Few weigh in on town budget

No changes made as Nov. 14 adoption date approaches

— Few residents offered up suggestions regarding Bethlehem’s preliminary spending plan for 2013 at a recent public hearing.

Only four people gave their opinions on next year’s proposed budget before the Town Board meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 24. Most of those who spoke were connected to the town’s political scene.

Town officials are projecting a $3.5 million budget gap, and the preliminary budget proposed by Supervisor John Clarkson calls for a nearly 8 percent tax hike and the loss of 16 staff positions through attrition. No layoffs are being proposed. The proposed $37.9 million budget includes a 1.8 percent decrease in spending from 2012.

Cuts include reducing operation days at the compost facility and transfer station, reducing staff hours for Parks and Recreation Department staff and increasing field fees to offset maintenance costs. The town’s Planning Board would also be cut from seven members to five and the town would expand the Lockbox service used to collect taxes. Those cuts would save roughly $108,000.

The town may also cease funding the Colonial Acres Golf Course to save $40,000 next year, though capital projects totaling $270,000 are also scheduled at the course.

Former Supervisor Sam Messina said he thought tough but honest decisions were being made on the budget, but he did not feel it was necessary to close the golf course because less than 1 percent of the budget would be saved. He also felt the $270,000 in projected capital spending for the future may not be warranted.

“Bethlehem is different because of its services and because of its diversity, and Colonial Acres is part of that,” Messina said, adding it is a good investment for both the town’s younger residents and seniors.

Messina asked for the golf course to be put back into the budget and for residents to be placed onto an advisory board that would examine options for the future. The idea was proposed several years ago but never gained traction.

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