Bethlehem's budget outlook good

Leaf collection fee taken off the table

— After the tax levy went up by 8 percent this year, officials in the Town of Bethlehem are painting a much rosier picture for the coming budget cycle.

Town Comptroller Michael Cohen and Supervisor John Clarkson presented the 2014 budget outlook to the Town Board at a Wednesday, May 22, meeting. That outlook projects no budget gap for 2014. In comparison, the town moved to close a $3.5 million gap last year by raising taxes sharply, cutting services and shedding unfilled positions.

“I knew it would be OK, but frankly it’s better than I thought it would be,” Supervisor John Clarkson said. “It looks like we’re heading towards a budget well below the property tax cap and well below 2 percent.”

The supervisor also said it is likely raises for town employees will be worked into the 2014 budget. A contract with the police union has already been reached that includes cost-of-living increases.

“You cannot expect your workforce to last forever in a situation where no one is getting raises,” Clarkson said.

He also said the town is jettisoning plans to levy a leaf collection fee. The $30 per household charge had been floated for the 2013 budget but the town held off on it. With a brighter outlook, Clarkson said there should be no need for the fee that would raise about $230,000 for the town.

“Looking ahead, we were worried we wouldn’t be able to balance the budget without it. … At this point in time, I’d like to take it off the table. We shouldn’t need it,” he said.

Clarkson cautioned any number of unexpected developments could have an impact on the budget outlook. Those include the possibility of the county passing college chargebacks down to towns or adjusting the sales tax distribution ratios, topics that have been raised in the past.

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