Taking stock of town's finances

The financial picture may seem clear now, but things get fuzzy for the Town of Bethlehem when considering the year 2012 and beyond.

That was one of the key underlying messages from members of the 20/20 Implementation Committee, which has come up with suggestions of how the town can better manage its finances in the future.

At the Nov. 22 meeting of the Town Board, members of the committee gave an overview of what they found during months of analysis. Perhaps the clearest message was that the town has no multi-year financial plan that projects major issues coming down the road.

“This is a very critical item,” said committee member James Blendell. “We have a budget that’s annual. We really do not know what it’s going to be in future years, what our expenditures are going to be, what our income is going to be. In talking to the comptroller, we’re in for some serious problems in the next two or three years.”

Committee members said that the creation of a plan would help board members decide on levels of taxation, capital investments and the amount of money that should be placed into reserves. The recommendation was that the town use guidelines set by the State Comptroller’s Office and that the yearly plan should encompass projections for the next five years.

“We believe the plans should be provided to the Town Board during the budget process and it should cover the budget year, plus four additional years,” said committee member John Hudacs.

As for reserve levels, the committee recommended that the board consider establishing a formal policy on the maintenance of fund balances, although no specifics were given as to what that policy should be moving forward.

Supervisor Sam Messina, who is entering his last month in that office, said he wanted it on the record that he supports the recommendations of the committee and urges the new board to move forward with the suggestions. Other board members also expressed interest in seeing the report followed up on.

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