Bethlehem budget calls for tax increase

Plan includes loss of 16 positions and 8 percent tax hike

— The proposed $37.9 million budget calls for a 1.8 percent decrease in spending from 2012 and a 7 percent decrease in staffing. Positions within the police force, telecommunications office and sewer, water and highway departments would remain unfilled, while one patrol officer and one DPW position were restored.

A total of about $40,000 would be saved by no longer funding the golf course, with an additional $270,000 in capital spending in the future as repairs and upgrades needed on the site are extensive. Clarkson said the proposed cuts wouldn’t mean the course would have to necessarily close.

“There might be a solution to keep it open without receiving such a large subsidy from the town,” he said. “We could always find another use for the site, but either way it will remain open space.”

Other cost saving measures within the plan include reducing operation days at the compost and transfer station, reducing staff hours for the Parks and Recreation Department 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 to collect taxes. Those cuts would save roughly $108,000.

Money was also saved by refinancing debt and restructuring ambulance services by allowing third-party insurers to bill for advanced care.

The Supervisor advised using a large portion of the town’s savings to cover about $1.1 million in retirement cost increases for three years. The plan also calls for savings to be used to alleviate the cost of the step-increase of the Albany Water Contract in 2014 and use some funds to update home and commercial assessments throughout town.

Clarkson said he is willing to make adjustments to the plan as needed, but any restorations will require further cuts or an increase in taxes.

“Public needs a sustainable, realistic budget plan and I think that is what we’ve done here,” he said.

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