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Residents warn board to watch spending

Employee raises among concerns raised at public hearing

Half a dozen Bethlehem residents all aired different concerns at a recent public hearing on the tentative 2011 town budget, but they all shared the same message: take a conservative view on the future.

Wednesday, Oct. 27, was the first formal opportunity for members of the public to voice their opinion on the roughly $40 million spending plan, but with board members still negotiating their differences of opinion it's likely there will be changes, perhaps even significant ones, before a budget is adopted. The deadline to do so is Nov. 20.

The board has already met for one budget workshop since the tentative budget was released, and is scheduled to meet again on Monday, Nov. 1. A major topic of discussion has been whether employees will see raises, and where the tax levy will be set.

The tentative budget prepared by Supervisor Sam Messina includes a 1 percent cost of living increase for employees (police would have a contractual 2.5 percent raise), and would raise the tax levy by 1.8 percent, or nearly $170,000.

Some board members want that formula changed. Councilman Kyle Kotary, in particular, is pushing for no COLAs and a flat tax rate.

Resident Norman Morand, speaking at the public hearing, said he attended the previous budget workshop and listened to this plan with interest.

I very seldom agree with Kyle, but I listened to Kyle the other night and he made a lot of sense to me, Morand said.

A GE retiree, Morand argued his pension and the benefits of those subsiding on social security have not increased anytime recently. Taxes are steadily eating up more and more of his fixed income, he said.

"That's all I see, is a tax increase from the town, a tax increase from the county," he said. "There has to be some end to this."

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