Bethlehem adopts budget

Leaders commend one another for a spirit of compromise

After weeks of disagreement, argument and eventually concessions, the Bethlehem Town Board tonight unanimously adopted a 2011 town budget.

This year's process was one that started earlier and lasted later than usual. The board held six budget workshops over the summer before a tentative budget was prepared by Supervisor Sam Messina, but when the board disapproved of some of elements of the plan, two late-hour budgeting sessions were held.

The result, said all five members of the board, was a constructive process that saw compromises from all corners to come to a workable solution.

It was probably the toughest budget process, but at the end of the day I think we might have the best budget in five years, said Councilman Kyle Kotary, reflecting on his time on the Town Board.

"Our process was very extensive. I think it was analytical and it was open," Messina said. "We actually have come together quite well as colleagues on the process."

At its final workshop just over a week ago, the board agreed to a set of spending reductions that brought the adopted budget to $39.7 million, a more than $400,000 decrease from this year's spending plan. A lot of those savings will mean the town will avoid using its reserves and not borrow to make purchases, two practices some leaders felt were unsustainable in the long run.

The tax levy was reduced somewhat, to a 1.64 percent increase. Since the tax base has increased, said Messina, that will effectively be a .02 percent hike on tax bills or a 6 cent increase for $100,000 of assessed property value.

Councilman Mark Hennessey said he'd like to see the rest of tax levy increase, about $153,000 worth, eliminated through more cuts, and proposed forming a budget review commission to take a look at that possibility.

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