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Bethlehem’s budget review continues

Committee considers water and sewer fee hikes, cut of leaf pickup

— The Bethlehem Town Board continues to hear from department heads and the Budget Advisory Committee options for scaling back the 2013 budget.

On Wednesday, June 27 presentations were given by the Department of Public Works, the Highway Department and Senior Services. Early estimates show a potential $3.5 million budget gap in the coming year brought on by a combination of factors.

“We are facing some very difficult budgetary circumstances this year, that’s going to necessitate some big changes. The (advisory committee’s) job is to come up with some ideas on how to approach this problem,” said Supervisor John Clarkson.

No decisions on were made at the meeting, but the information will play a role in the budget drafting process later in the year.

Potential ways to reduce costs and add revenue included raising water and sewer fees, ending leaf pickup and closing the town’s compost facility or transfer station.

Department of Public Works

According to Commissioner of Public Works Erik Deyoe, Bethlehem’s water supply by far exceeds demand.

The town uses an average of 5.4 million gallons of water per day and has 11 million gallons per day available. The majority of the water comes from the town’s two water treatment plants, but Bethlehem entered into a 20-year agreement in 2004 to purchase water from the City of Albany. At the time, water demands were high.

At $1.3 million in 2011, the contract now makes up 16 percent of the town’s water budget. It’s the second highest cost, exceeded only by personnel. In 2014, the contract stipulates the town must increase the amount of water it buys, adding a projected $450,000 in annual expenses.

Deyoe said Albany’s water is needed only on hot days when 11 million gallons can be used, but the town also stores water. He suggested a “pay-as-you-go” agreement with the city would have been more beneficial than the use it or lose it arrangement. In the final years of the current contract, he said the town could be paying Albany about $4 million per year for water it rarely has use for.

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