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Bethlehem budget on the table

Plan derided by board as a 'shell game'

The Town of Bethlehem has a tentative 2011 budget on the table, and while Supervisor Sam Messina has called it a prudent plan for the future, his colleagues on the Town Board are panning it as a compilation of risky accounting tricks.

The tentative budget calls for $40.2 million in spending, about the same as budgeted in 2010. There has been a fair amount of disagreement related to the first-time inclusion of a capital plan with the budget, as well as the viability of some of the assumptions made for the coming year.

The bottom line

Under the plan, the tax levy would increase 1.8 percent, a relatively low year-to-year jump for the town. Property owners' blended tax rate would increase 0.19 percent with the change.

The tentative budget calls for about $800,000 in cuts, including a reduction in part-time and seasonal personnel, a 3-percent reduction in contractual spending (which could include anything from paper use to maintenance projects) and a 2-percent increase in the employee share of health care costs.

Reductions are painful. Our budget was already lean, said Deputy Supervisor John Smolinsky, who presented the budget for Messina at a public meeting, as the supervisor was absent. "We need to plan now and act now to secure Bethlehem's financial security and quality of life."

There are also a number of new revenue items totaling $220,000. The major piece is a change in the cable franchising fee structure to the tune of $130,000, but also proposed are a false alarm fee for the police department, increased dog licensing fees, increased usage fees for park facilities and a start to charging for notary service at the Town Clerk's office.

There is a 1 percent raise for town employees in the budget, and a contractual 2.5 percent raise for police department personnel. Members of the Town Board, Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals and the supervisor would take a 10 percent cut in pay for about about $27,000 in savings.

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