Supervisor John Clarkson’s tentative 2014 budget for the Town of Bethlehem calls for a property tax increase of $4.98 for the average household, in one of the first years in recent memory the town is not facing a budget gap.
The supervisor and Comptroller Mike Cohen presented the $38.24 million spending plan to the Town Board on Wednesday, Sept. 25. Expenditures are 1 percent above the 2013 budget. The tentative budget calls for no cuts and is mostly relying on use of the town’s fund balance and grant money to stay balanced.
“I think this is great news for our community,” said Clarkson. “We are in a good position financiallyand hopefully that means we can begin some of the projects we have been talking about for the past several years.”
Under the tentative budget, the property tax increase would be below the state’s tax cap, coming in at a 1.23 percent hike in the levy. This would equate to a 0.6 percent increase in the tax rate, or $4.98 for a home valued at $250,000.
The plan uses $10,000 from the town’s fund balance and money from the state’s Efficiency and Performance Award given to the town this spring to eliminate the town’s dispatch fee for residents and implement projects over the next three years such as installation of sidewalks and contributing to make the Delaware Avenue Enhancement Study and Sustainable Bethlehem projects come to fruition.
Clarkson said he expects the major discussions for the budget cycle to be based on what projects the award money should go toward.
Some residents may see their tax bill go down based on the water, sewer or ambulance district they live in. Because the town’s three ambulance districts have now been consolidated into one, many residents in Selkirk and Glenmont are expected to see a tax reduction.
This year’s budget dealt with a $3.5 million budget gap through cutting 16 positions and a property tax levy increase of 7.9 percent.
Town Board members voiced no objections with the tentative budget at the Wednesday meeting.
In a later interview, Democratic Committee Chairman and Councilman Jeffrey Kuhn said he felt the Town Board had made “intelligent fiscal decisions, which left the town in much better shape for next year.”
“I think this is great news for our town,” added Kuhn.
Republican candidates challenging incumbents in the local elections disagreed.
Republican supervisor candidate Fred DiMaggio criticized Clarkson’s spending plan because it would raise taxes during a time when he thinks it to be unnecessary.
“For two years in a row, John Clarkson has increased taxes and raised spending on town residents,” DiMaggio said. “The bottom line is, he can’t seem to balance the budget without raising taxes. Clarkson is irresponsible in suggesting a tax hike when Bethlehem residents already pay one of the highest tax rates in any of the county’s suburban area.”
DiMaggio said he would like to see the Town Board use more of the town’s fund balance for tax relief, pointing out the fund balance is currently above the state’s recommended 15 percent.
According to Cohen, more reserve money was not utilized because those funds are projected to dip below 15 percent in 2016. DiMaggio argued that the town’s fund balance policy is self-imposed and merely a recommendation from the state. He said more money could and should be used for tax relief.
The preliminary budget presentation and public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 23. Adoption of the budget is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 13. Two budget workshops will be held on Sept. 26 and Oct. 10.