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Hilltown Archives The Altamont Enterprise, October 21, 2010
By Zach Simeone
BERNE Berne’s supervisor plans to spend $2.05 million next year, almost a quarter-million dollars less than this year, due mostly to the recent completion of the Kaehler Lane Bridge replacement.
This was Supervisor George Gebe’s first budget, presented at last week’s town board meeting. After winning in last November’s elections, Gebe took office on Jan. 1.
The tentative 2011 budget will count on $771,111 from property taxes, up from the $752,150 this year. The projected tax rate will be $4.74 per $1,000 of assessed value, up 9 cents from the $4.65 in this year’s budget.
The town board will hold its budget meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 27, at 8 a.m. at Town Hall. The public hearing on the 2011 budget will take place at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 4, at the Senior Center.
“We took a look at what we’d spent the last five years, and looked at what our needs were,” Gebe said, adding that he has compiled a list of items that will likely have to be budgeted for in the coming years, though when these items will be addressed, and how, is still to be determined.
“This is a futuristic look at four or five years down the line,” said Gebe. “We’re trying to gate the town park so people aren’t going in there and vandalizing; resurfacing the park because that’s starting to break up; right now I’m taking a look at the roof on the town building because it’s leaking and it’s got to be replaced; and insulation for the town garage and two stalls where we keep diesel trucks.”
The town is also considering upgrades for the town hall and library, he said.
“I don’t know when that’s going to come in,” Gebe said, “so, how do we divide that out? Do we do it all at one time and have a bond issue, or do we do it in phases? We’re looking at that now with possibly a state grant…just looking at options.”
A total of $885,543 has been appropriated for the general fund, and the highway budget for 2011 is tentatively set at $1,163,205, down from the $1.4 million in the 2010 spending plan.
One project that had been budgeted for this year was the Kaehler Lane Bridge replacement, and this late-summer undertaking was recently completed. This will appear as a $216,000 decrease in next year’s highway budget.
The Kaehler Lane Bridge is the only way for residents of Kaehler and Chrysler lanes to cross the Foxenkill. While such bridges are typically built to a 40-ton standard, the condition of this bridge has caused the weight limit to rise and fall multiple times over the years, the lowest point being last December, when it was posted at three tons. This raised concerns of whether residents would get fire protection, or be able to transport hay crops, logged wood, and oil.
The town was to get a $234,000 grant from Congressman Paul Tonko’s transportation requests to cover the bridge replacement, but a spokesman for Tonko’s office said this summer that, while the congressman is still pushing to get Berne its funding for the project, it will certainly not happen this year, if it ever does.
So, the town has borrowed $164,000 from the bank of Green County in the form of a five-year statutory installment bond, at an interest rate of 2.375 percent, to cover the bridge replacement.
Gebe said that, given the state of the economy, he opted to not give raises this year, though the supervisor and town clerk’s budget lines are higher than last year.
“That has nothing to do with salaries,” Gebe explained. “We’re trying to put in a new system for the bookkeeper.”
Gebe also said that the town is budgeting for about $20,000 less in county sales tax revenue, though he did not provide an estimate of how much the town is expecting.
Albany County divides a percentage of its sales tax among municipalities, based on population.
“We kind of dropped it a little bit, but we’re hoping that Christmas will be good and the years to come will be better,” Gebe said.
The total cultural and recreation line is up by $20,000 for next year, to $106,300.
“We’ve got to finish that building at the town park,” said Gebe, “which means the bathrooms and workroom. So, there’re additional monies in there to get that completed.”
Gebe said at last week’s meeting that, after a discussion with Albert Raymond, one of the town’s two judges, the town will be adding $1,000 to the budget for a court security officer.
And, while the tentative spending plan will take $190,000 from the town’s fund balance $40,000 less than this year Gebe was hesitant to give a figure for how much is left in the fund balance.
“We won’t know that till end of December or January,” he said. “It’s guesstimates.”
In an audit covering Jan. 1, 2008 to June 30, 2009, Berne was criticized by the state comptroller for having a fund balance larger than half of its total budget. According to that report, the town had $938,586 in its unexpended fund balance at the end of 2008 103 percent of the $909,740 that had been budgeted for the general fund in the 2009 budget.
The former supervisor, Kevin Crosier, defended the large balance as being necessary to handle emergencies.
“People don’t realize,” said Gebe, “I just had a truck break down, and we got to go out and get that repaired, and we’ve got to get the roof repaired, and we’ve got to get that done before it gets too cold. So, what’re we going to have left in the fund balance? I have no idea, and it would be kind of foolish for anyone to think that we do.”