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Bethlehem supervisor candidate floats alternative budget proposal

Sam Messina, sitting Bethlehem Town Board member and candidate for supervisor, released on Friday, Oct. 16, a proposal that he says will allow the town to adopt a budget with a zero percent tax hike.

Incumbent Supervisor Jack Cunningham, however, says his pitch amounts to nothing more than political maneuvering and would be impossible to implement.

Messina is proposing that all major departments and programs cut their expenses by 4 percent and minor programs cut their budgets by 2 percent, for an estimated savings of $155,000.

He also said the salaries of the supervisor, Town Board members and town justice should be reduced by 10 percent for a savings of $40,000, and that the Zoning Board of Appeals should be consolidated with the Planning Board whose number of members would be reduced from seven to five for a savings of $30,000.

According to Messina, these changes would save the town $225,000, enough to offset the proposed $197,000 increase in the tax levy.

"A 2- to 4-percent reduction can be achieved," said Messina. "I want the public to have a chance to see that there's at least some flexibility and opportunity."

Messina said offices like the Highway Department and Police Department would be considered "large" programs, while offices like the Town Clerk or Assessor would be considered "small" ones. The cuts would likely be "marginal," he said, involving seeking out efficiencies and examining equipment expenses without impacting services.

Cunningham countered that the town has examined the possibility of spending cuts and would not be able to reap significant savings without making layoffs, which Messina emphasized are not a part of his proposal.

"We've been working very hard to cut spending, and there's not a lot of areas that are left to cut," Cunningham said. "What we need to do is find sources of revenue."

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