Bethlehem's hiring process questioned

Comptroller: 2009 midyear cuts limited impact of lessened revenues

The Town of Bethlehem's decision to make midyear budget cuts in 2009 was well founded, according to Comptroller Suzanne Traylor, who on Wednesday, May 26, presented to the Town Board a preliminary financial report for the year.

A discussion about the role a hiring freeze played in town finances sparked a new debate about the town's current policies, however.

Revenues for 2009 were down considerably from the projections made at the beginning of the year, said Traylor. Sales tax receipts dropped about $800,000 from collections made in 2008, to around $9.3 million, which made a significant impact on the town's financial situation. Even receipts from the Parks and Recreation Department slumped due to a rainy summer.

Still, the losses incurred were less than expected, and the water and sewer funds actually ended the year with considerable surpluses. Traylor attributed those gains to leaving vacancies open and the pursuit of other cost saving measures.

Councilman Kyle Kotary said the figures portend a difficult budget process for the coming year, as there are few signs the economy is improving.

I feel we're going to have to do the same thing this year, he said of the midyear budget reductions.

Councilman Mark Hennessey then wondered if the board should impose a hiring or spending freeze like last year. Supervisor Sam Messina said he's already implemented a system though which department heads must justify filling vacancies via a form submitted to the supervisor.

"I think that's working. I think we have to do some hiring to be sensitive to the needs of our community," he said.

Board members said this was news to them.

"I've never seen one of these worksheets, and the first I'm hearing about this is tonight," Hennessey said. "That sounds like a policy decision, and it sounds like something that should be before the board."

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