At last night’s board meeting, Bethlehem Town Board members voted unanimously to approve a $41 million town budget for 2017.
The budget represents a 2.5 percent increase in spending over 2016, or nearly $1 million. The bulk of that increase will go toward capital improvement projects per the town’s five-year capital plan. It also includes a 2 percent cost-of-living (COLA) wage increase for town employees, for whom staffing levels will remain consistent.
While taxes have gone down in each of the last two years, taxpayers will see a slight increase this year—about a $16 increase for a home worth $260K. The budget will keep the town under the state-mandated property tax cap for the sixth consecutive year but it is uncertain, according to Town Supervisor John Clarkson, whether a “tax freeze credit” program that has earned rebates for residents in previous years will be extended in 2017.
Following the five-year capital plan, the budget proposal includes disbursements of approximately $17.6 million for water and sewer projects, $2.8 million for sidewalks and other community “enhancements,” and $3.7 million for public safety projects, including the renovation of a grade on Adams St. to provide a home for the town’s emergency response services and alterations to the town court and police station.
“I’m really happy with the budget,” said board member David VanLuven. “Yet again it’s below the property cap. It has cost of living increases for all staff. And it includes important capital improvements like sidewalks, water, roads, public safety, and more. It’s amazing to me how much the town is able to deliver when only about 14 percent of our property tax dollars go to the town budget.” The remainder of property tax revenues, he explained, go to the county, the fire district, the school district and the town library.
The budget passed easily. There was virtually no discussion at last night’s meeting, as a series of presentations at previous board meetings have covered the topic in detail. Residents can access the budget, the capital plan and related presentations here.
“We are very proud of the 2017 budget,” said Town Comptroller Michael Cohen. “For the fifth year in a row, we passed a responsible budget that does not rely on fund balance reserves to balance it and again is within the mandated tax cap. Also, by combining multiyear forecasting and capital purchasing projections, we believe we have left ourselves in reasonable shape to face the coming years.”