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Lower Saucon's New Council Majority Sets the Table for Tax Increases

Lower Saucon Township Council’s new democrat majority, including newcomers Victoria Opthof-Cordaro and Laura Ray, were sworn in this past week at Council’s January 2, 2024, meeting which was held at Lower Saucon Township Town Hall. Council’s first order of reorganization was electing Priscilla deLeon, now serving in her 37th year, as Council President. Newly elected Laura Ray was then nominated and approved as Council Vice President.


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One of the first and most significant changes made by the new administration was to dismiss longtime solicitor Lincoln Treadwell, who has served as the Township’s solicitor for more than 20 years. He will be replaced by attorney Mark Freed (Curtin & Heffner, LLP) who, according to his LinkedIn profile, is from the Philadelphia area.

 

The ‘Saucon Valley Together’ candidates also used the Reorganization Meeting to address the various Township volunteer boards (Environmental Action Committee, Parks & Recreation, etc.). Having spent months campaigning on unity and bipartisan leadership for the Township, the ‘Saucon Valley Together’ majority purged most volunteer members who were previously appointed. Several of these members had been faithfully serving Lower Saucon for ten and fifteen-plus years across multiple administrations.

 

Despite having multiple, qualified individuals, who were already sitting members seeking re-appointment, all new appointments were approved by a 3-1 party line vote. The names and qualifications of all interested (and currently serving) individuals were not shared with the public – a criticism that deLeon and others had levied against the prior administration on numerous occasions.

 

Also notable during the Reorganization of Council were amendments to the code of conduct for Council meetings. One of those changes removed the taxpayer or resident requirement for all speakers and increased the allotted speaking time from 3 minutes to 5 minutes. Another amendment was allowing public comment after each listed agenda item.

 

Immediately following its Reorganization Meeting, Council switched gears to conduct its General Business meeting. The first notable item on that agenda was to authorize Township staff to prepare an ordinance amending the zoning map for an area of Easton Road from Light Manufacturing (LM) to Residential (R40). Despite a pleading from a resident prior to reconsider this change, Council approved the motion by another party line vote.

 

Perhaps the most notable item on the agenda was to direct Township taxpayers to fund the Hellertown Area Library (HAL) by approving a resolution to provide HAL with close to $100,000 for ‘unpaid invoices’ incurred by the Township in 2022. Councilmember Banonis was again the lone dissenter, asking the other members and new solicitor for any contracts or other agreements requiring that the Township pay those alleged invoices. The new majority seemed disinterested in those questions and approved the measure, 3 to 1.

 

It was also approved by a 3 to 1 vote (Banonis, no) to re-open the Township budget at a public meeting to be held on January 11, 2024, starting at 6:30PM in Lower Saucon Township Town Hall. [Read our article on the approved 2024 Township budget].

 

The main motivator behind this was to reverse the property tax decrease in millage rate passed by the previous administration in December of 2023. The new council majority argued that the tax decrease was a political stunt and opted to reopen the budget to ‘correct’ that, signaling a potential tax increase on residents, despite the Township having more than $9 million in excess funds.

 

Related to the budget, the new council majority discussed fire services and the investments needed to fund Township resources. Discussion among the new council members seemed to indicate that they would be open to increasing the Township fire appropriation tax which was decreased several years ago. The tax was decreased at the time because the fire services fund had, and still has, an excess of approximately $1 million (and is growing).

 

Council President deLeon stated, “I was never in favor of slashing the fire tax.” She broadcast her intent to raise additional taxes on Township residents by stating, “I’m hoping to find a way to bring that back to where it was.”

 

In addition to the budget meeting on January 11th, a general business meeting is also scheduled for January 17, 2024, beginning at 6:30 PM. Both meeting will be held at Lower Saucon Township Town Hall.


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