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Bedford Budget, Under the Cap, Still a Work in Progress

A number of issues remain to be resolved before next year's spending plan and its tax increase below the state's new ceiling become a reality.

Bedford’s tentative budget and its under-the-cap tax increase remain subject to major change between now and the adoption of a final spending plan next month.

“There’s a lot in play, including the open-space [property-tax levy],” Supervisor Lee V.A. Roberts said Monday.

The $25,277,050 budget, unveiled to meet a statutory Oct. 30 deadline and officially termed “tentative,” must still be reviewed by the town board. The board, which is still in the midst of a , can revise the document and in any case must hold a public hearing on it by Dec. 10.

Thereafter, that financial plan—now the “preliminary” budget—would go into effect Jan. 1 if the town board has not acted on it by Dec. 20.

The tentative budget, posted with this story, shows a rise in the property-tax rate of 1.99 percent, a figure widely—and wrongly—thought to be subject to a 2 percent state cap.

Instead, the state’s recently enacted ceiling limits the property-tax levy to a 2 percent rise. In Bedford’s tentative budget, that levy goes up 0.99 percent, or slightly less than half the maximum allowed. Still, the —an opt-out permitted by the legislation—principally to guarantee it had flexibility in budget-making come crunch time in December.

“We have to meet and nail down a bunch of things,” Roberts said, “so this [tentative budget now online] is not the final offering.”

A 10-year-old program that acquires selected acreage in the town and preserves it as open space is one of the things in flux. Bedford asks its residents to help fund the program through a 3 percent surcharge on the general fund and highway budget.  This year, the tentative budget cut that contribution to a half-percent. But a public hearing last week found no support for intermediate reductions, with speakers calling either to eliminate the special levy or leave it untouched. A large number of town employees, drawn by talk of potential layoffs, swelled the numbers of last week’s town hall audience.

The budget proposes departmental reductions across the board but also includes such revenue-raisers as increased parking-meter fees ($50,000), hikes in building department fees ($45,750) and administration health contributions ($30,136).

With the reductions, however, also come some increases, including those in state mandates. “It’s so unfair,” Roberts said. “We get the cap but not the mandate relief.”

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