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Bethlehem budget calls for tax increase

Plan includes loss of 16 positions and 8 percent tax hike

— Some proposed cuts within the tentative town budget may not be popular with residents and town staff, but Bethlehem Supervisor John Clarkson believes the plan will continue to provide the services many have become accustomed to.

The tentative budget includes an 8 percent tax increase and the loss of 16 staff positions through attrition. No layoffs are being proposed. The plan also calls for the town to cease funding the Colonial Acres Golf Course.

“With this budget, the comptroller and I tried to balance the needs of this year with those of next year and the years following,” said Clarkson. He added residents made it clear they did not want to see a reduction in services and his plan attempts to do that.

The town needs to close a roughly $3.5 million budget gap for the coming year.

The large gap is due mainly to the loss of a 20-year Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement with the Selkirk Cogen natural gas plant worth $1.7 million. The older contract was allowing the town to essentially receive the share of payments meant to go to Albany County and the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk Central School District. Those two municipalities will now receive their full shares.

The loss of the PILOT means under the new tax cap law’s formula, the town could potentially raise property taxes up to 19 percent to make up the funds. Town board members previously said they would not support placing such a large burden onto residents.

The proposed 8 percent tax increase would equal a hike of about $67 per $250,000 home or $3.54 for every assessed $1,000. Clarkson said the hardest decision was recommending such a comparatively large tax increase from previous years.

“Didn’t want it to be that high, but with the path we’re now on I think I can promise it won’t be that high again in Bethlehem,” he said. “That’s why there a need for us to look at the long term and bite the bullet this year.”

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