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Bethlehem floats a 6.89% tax hike

"We're looking at this as an increasing revenue source for the town," he said.

Cunningham mentioned other budget items like the $5.2 million project to upgrade the town's sewer pump stations and several townwide studies, including farming and agricultural studies, and the Delaware Avenue and Route 9W studies.

He also mentioned three initiatives for inter-municipal cooperation to help consolidate services and save money, including 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.

The town is looking at a challenging couple of years ahead as it is looking to stop dipping into its reserve fund balance to close financial gaps in the budget each year.

"We are currently into our reserve funds. We have been using our reserve funds for the last five years," Cunningham said during a budget interview. "There's a gap between expenditures and our income, and we are closing that gap each year with our reserves.

"The challenge for me is to stop doing that," he concluded. "If we continue down that road there won't be any reserves left."

Although Bethlehem may be better off then neighboring municipalities such as Colonie, Cunningham said, the town has to find a way to reduce costs and raise revenues. However, the only revenue stream the town controls is local taxes because sales tax revenues and mortgage tax revenues are dependent upon current economic trends.

A flat tax to residents, such as what Colonie has proposed, is not feasible for Bethlehem, the supervisor said.

"If we applied a single fee to the residents of Bethlehem," said Cunningham referring to Colonie, "that would be equivalent to a 50 percent tax increase to our residents."

Cunningham said the county as a whole may have to take some action in order to alleviate some of the financial pressures on the local municipalities, such as when Albany County temporarily raised sales taxes a few years ago.

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