The town of Bethlehem unveiled its $38.67 million spending plan for next year during its Wednesday, Sept. 24, town board meeting.
The proposed budget constitutes a 2.8 percent spending increase over this years $37.63 million budget and an overall 6.89 tax rate increase for the town’s combined general fund, highway department tax rate, and water and sewer district tax rates.
The proposed tax rate increase would result in a $17.45 increase per $100,000 of assessed value. Supervisor Jack Cunningham said the average home assessment in Bethlehem is $285,000.
According to the town’s outgoing comptroller who has taken a job with the Bethlehem Central School District, Judi Kehoe, the tax levy increase is being proposed at 6.89 percent. However, the 6.89 percent increase combined with the expanded assessment base will result in an increase of 7.3 percent in revenues to the town from property taxes, she said.
In opening the presentation, Cunningham said balancing this year’s budget was difficult on many different levels, citing a bad economy, poor consumer confidence, and the challenge of balancing `what was desirable and what was absolutely necessary` for the town.
The supervisor said that a large chunk of the budget was going to pay for town employees and their benefits, but that `our employees in Town Hall are our biggest assets` and that the town has to be as committed to them as they are committed to the town.
Cunningham said many of the town’s employees work long hours and could make much more money in the private sector, but are instead `committed to the community` the live and work in.
Some of the revenue projections were promising, however, Cunningham said, especially considering the economy and the fact that `Bethlehem is unfortunately not exempt ` from the economic woes nationwide.
In particular, Cunningham pointed to the now town-operated Colonial Acres Golf Coarse, which has already netted a profit of $20,000 even though the season isn’t over and the golf coarse was only projected to break even in the first year owned by the town.
`We’re looking at this as an increasing revenue source for the town,` he said.
Cunningham also mentioned other budget items like the $5.2 million project to upgrade the town’s sewer pump stations; several town-wide studies including farming and agricultural studies, and the Delaware Avenue and Route 9W studies; and three initiatives for inter-municipal cooperation ` joining the Albany County Storm Water Coalition, joining the study for the Albany County Health Insurance Consortium, and looking at consolidating 911 call centers around the county.
Kehoe crunched the proposed budget numbers for the board, stating that salary and health benefits constituted 55 percent of the new spending plan.
She said equipment cost were down and the retirement system costs were stable, but that health insurance was up 14 percent and there are large increases in energy spending and petroleum-based products such as asphalt for the highway department.
The highway fund expenditures is proposed to raise 4.7 percent, said Kehoe, but the highway department will keep the current staff level of 56 employees in place despite the increased demand on its services.
The town is also looking at a 4.7 percent increase in expenditures, Kehoe said, and is planning on hiring an additional police officer in either June or July, but added that the bringing the police force up to 44 members had little impact on the budget.
The sewer tax rate is being proposed to increase 4 percent, or $1.18, and there will be a quarterly $4.50 flat fee for the water and sewer districts.
The town board scheduled a public hearing on the proposed budget for Wednesday, Oct. 22, at 6 p.m.. Cunningham said the proposed budget would be availiable to the public at the town clerks office in Town Hall or on the town’s Web site by Monday, Sept. 29, at the latest.
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