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No simple solutions in Bethlehem budget discussion

Also included are a bevy of cuts, like a 10 percent pay cut for town, planning and zoning board members and Supervisor Messina; the closing of the landfill and compost facilities on Monday; a huge reduction in highway beautification (like the installation of many of the summer hanging flower baskets); and a 2 percent increase in the employee share of health-care costs.

Also included in the tentative draft of the town's budget is a provision to wed output from the town's Clapper Road and New Salem water treatment plants into a unified water system.

Additional revenue items would include increased dog licensing fees, higher recreation department usage fees and the institution of a false alarm fee for the police department (estimated revenue there: $27,500).

Comptroller Suzanne Traylor said she generally kept sales tax, mortgage tax and other variable revenues flat at 2009 levels in figuring the estimates.

It's important to note no decision has been made as a result of any of the deliberations so far, and much of the budget process remains ahead.

Even with hundreds of thousands in cuts and new revenues, all four funds would dip into reserves to the tune of about $2.1 million to make for a balanced budget. They would still leave above the 15 percent of the total budget, which is what leaders maintain is vital for a healthy town, but every year the budget crisis continues, coffers are taxed further.

Kotary said he hopes Messina changes the budget numbers in the next few weeks.

"His approach appears to be unaffordable and irresponsible and not based in reality," he said after the meeting. "The board was shocked, we were surprised, we were even blindsided by his budget proposal, which looks at this point nothing like we all had discussed."

Councilman Mark Hennessey echoed those thoughts.

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