The supervisor argued that a much smaller tax increase in other municipalities resulted in a much higher actual dollar amount than what is paid in Bethlehem. Cunningham said town residents enjoy a high level of service for a fairly low dollar amount.
"Property taxes are the only revenue stream over which the town board has control," Cunningham said. "The property tax revenue accounts for 27 percent of the proposed 2009 town budget."
Cunningham went on to say that sales and mortgage tax revenue makes up 31 percent of the town budget and that the town has to draw from its fund balance to meet its expenditures each year. The town has drawn approximately $4 million since 2005 from its fund balance, which he likened to using one's savings account to balance a checkbook.
The supervisor warned that the town is taking a proactive approach and constantly looking for new revenue streams to avoid massive budget deficits like neighboring municipalities such as Colonie.
Most of the criticism from a handful of residents at the meeting was targeted at the size of the actual increase in the face of a potential economic meltdown nationwide.
Board member Kyle Kotary said he has heard fewer budget complaints this year then in the past.
"In total, I think the board has received fewer than 10 e-mail and call complaints about the budget out of 33,000 plus residents and over 13,000 taxpaying households," Kotary said. "That's actually fewer than in each of my previous two years on the board."
Kotary said the actual dollar amount residents are paying is more important than the percentages attached to the town budget.
"The real story is that people in town are paying some of the lowest taxes per $1,000 in the entire county, and the lowest among like-sized municipalities and we're known for some of the best, if not the best government services, schools and quality of life," Kotary said. "Again, all percentages are not equal and percentages don't tell the story, dollars do.""