New budget keeps tax hike, adds some raises

More pension costs means fewer purchases in Bethlehem budget

— The Bethlehem 2012 budget is slowly taking shape, but with the release of a tentative budget on Wednesday, Sept. 26, it became even more clear that it will be tough to meet all the town’s goals, especially if leaders want to limit tax increases.

In the three-act drama that is the budgeting process, this tentative budget is the second big step. A draft budget was presented at the end of August before several budget workshops, and now Supervisor Sam Messina has presented the tentative plan to the Town Board and residents.

“This may be called the supervisor’s budget, but it’s really the town’s budget,” Messina said, alluding to two budget workshops that have already been held.

“In the Town of Bethlehem, the budget is put out earlier, more complete and in more detail than anywhere I can think of,” he continued.

On the whole, the plan is similar to what was proposed several weeks ago, though there are notable differences. The budget calls for $38.7 million in straight appropriations, plus another $7 million in capital projects and borrowing.

What’s changed in the last few weeks is that the town now has a definite figure on what it will have to pay into the pension system next year, and it’s $337,000 more than expected. That makes pension costs weigh in at a $1 million year-to-year increase.

Messina noted that the portion of the town budget spent on pensions has doubled 15 times over since 2002, while the number of employees has decreased slightly.

The budget also includes about $200,000 in what were described as “limited merit increases and incentives.” These will essentially be “step” increases in pay meted out by the Town Board and department heads to worthy employees.

At a past budget workshop, Superintendent of Highways Gregg Sagendorph posited that a proposal of holding all salaries flat had already impacted employee morale.

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