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Bethlehem taxpayers balk at levy hike

After a lengthy budget presentation by Supervisor Jack Cunningham, the public got to weigh in on the proposed 6.87 percent tax increase, and the supervisor was chided into making a revelation.

None of you are up for re-election this year and I was wondering if the budget would be up this high if you were up for re-election? asked Delmar resident William Stewart.

Cunningham responded, "I will tell you I run every two years for this office, I intend to run next year for this office, and if I didn't think this was the reasonable thing to do in the best interest of this community I wouldn't be sitting here doing it. I don't set my budget because I am or not running for office, I am doing it because it's the responsible thing to do."

Bethlehem unveiled its $38.67 million spending plan for next year during the Wednesday, Sept. 24, board meeting.

Next year, Democratic board member Kyle Kotary and Independence board member Sam Messina are up for re-election, along with Cunningham, a Democrat.

The proposed budget constitutes a 2.8 percent spending increase over this year's $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. Cunningham said the average home assessment in Bethlehem is $285,000 and during his presentation, he told residents that not all tax increases are equal.

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.

Most of the criticism over the budget was targeted at the size of the actual increase in the face of a potential global economic meltdown. There were a handful of comments directed at the budget and size of the town's police department.

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