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Bethlehem budget won't be easy

Ancient infrastructure, employee pay top items as process begins

— There's also all the work Tropical Storm Irene has necessitated, the scope of which is still not entirely clear.

The Highway Department's paving schedule would largely remain the same.

All this comes at a time when personnel costs are still rising, hence the proposal on the table to not give any raises and increase health insurance copays for town employees. Five unfilled positions would also be done away with.

Highway Superintendent Gregg Sagendorph said the possibility of no raises or step increases has already had an impact on morale, especially during a time when many town workers are putting in long hours to clean up after Tropical Storm Irene.

“It's very difficult to keep asking the employees to do more and step up to the plate,” Sagendorph said.

Human Resources Manager Mary Tremblay-Glassman echoed those thoughts and added that staffing levels have gone down in recent years, sometimes leading to employees taking on supervisor-level responsibilities without any pay increase.

“There are less people to provide the same amount of services for a community that's grown about seven percent over the last 10 years,” she said.

For the Town Board's part, much of Thursday's session was spent talking about the balancing act that is the budgeting process.

“We can't do it all. We can't provide for sewer and water, we can't do steps and COLA and we can't not raise our taxes,” [all at the same time] Councilman Kyle Kotary said.

Councilwoman Joann Dawson referenced the news from states like Florida where public employees are facing pay cuts as coffers run dry.

“When you know there are some government jobs that are taking a cut in their salary, I'm glad we can hold the line,” she said.

There was also some theoretical discussion about what the town can do to open up new revenue streams. For example, the town's water facilities have the capacity to produce 10 million gallons of potable water per day but only put out 5 million gallons on average. If a customer for the excess water capacity could be found it would be a boon to the town.

The Town Board will go through other areas of the budget in coming weeks before starting to hammer out a final plan. The next step in the process is on Sept. 28, when Messina will present the draft budget during a Town Board meeting. On Oct. 13 the board will meet in another workshop.

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