Editor, The Spotlight:
Town Supervisor John Clarkson presented his 2014 Tentative Budget plan, entitled “Steady & Smooth Financial Path” at the Town Board meeting on Sept. 25. The supervisor describes the 2014 plan as a “Good News Budget.” Since the supervisor is running for reelection it is appropriate to review the tax and spending plans he established to assess whether “Steady & Smooth” is an accurate description of Mr. Clarkson’s performance as the Town’s Chief Fiscal Officer.
First, in 2012 the Property Tax Levy was $11.2M. For 2013 Mr. Clarkson increased the tax levy $1.3M or 11.33 percent. This followed property tax increases of 1.7 percent, 1.6 percent and 2.1 percent in 2010, 2011 and 2012, respectively. The three budgets preceding Mr. Clarkson’s first budget might be described as “Steady & Smooth”; a 9.5 percent jump over the prior three year average does not line up with the supervisor’s self-description of his fiscal policies.
Mr. Clarkson’s plan for 2014 further increases taxes on the property owners in Town by $0.2M or 1.23 percent. If you focus on the 2014 Budget Plan only, you might conclude this is “good news.” However, the two budget plans put forth by the supervisor have resulted in an increase of taxation on Bethlehem property owners of $1.5M, with an annual average increase in the Property Tax Levy of 6.3 percent.
Also included in the budget presentation are plans for a 19.8 percent fund balance to appropriations ratio, which is just under the ceiling of 20 percent, and over the Town’s stated optimal level of 15 percent. At first pass, this financial metric appears positive however, the monies represented by these fund balances come from us, the town residents. The difference between the 19.8 percent presented, and the optimal level of 15 percent, is approximately $1.8M; this is our money. With that in mind I wonder, was that 11.33 percent tax increase really necessary? Could it have been political posturing in anticipation of the election cycle? Or is it poor fiscal management? This $1.8M is money not being invested or spent in our local economy; it is now in the Town’s reserves. We all know once government takes your money, you’re not getting it back. Yet, Mr. Clarkson wants still more of your money to spend as he sees fit.
Many town residents do not see Mr. Clarkson’s tax increases as “good news”. If he is re-elected, some residents may be forced to take the “Steady & Smooth Path” out of town.