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Bethlehem OKs Comp Plan review group

In an evening spent tackling perennial issues, board also sets fund balance policy

— Cohen described the plan as “memorializing” what has long been the town’s budgeting practice, but some board members were concerned a formal policy might hobble the town’s ability to adjust to changing fiscal conditions.

“When you put in any policy … you’re taking what is unrestricted and restricting it,” said Kotary. “At what point do we go too far in creating restrictions?”

Clarkson described the policy as a “tripwire” that will prove to be more of a guide than a restrictive framework.

The town’s general fund reserves have been spent down considerably in recent years. In 2003 the town had $5.6 million on hand, and by 2010 that figure had fallen to $3.7 million (32 percent and 12 percent of general fund expenditures, respectively). Cohen’s office is projecting in 2011 the fund was spent down by another $100,000, but will also be nearly 15 percent of expenditures because of spending reductions.

Before adopting the policy the board voted to remove language giving the comptroller “authority to deviate from this policy if it is in the best interest of the town.” The policy is not legally binding, so the board could go outside its provisions if deemed necessary.

The policy also outlines changes in accounting practices to bring the town into compliance with new government accounting standards required by the state.

The best path to paving roads?

The Town Board on Wednesday had a brief discussion about borrowing for road paving before unanimously approving the bonding of $600,000 for such projects this year.

The town began borrowing for paving expenses in 2010, but in the past year some leaders have expressed an aversion to the practice. This year’s budget dialed back borrowing by about one-seventh, with the goal of eventually weaning the town off of bonding for paving and resume using general appropriations.

It was clear on Wednesday that there is still some disagreement about the wisdom in borrowing for this yearly expense. Kotary described it as an acceptable and prudent practice, while Clarkson and Councilman Jeffrey Kuhn said it’s bad form to borrow for such regular spending items.

Nixing the borrowing entirely would lead to a large tax increase in the highway fund though, since it’s mostly funded by property taxes, so even board members against the practice voted for the borrowing. It’s clear the practice will become a part of the 2013 budget discussions later this year, though.

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