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Now it’s the public’s turn on budget

Bethlehem’s tentative plan keeps 1.27 percent tax hike, but cuts borrowing

— The public will be giving Bethlehem leaders comments on a 2012 budget that includes the same tax hike as originally proposed nearly two months ago, but has changed considerably in other areas.

There will be a public hearing on the tentative budget at the Town Board meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 26. The board has met in five budget workshops this season, including an extra one called for Thursday, Oct. 20, to hammer out outstanding disagreements.

The resulting product, which carries a 1.27 percent tax hike in addition to increases in sewer and water user fees, was deemed to be a reasonable compromise to most board members, though there will be time to make changes before a scheduled Nov. 9 budget adoption.

“I’m very pleased we are where we’re at right now,” said Councilman Kyle Kotary on Thursday. “At this point we’re getting closer and closer to a budget that meets the needs of everybody.”

The tax hike could still be an issue, though. Throughout the process, board members have expressed opposition to any increase in taxes, while Supervisor Sam Messina has maintained the proposed hike is a fair one along with the reductions in operation expenses (he said there’ve been $1.4 million) and reduction on the use of the fund balances.

“We’ve done our job. We’ve done it professionally, and we’ve reduced expenses,” he said.

Since the budget was first presented, a number of proposed projects that would have been borrowed for have been taken out, the most significant being a $1.4 million bond to secure a new Department of Public Works garage. Another $350,000 of borrowing was shifted over to capital reserves and several vehicle purchases were sent from borrowing to the regular operations budget.

Even with cuts, the town would end up spending over $38 million, or around what was budgeted for this year. Some costs, not the least of which the town’s mandatory retirement contributions, have skyrocketed year-to-year.

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Comments

RichardReevesEllington 2 years, 12 months ago

While the Board is to be commended for a careful budget. Most changes are to services to the community or material purchases. As I understand the budget breakdown, these areas account for about 18% of the total budget. The largest item, personnel costs are approximately 80%. I see no discussion on managing this fast growth area. It appears that the entire budget could be personnel costs within the decade.

During the recent debate, additional focus was on services consolidation, long range plans, and other areas that are at the margins of the costs. The next Supervisor and Board will have to actively engage in the personnel issue and the Supervisor should be a person with experience in personnel matters in both good and adverse times. I have 34 years of such experience, while the other candidates do not. This should be a strong consideration when you cast your vote. For more, please go to rreevesellington.com for my personal data and bethlehemsupervisor.com for my political profile and platform.

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RichardReevesEllington 2 years, 12 months ago

And additional comment on personnel costs. John Clarkson rightly wants a long term capital plan, Kyle Kotary wants that and a long term budgeting process. Neither have brought up the need for a long term personnel plan. This should be be foundation of the other two, given the amount of cost associated with current employees and retirees. Such a plan, needs to set personnel numbers goals in ways that reduce the rapid growth of these expenses. Layoffs are not necessarily the best solution as there are others: attrition, early retirements, and contractual negotiations. In my experience, a mix best serves all.

The starting point is for our citizens to better understand where the costs are today, where they are growing fastest, and what elements are causing fast growth. Then we all can move forward in a more informed way.

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