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Bethlehem budget won't be easy

Ancient infrastructure, employee pay top items as process begins

— The Bethlehem Town Board started getting into the nuts and bolts of the 2012 budget at a workshop on Thursday, Sept. 15, and at the end of a three-hour session it was clear there are will be major challenges to overcome in this budget cycle.

A draft budget has already been presented by Supervisor Sam Messina and town staff that would hike taxes by 1.27 percent, raise sewer and water rates and include no raises or “step” increases in pay for years on the job for town employees. At the same time, spending and services would remain about flat.

On Thursday, department heads from the Police Department, Parks and Recreation, Department of Public Works and the Highway Department took questions from the board on their budgets. Pretty much across the board, it was clear rising pension and health insurance costs as well as the town's aging infrastructure have put leaders in an unenviable position.

Deputy Commissioner of Public Works Erik Deyoe explained that with the town's roughly $500 million worth of water and sewer assets, it should be putting $10 million per year into maintenance and replacement. That hasn't been done.

“We've really trimmed the fat from the water and sewer funds,” Deyoe said. “We need to be cognizant of that as we look at 70- and 80-year-old infrastructure.”

The biggest projects on the draft budget are improvements to some of the town's sewer pump stations and work on the Clapper Road Water Treatment Plant, which at about two decades old is still one of the town's newest pieces of water infrastructure.

Deyoe described the best approach as a “surgical managing of our assets.”

Other major projects under consideration are replacing the roof at the Elm Avenue Park pool complex (the wooden beams are deteriorating); making repairs to the Elm Avenue Park tennis courts (a court there is closed due to cracks in the pavement so large they pose a tripping hazard); at long last opening the Moh He Con Nuck nature preserve to the public with a parking area and some trails; buying four new police cruisers; running sewer service to the Colonial Acres Golf Course (which had a poor year revenue-wise); making state-mandated renovations to the town's dams; and upgrading the telecommunications system for the water and sewer departments.

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