Budget passes in split vote

8 percent tax hike, golf course prove to be sticking points

— A major point of contention during the budget process was whether to defund the golf course. The course has been operating in the red for the past two years and was projected to lose $40,000 in 2013. Another $270,000 in capital improvements were scheduled for the future.

The Bethlehem Town Board first agreed to lease Colonial Acres Golf Course in 2008 for $1 per year from the Open Space Conservancy. The five-year agreement called for Bethlehem to maintain the 43-acre property. The course sits on approximately 30 of those acres. The lease expired in August, but the town has continued on a month-to-month basis since.

Several residents, including former Supervisor Sam Messina, spoke in favor of maintaining funding for the golf course so the town would have more time to look at its options concerning the property. Members of the local PGA chapter recently approached the town about arranging a possible private manager for the course, possibly turning it into a haven for younger golfers learning the game.

Messina said he believe the town should not completely give up control, but thought the two groups could work together on operations.

“I think you should establish a partnership and be involved in the process and not walk away at this budget,” said Messina. “The reason I believe that is, no one is going to have Bethlehem’s interest up front like Bethlehem.”

Both Kotary and Dawson felt the town should keep the course in the budget. While neither offered specific suggestions for further cuts to lower the tax rate or keep Colonial Acres open, Dawson suggested using some of the $1.7 million in reductions from this year to fund one of those prospects.

Clarkson and Comptroller Michael Cohen had planned to use a portion of the town’s savings to cover about $1.1 million in retirement cost increases over three years. The plan also calls for the savings to be used to alleviate the cost of the step increase in the Albany Water Contract in 2014 and use some funds to update home and commercial assessments throughout town. Dawson said those monies could be tapped now.

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