$2.3M Berne budget proposal has 4-percent tax cut

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

Down in the dumps: A Dumpster at the Berne transfer station overflows with discarded items. Supervisor Kevin Crosier said fees to send solid waste to the Rapp Road Landfill are up by $15,000, and increasing costs would be something the town would have to consider in future years.

BERNE — Berne’s preliminary 2018 budget will cover increases in the tens of thousands for larger tipping fees charged by the Rapp Road landfill and a new cost for an emergency medical technician stationed by the county in the Hilltowns. However, the $2.3 million budget proposal calls for a 4-percent property tax cut next year.

The $2,273,460 budget consists of $1,069506 in the general fund and $1,203,954 in the highway fund. There is $75,492 budgeted for the sewer district, which is covered by an equal amount of unmetered sales. The total budget is based on revenues of:

— $1,179,945, outside of property taxes, mostly from county sales tax;

— $368,000 from the fund balance, an increase of $300 from last year. In 2016, the town had $1,252,000 in its general unassigned fund balance and $916,428 in its highway unassigned fund balance. The amount left for the 2018 budget will be unknown until the annual report for 2017 is completed in March of next year;

— $725,515 in property-tax revenue, representing a 4.02-percent decrease; for a home with a full-value of $100,000, this would be a decrease of about $12.

Berne Supervisor Kevin Crosier, who drafted the budget, is proud of having presented budgets for five years with a tax decrease due in part to drawing on a large fund balance, or rainy day account. He also noted staying below the tax cap gives residents state rebates. Crosier is running for re-election on Nov. 7.

Crosier’s challenger, Sean Lyons, said in an emailed statement that, while he was grateful for the years of property-tax reductions, there have been reductions in town services, contrary to Crosier’s assertions. Lyons said that the transfer station and town parks were two examples, noting the loss of a “key employee” to maintain these places. This is likely a reference to the firing of Scott Greene last year. Greene was a town employee who lost his job following a disagreement with the supervisor after insurance benefits were pulled for his partner, building inspector Tim Lippert.

“I am confident that if elected Town of Berne Supervisor that the property tax reductions will continue, business and farmers will prosper and lost services will be restored,” Lyons wrote in his statement.

“None of that’s true,” responded Crosier, of the cuts to services.

He said that the 2018 budget includes $14,000 to the transfer station, $45,000 to the town parks, and a capital project will inject $150,000 into the park program over the course of three years.

“Reducing taxes doesn’t have to be about cutting,” said Crosier.

Tipping fees charged by the Albany City Landfill on Rapp Road are increasing from an estimated yearly cost for Berne of $50,000 a year to $65,000.

“For the last 15 years, it’s been $52 a ton,” said Crosier. The cost is jumping to $66 a ton. The town dumps about 830 tons of waste a year at the landfill, he said.

Crosier said that he had ruled out using the landfill in Colonie, because it would charge $90 a ton. With the Rapp Road landfill closing in the next five years, Crosier said the town would have to find a new solution, which may cost more.

The second big increase to the budget is $17,000 charged to the town by the Albany County Sheriff’s Office. With the closure of the Rensselaerville Volunteer Ambulance this summer, the Sheriff’s Emergency Medical Services unit based an ambulance in the Hilltowns with an emergency medical technician to provide basic life support alongside a “fly car” that would bring a paramedic to provide advanced life support. Crosier said that the town paid $83,000 last year to the ALS program. The volunteer-staffed Helderberg Ambulance also serves Berne; it receives $55,000 a year from the town.

Charges for the new BLS program will increase over the next four years. Crosier explained that this new charge is one-fourth the actual cost Berne should be covering for the new service.

“He’s willing to absorb three-quarters of the paid ambulance,” Crosier said of Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple. That amount will eventually “phase in” to the town budget in 2021.

“There are resources to look at to offset that cost,” Crosier continued. He said that billing patients’ insurance companies was one way, as the county would charge the town less money depending on the amount of money paid by insurance companies. He added that the town received $14,000 back for ALS insurance billing last year, making the net cost to Berne $68,000. The 2018 budget includes $11,500 in ambulance billing as part of its revenues.

“Your insurance company pays the bill,” said Crosier. “If there is anything left over, that is set aside.”

These two major increases are for items integral to the town, said Crosier.

“I am not willing to scrimp on public safety,” he said.

Crosier said there are also minor increases to the library budget: a 2-percent pay raise for staff and an increase from 32 to 36 hours a week led to a $4,544 increase in the line item. The library has four staff members who will be paid $10.40 to $16.65 an hour.

“The library staff has been so far behind in pay, we wanted to bump them up,” said Crosier. He added that the library has been successful and provides services to the town like internet access.

Town highway workers are also budgeted for raises, said Crosier. He added that the town is currently “fact-finding” while negotiating the highway workers’ union contract. Berne has six full-time and four part-time employees; Crosier said that the budget has an amount set aside should the raises go through, but wages cannot be disclosed until the contract is ratified by the union members and the town board. The board will likely vote on the contract at the next town board meeting, on Nov. 8, he said.

Crosier said that there is no insurance increase; rather, there is a $5,000 decrease in workers’ compensation cost. While health-insurance costs will go up by about 3 percent, Crosier said that the town gives employees debit cards to pay for the upfront costs, which the town reimburses, something Berne has been doing for over a decade, he said.

The sales tax revenue “stayed pretty much steady” for the town, Crosier said, and he doesn’t see a decrease in 2018 “unless the economy takes a really bad turn. Both state and county officials have warned that, as online purchases increase, sales-tax revenue will decrease.


Crosier touted the 4-percent tax-levy decrease as a continued five-year trend of tax decreases, overall a 12.5-percent drop, he said. He noted that the town is also debt-free. To continue this trend, Crosier said it would be necessary to look at a study on consolidating the town highway department with the county’s Department of Public Works, which he said could save a significant amount of money for the town.

“It’s also a good way to save full-time jobs,” he added; should the town go into the red, it may be necessary to lay off highway workers, something that could be prevented by saving funds through a merger, he said.

The consolidation of the two departments would be decided by a referendum vote in Berne. While the town has shared services with the county and other towns, the elected town highway superintendent, Randy Bashwinger — who has clashed with Crosier — has said that consolidation would be bad for upkeep of the town roads as well as for the town workers.

Crosier compared objections to this proposed consolidation to when the town hired a full-time senior account clerk and piggybacked on a county contract to purchase a new accounting system about five years ago.

“Some people complained … but it paid off for the residents,” he said, asserting that the town saved money by having the account clerk keep better track of the town funds.

The study on consolidating with the county has not taken place yet, but Crosier said the cost will be split with the county.

Looking ahead

An item not in the budget is a $100,000 three-year capital project to rebuild the town park’s playground. The town currently has $187,000 in its fund for the park, and will allocate money for the project and put it in a special fund at the end of  the year.

“It does get added to the budget next year … ,” said Crosier. “It’s kind of like how you manage your household expenses … When the project’s ready to be completed, the money’s there, ready to be used.”

The town is also looking to rebuild its highway garage. Crosier said that the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District is interested in consolidating its bus garage with the town’s building, as well as the county’s, something that could also save taxpayers money, he said.

“That’s something we won’t get to this year; that’s a very big-ticket item,” he said, adding that the town would be looking to get grants for that project.

The final budget hearing will be held at the town hall on Nov. 8 at 7:15 p.m., after which the town board will likely vote on the budget at their regular board meeting that follows immediately after. Town law requires that a budget be adopted by Nov. 20.

Corrected on Jan. 29, 2018: The number of hours the library will be open was corrected.

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