a disadvantage compared to its Mount Holly neighbors.
We began this effort to ensure that Lumberton’s residents and businesses receive fair treatment and relief in their billing and connection fees, and open and honest representation on the MUA Board. Now, we also believe that the MUA owes Lumberton ratepayers an explanation as to why it cannot be afforded the same benefits that Mount Holly residents enjoy and why the Mount Holly MUA is balancing the Mount Holly Township budget on the backs of Lumberton residents.
Why is it that the Mount Holly MUA’s rates are so much higher than others in the region? What makes it so much more expensive to process sewage in Mount Holly than elsewhere in Burlington County? Please be assured that the Lumberton Township Committee intends to find out why and will continue to fight for Lumberton’s residents and businesses. We ask for your continued support in this cause as we work to keep pressure on the members of the MUA Board to do what’s right. To voice your concerns, contact the Mount Holly MUA at email@example.com or by calling 609-267-0015.
Sean W. Earlen
Lumberton’s Credit Rating Increase Brings $479,569 in Interest Savings on Public Safety Building Bond
Lumberton Township’s Credit Rating Upgraded
Standard & Poor’s Gives Lumberton a “AA” Rating
February 17, 2017 – Lumberton Township – Today, Lumberton Township received a credit rating upgrade from AA- (stable) to AA (stable) from Standard and Poor’s Rating Services. S & P assigned an AA long-term rating and stable outlook to Lumberton’s Series 2017 General Obligation (GO) Bonds being used to fund the new Public Safety Building. In their report, S & P cited Lumberton’s very strong economy, plus its strong Budgetary Performance and Flexibility, with an available fund balance in fiscal 2015 of 15% of operating expenditures.
“We based the raised rating on the township’s improved budgetary performance to strong from weak, resulting in very strong budgetary flexibility, which we no longer considered nominally low,” said S & P Global Rating Credit Analyst Lauren Freire.
“Since the economic downturn 10 years ago, our Township has made strides to stabilize our Municipal Budget to ensure minimal impact on our residents, while maintaining all core municipal services at levels expected by our taxpayers,” stated Committeeman Mike Mansdoerfer, liaison to the Township’s Finance Department. “In the last 10 years, Lumberton has been able to stabilize our overall budget from $9,983,240 in 2007 to $8,786,036 which we expect to introduce next month for our 2017 budget. That is a reduction of $1,197,204 in our overall spending budget in the last 10 years,” explained Committeeman Mansdoerfer.
The overall credit rating increase of AA Stable from Standard and Poor’s has translate into lower interest rates for the Township’s 2017 GO Bond for the construction of a new Public Safety Building, which was approved by the Township Committee late last year. In the beginning of March, 2017, the Township closed on its 2017 GO Bond with a realized savings of an additional $479,569 in interest payments over the life of the 25 year bond. This savings would not have been achieved without the credit rating increase from AA- to AA. In citing the Township’s strong budget performance, S & P mentions the Township has implemented strong financial controls to help build and maintain its fund balance levels. By increasing its budgetary performance, the Township, through its new Township Administrator, has been able to closely monitor its budget to actuals, while actively managing its expenditures, allowing for very strong budgetary flexibility.
Mayor Sean Earlen stated, “This credit rating increase is a direct reflection on the leadership of Committeeman Mansdoerfer and our Township staff, who have been working hard to ensure that the Township Committee passes responsible budgets each year, balancing an affordable rate for our local taxpayers, while maintaining the services those taxpayers have come to expect from their municipal government.” “Through their efforts, we have been able to keep the Township’s budgets below the 2% levy cap, averaging about $300,000 under the cap over the last three years.” “Because of these efforts, we expect to introduce our 2017 Municipal Budget next month, which will decrease the local property tax rate for our residents, while providing for the construction of our New Public Safety Building,” added Mayor Earlen.
A full copy for the Standard and Poor’s rating of Lumberton Township is contained in this email and is also available online at www.standardandpoors.com/ratingdirect.
Lumberton Township Introduces 2017 Budget with a 3% Tax Cut
Once Adopted this Budget will Equate to Roughly a $30 Saving
to the Average Assessed Home of $292,917.00
March 15, 2017 – Lumberton Township – Tuesday evening, the Lumberton Township Committee introduced its 2017 Municipal Budget, which lowers the Local Tax Levy by 3% or roughly 1 penny for every $100 of assessed value. This represents a local tax rate decrease from last year’s 0.421 to this year’s 0.411. The amount to be raised in taxes through this budget equates to an overall reduction of $169,950, taking the total tax levy from $5,860,229.02 in 2016 to $5,690,279.02 for 2017. In all, the entire budget appropriations for the 2017 Budget is $8,787,936, which is $128,561 less than the $8,917,497 appropriated in the last year’s 2016 Adopted Budget.
“We are extremely proud to introduce this year’s budget, which reduces the burden on our local taxpayers while maintaining all of our core Township Services, including staffing our Police Department at its increased level of 20 Sworn Officers,” stated Mayor Sean Earlen. “I would like to thank Committeeman Mansdoerfer, our Liaison to the Finance Department, our Township Administrator Brandon Umba and the rest of the Township Staff, who worked tirelessly to implement this responsible municipal budget”, added Mayor Earlen.
One main element impacting the 2017 Budget and future budgets is the total annual debt payment, which decreased from $1,197,575 to $702,117, allowing the Township to close on a capital bond for the cost of its new Public Safety Building, without impacting local taxes. Using this sizeable gap in debt payments, the Township was able to structure its new capital bond so that annual payments remained within that gap, eliminating any tax impact to the Township’s taxpayers. Additionally, due to the Township’s recent credit rating increase from Standard and Poors, Lumberton taxpayers realized an additional savings of $479,569 in interest payments over the life of the 25 year bond that was acquired to cover the cost of the new Public Safety Building. This savings would not have been achieved without the credit rating increase from AA- to AA.
“Since the economic downturn, our Township has made strides to stabilize our Municipal Budget to ensure minimal impact on our residents, while maintaining all core municipal services at levels expected by our taxpayers, all while our ratable base decreased,” stated Committeeman Mike Mansdoerfer, liaison to the Township’s Finance Department. “In the past 10 years, Lumberton’s ratable base has dropped by over $56 million, the lion share or roughly $47 million of that loss has come in the last 5 years, causing significant impact to our municipal budgets during that time. However, even with that ratable loss, the Township has been able to consistently decrease our total annual budget to the tune of $1,197,204 in the last 10 years and this year’s budget culminates all of our past efforts by providing tax relief to our residents,” explained Committeeman Mansdoerfer.
“The fact that we have been able to provide our residents with a tax cut and fund the construction of a new Public Safety Building is a true testament to hard work of our Township Committee and staff. Though it is always hard to predict future budgets, we are hopeful with our ratables stabilizing or even increasing as we suspect, that our future budgets will remain flat over the next several years,” concluded Mayor Earlen.
Lumberton Township has set its Budget Adoption hearing for 7:30pm on Tuesday evening April 25, 2017 at the Lumberton Municipal Building, 35 Municipal Drive, Lumberton, NJ 08048. Residents are encouraged to attend.
Lumberton Township Holds Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for it’s Two Newest Playground at Bryan Freeman Park in the Bobby’s Runs Section of Town
Lumberton, NJ – October 31, 2016 – After two months of construction, the Lumberton Township Committee is set to open its newest playgrounds as part of its Phase 1 refurbishment of the recreational parks located in the Bobby’s Run section of the Township. Phase 1 consisted of replacing both playgrounds located at Bryan Freeman Park, as well as the playground at Turnbridge Drive. The Turnbridge Park officially opened last weekend.
In Phase 2 is also underway and will completely refurbishing the tennis courts located at Bryan Freeman Park This overall project is a continuation of the Township Committee’s commitment to refurbishing the Public Parks and Playgrounds throughout the Town, all of which have all been funded in part by grants from the Burlington County Municipal Park Development Program.
Mayor Sean Earlen stated, “the grand opening of these last two new state of the art playgrounds located at the Bryan Freeman Park rounds out the Township’s 2016 playground reconstruction plan and my colleagues and I are proud to have all three playgrounds now open for our residents to enjoy.” “We have been very fortunate over the years to receive well over $875,000 worth of grant money provided by the Burlington County’s Municipal Park Development Program. As you drive throughout the Township it is great seeing all of the completed projects being enjoyed by our residents and visitors to our great town,” added Mayor Earlen.
To date, Lumberton Township and the Burlington County Freeholders have teamed up to construct a brand new playground, Community Garden and Dog Park at the Village Green, a Canoe Launch on the Rancocas Creek, sports fields at our Municipal Building Complex, and now the refurbishment of Turnbridge Park and Bryan Freeman Park’s Playgrounds.
“Partnering with the Burlington County Freeholder Board has been a no brainer decision for the Township Committee,” added Committeeman Jim Conway, who serves as one of the Engineering Project liaisons to the Township Committee. “This year in particular has been extremely good for Lumberton Township as participants in the county’s Park Development Grant Program due to the fact that several of our past projects provided by these grant funds finished well under budget and we were permitted to use all of our leftover grant money to refurbish three playgrounds in the Bobby’s Run Section of the Township,” stated Committeeman Conway.
Bryan Freeman Park will be open from dawn to dusk, seven days a week to be enjoyed by Township Residents.
On Friday, July 10th, 2015, the Township Committee marked the next chapter of beautifying our Municipal Corridor, by holding a Demolition Ceremony of the Former Municipal Complex. Below please see the attached Press Release from the Township and related press coverage of this event.