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Bedford Budget Looks Like Tax-Cap Cliffhanger

Even as they strive to honor state's levy ceiling, officials seek just-in-case override authority.

Navigating a fiscal cliff of their own, Bedford budget-makers feel reasonably confident they can lay out a tax-cap-compliant spending plan next week.

But they cannot guarantee they will, for reasons largely beyond their control.

Despite slashing some $375,000 in spending and tapping $325,000 in unspent funds, town officials still need to find almost $105,000 in other economies to stay cap-compliant. The cap, enacted two years ago, restricts annual hikes in the property-tax levy to 2 percent or less.

To achieve that, Bedford officials say, they hope to realize $117,000 or more—perhaps much more—in savings on health insurance and police pay. Without the additional cuts, officials acknowledge, they will likely fall just short of cap compliance.

The board discussed the budget and potential override at a work session Wednesday night. The public hearing on the 2012 budget begins Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at town hall.

Still, Supervisor Lee V.A. Roberts said of the state-imposed cap, “If we go over it, it’s only by a very small amount.”

As a result of that uncertainty, even as they work nights to keep 2013 property taxes inside the Albany-drawn chalk lines, town officials insist that erasing the lines, if necessary, must also remain an option. “The prudent thing to do,” Councilman Chris Burdick observed, “is to adopt the override.”   

When the state imposed the cap in 2010, it limited annual levy increases by towns, school districts and other local taxing authorities to a nominal 2 percent over the preceding year. But the Albany lawmakers included a way to skirt that fundamental restriction. To implement the escape clause, a town board, for example, must vote itself the override authority by adopting a local law, legislation with a strict timeline of its own even as the clock runs on a Dec. 20 budget-adoption deadline.

Since officials in Bedford may not have rock-solid final numbers soon enough to know whether they need cap-override authority, town officials will likely seek to provide it simply to “have that in our pocket,” Roberts said, a just-in-case precaution against violating the cap statute.

To avoid exceeding the cap, even technically, the town board must pare another $104,883 from a tentative budget of more than $26 million.

A savings of at least $50,000—and potentially far more—may yet be achieved through police retirements. While not yet a lock, these payroll changes appear to be a good bet, with two already in the works and four others seen as possible. The difference in cost—salary and benefits—between a retiring senior police officer and his far-junior replacement would each amount to an average savings of some $25,000.

On the other hand, the true hike in health-insurance premiums next year—set by the New York State Health Insurance Program (NYSHIP)—may prove impossible to know in time. Those rates, NYSHIP advised the town, will rise by 8 to 10 percent in 2013. Bedford’s budget allows for the maximum increase. If the premium rise turns out to be less, the town would reap the savings—at 8 percent, another $67,000 spending reduction and a tax-cap-compliant budget.

“I feel that we’re in pretty good shape,” Roberts said.

 

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