Bethlehem talks turkey, few cuts appeal

Attrition said to be key to balancing budget while keeping services

— If there’s one thing Bethlehem leaders agree on, it is the town’s staffing levels won’t be going up anytime soon.

That was the takeaway from a Wednesday, Aug. 8, meeting of the Town Board at which a long list of potential cuts were discussed, though no specific decisions were made. Also included in the list were breakdowns of the average salaries and benefits costs of town employees.

“Most of the major savings here tie in to personnel,” said Supervisor John Clarkson, who is scheduled to present his tentative budget next month. “Most of the money I think we will save going forward … is taking advantage of staff attrition.”

That could include recent retirements in the police department, where the average officer collects a $90,000 annual salary (including overtime) and costs the town an additional $34,000 in benefits and payroll taxes. Two line officers, a sergeant and two detectives have recently retired.

One way a detective slot could be left open would be to end the DARE program at Bethlehem Central — that officer could then be reassigned from the schools. Clarkson said he’s already approached BC Superintendent Thomas Douglas about the possibility but hasn’t heard back yet.

Other options were put on the table, too. They include making cutbacks in the Parks Department (such as shutting off night lights at Elm Avenue Park, trimming the pool season, reducing playing field maintenance or closing the Colonial Acres Golf Course), the Highway Department (closing or reducing hours at the transfer and compost facilities or ending leaf pickup), in the Department of Public Works and in the Police Department.

On the whole, the board tacitly settled on increasing the suggested donation for senior transportation trips to Colonie and Albany (from $10 to $15 — the in-town suggested donation would remain at $5) for an estimated $22,000 revenue bump. There was also support for increasing the fee at the transfer station from $1 per trash bag to $1.50. Support for the latter was founded upon a survey conducted of the approximately 500 people who use the station in a week that found 98 percent would still use the station with the increase, which would net the town about $40,000. That survey can be viewed on the town’s website.

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