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Hilltown Archives The Altamont Enterprise, November 12, 2009
Fund balance half as big as budget
By Zach Simeone
BERNE The town is set to spend $90,000 more next year than it did this year, while lessening the tax burden on residents. And, while sales tax revenues dwindle countywide, a federal grant for bridge replacement may boost highway department revenue by more than $200,000.
At its post-election meeting last week, the town board unanimously accepted the preliminary budget for 2010, a $2.3-million spending plan, up from this year’s $2.2 million. The tax rate, currently $4.67 per thousand of assessed value, will decrease to $4.65. The amount to be raised by taxes will increase by about $4,400, from $747,740 to $752,150, but at the same time, the town’s assessed value has increased by almost $1.7 million to $161.9 million, according to the preliminary budget.
“The town has been very conservative over the years,” Supervisor Kevin Crosier told The Enterprise. “Where a lot of municipalities have overestimated revenues, we have not done that. The budget is always a challenge, because you want to provide services, but you don’t want to increase their taxes, and I think this budget represents a lot of good work,” he said.
While the town expects roughly $1.3 million in total revenue, up from the current budget’s $1.1 million, revenues for the general fund are down to $544,750 this year.
Fund balance fortune
“We’re not getting the interest on our money,” Crosier said, explaining the $22,000 drop in revenue. “The town has over $1 million in a fund balance that we’re supposed to be getting interest on and, the trouble is, there’s no interest right now.”
With a $2.3-million budget set for next year, Berne has almost half of that in its unexpended fund balance, according to Crosier.
State law says that schools may have no more than 4 percent of their budgets in an unexpended fund balance, often referred to as a “rainy-day account,” placing a cap on how much taxpayer money the district can withhold.
In 2002, the New York State Comptroller’s office advised a 10-percent cap for municipalities, but there is currently no set limit.
“The law says a municipality can keep a reasonable amount of fund balance,” said William Reynolds, spokesman for the Office of the New York State Comptroller. “So, the question is, what is reasonable? The answer it depends,” he wrote in an e-mail, adding later, “…hard to know without conducting an audit.”
Projected revenues for the highway department, on the other hand, have leapt from $549,000 to $765,500 close to a $216,000 increase, of which $200,000 is expected from federal aid for repairs on the Kaehler Lane Bridge.
“That’s a capital improvement that’s going to happen this year,” Crosier said.
Congressman Paul Tonko’s website lists the $234,000 earmark for the bridge replacement in its transportation requests, stating that the necessity for the project is rooted in the fact that it was found to be structurally unsound by the New York State Department of Transportation.
But, while the town has requested $234,000, it has only budgeted for $200,000. The remaining $34,000 was not budgeted for, Crosier said, due to the unpredictability of federal grants.
“It depends on how the thing gets awarded,” Crosier said. “I don’t control the money in Washington. It’s only a request, so, in the end, I’m not really sure if I’ll get the entire amount. It’s a budget estimate; if it comes in more than that, that’s wonderful,” he said.
The bridge replacement also explains the $120,000 increase in appropriations for the highway budget, Crosier said; spending for the department is up to $1.4 million.
Additionally, the total amount budgeted for home and community services has decreased by $26,000 from this year. The town received a farmland protection grant from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets last year, which went into the current budget; the money went towards the ongoing review of the town’s comprehensive plan.
“We’ve done very well,” Crosier concluded. “The board worked hard on it, and we were able to put together another good budget for the residents.”
In other business at last week’s meeting, the town board:
Introduced a local law that, if enacted, will “designate portions of town roads for access to snowmobile trails,” and will allow operation of snowmobiles on a portion of High Point Road beginning at the intersection of High Point Road and Sickle Hill Road, and continuing south 1,075 feet the purpose being to allow access to nearby snowmobile trails.
The Ridgerunners Snowmobile Club sent a letter to the Albany County Department of Public Works in February, requesting the designation of a portion of Sickle Hill Road, a county highway, as a snowmobile trail. After surveying that piece of road, Commissioner Mike Franchini sent a letter to the snowmobile club in August denying the request;
Scheduled a public hearing for Wednesday, Dec. 9, at 7 p.m., just before its regular monthly meeting, to discuss the local snowmobile law before voting on it;
Scheduled a special meeting for Wednesday, Nov. 18, at 7 p.m. at the town hall to introduce and schedule a public hearing on amendments to the sewer district use ordinance; and
Designated seasonal roads.