Editorial: Start the debate today

The people of Bethlehem got a sneak peak at some of the tough conversations their leaders might be having later this year when, at a recent Town Board meeting, members of a budget advisory committee presented a report on the town’s Parks and Recreation Department.

You can read the details in this week’s front-page story. We bring it up here because the report not only lays out a number of options that would greatly impact the town’s recreational opportunities, but it sets the stage for what might be the tough budget season of tough budget seasons.

Regular readers already know the details: besides contending with ever-rising pension and healthcare costs, the town will be seeing the Selkirk Cogen energy plant coming back onto the tax rolls in 2013, making for a potential $3.5 million budget gap. This year’s budget is $38.6 million so… well, you can do the math, and it’s not pretty.

So part of the Budget Advisory Committee’s charge is to seek out every “efficiency” (read: cut) in town. We heard from Parks and Rec last week, and over the coming months we’ll be seeing similar reports from the town’s other departments. These should be cause for some serious discussions, if the parks analysis is any indicator.

The proposals include shuttering the 9-hole Colonial Acres Golf Course, expanding access to the Elm Avenue Park pool to non-residents and/or shortening the pool season, closing the skating rink and increasing usage fees across the board. (This would be a good time to point out no one has actually proposed making any changes, these are merely reports).

If services and programs are cut to the bone and rates are jacked up, the Budget Advisory Committee figures the town will save something on the order of $100,000 from Parks and Rec. Hardly chump change, but a big change for taxpayers.

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