BETHLEHEM Following little feedback from residents, the Bethlehem Town Board passed its annual budget last week with few changes to the draft presented in September.
The budget was unanimously passed by the Town Board on Tuesday, Nov. 10. However, Councilman Bill Reinhardt was absent from the meeting.
“There wasn’t a lot of impudence anywhere in the community for change, and you don’t really get that in a calm year,” said Supervisor John Clarkson in a later interview. “We haven’t had years like that since 2012, and that’s OK. If people aren’t excited over the budget, maybe that’s good news.”
For the third year in a row, a budget was released showing the town to be in a financially stable condition.
The 2016 budget calls for an increase of approximately 71 cents per $250,000 of assessed property value.
Similar to last year, the town’s proposed budget is $40 million. There is a spending increase of less then 1 percent, or about $337,000 over 2015. This is mostly to help pay for the rising cost of employee benefits and to allow for a 2 percent cost-of-living raise. As the largest part of the budget, wage costs will rise to a total of $15.8 million.
The budget proposes a tax rate increase of .07 percent, This is due to an increase in property values and the phase-out of several Payment in lieu of Taxes agreements. The tax levy is .05 percent.
Sandra Shedpard, a member of the town’s Budget Advisory Committee spoke to the Town Board at the public hearing for the budget to talk about the work members do on a yearly basis, and praised the current fiscal condition of the town.
“I want to report on behalf of the committee that we find the budget you find before you to be a strong budget,” said Shepard. “I think probably the strongest of the four budgets that we have reviewed and I’m giving you the credit for that because the supervisor, Town Board and staff in year one faced a lot of problems and made some tough decisions.”
The budget included no cuts, but did consider investments in the town as the Capital Plan calls for water and sewer upgrades to be made by 2020. There will also be additional community improvements, like the installation of new sidewalks and the implementation of the Delaware Avenue Enhancement Study.
Also outlined were the investment plans for the town through funds received through the state Local Government and Efficiency Award. Money received from that award will continue to fund grants for technology upgrades, sustainability efforts, tax relief and various community enhancement projects. However, $30,000 will now go toward a study and implementation measures for needed security upgrades at the town court and police department.
The proposed budget includes the anticipated $673,000 increase in sales tax revenue but a $150,000 drop in mortgage tax revenue.
Clarkson also previously lauded the instillation of solar panels at the former town clay mine site. The panels were installed at no initial cost from the town through a partnership with the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency. There’s an estimated first-year savings of $150,000.
“I think because of the year’s of hard decision making and planning, that made this year’s budget much simpler in that we didn’t really have any hard decisions to make,” said Councilwoman Joanne Dawson. “We know it was important to keep any increases to a bare minimum, which we succeeded at. I think it also reminds us how important it is to continue to be vigilant.”
Last year’s $39.7 million budget held a tax levy increase of 1.8 percent, below the state tax cap for the town. However, many homeowners saw a reduction in their tax bills following the town-wide reassessment completed in early 2014. The savings will continue for many during the 2016 budget season. About 6,000 homeowners, or 62 percent, saw their tax bills lowered.
Councilman Jeffrey Kuhn said he is proud of the work he’s contributed to the town over the last four years, and the town is in much better shape.
“I think there have been many objective measures that show Bethlehem is one of the best run municipalities in the entire Capital District,” said Kuhn, in reference to upgrades to the town’s credit score and various grants the town’s received. “By those measures, we are in a robust financial and budgetary condition. We also have a deep bench of very bright and skilled people. I’m confident and optimistic about the direction the town is going as I leave the board.”
We're not kidding when we say our maintenance staff does it all! Here's Cory saving a snapping turtle from the streets of our community. Of course he brought the reptile straight to our community's pond! ... See MoreSee Less