Berlin Plans To Reduce Spending While Giving Raises

BERLIN — The town of Berlin is proposing a balanced budget even though the Mayor and Council are currently including a 2-percent salary raise for all employees.

“We’re not between a rock and a hard place. I think it’s going to be a tight budget but I don’t think it’s going to make anybody miserable,” said Mayor Gee Williams.

The proposed general fund for the upcoming fiscal year will be $4,775,001, a 2-percent reduction from last year’s budget of $4,869,001. While expenditures are down, Williams did note that revenues have also seen a slight dip due mainly to recent property assessments that lowered values in Berlin. However, though revenue on that front decreased $172,000 or about 6 percent, the mayor took a positive look at the overall picture.

“Quite frankly, the way people were talking a couple of years ago, that’s a relief compared to some of our worst fears,” he said of the property tax revenue loss. “And I also believe that if some of the things that are in development come to fruition we’ll make up that 6 percent before the next re-assessment.”

Other areas have not been so lucky, Williams added, saying that revenue loss from property assessments has brought many towns “to their knees.” Berlin is in a much better boat, said the mayor. He attributed much of that success to the town’s emphasis on making Berlin as business friendly as possible.

“We just have to continue to support business development and economic development to the best of our ability,” he said.

Having a dedicated force of town employees is another boon to Berlin that has attributed to its success, claimed Williams, which is why the council is currently including a 2-percent across the board raise for all employees in next year’s budget.

“The department heads have shown very good management skills in managing their budgets for each department,” he said.

This would be the second salary increase in three years, with employees receiving a bump in 2011 but only a one-time bonus last year. This is only a proposed budget and that could change before the plan is finalized early next month, however.

While the current budget is balanced, Town Administrator Tony Carson explained that there’s a good chance the end budget could be even better. He pointed out that last year more revenue was collected than projected and Berlin seems to be on track to repeat that.

“Just last fiscal year we collected $1.2 million more than projected,” he said. “We’re on pace to again, probably not by $1.2 million but by a significant amount, have our revenues increase for FY13.”

There’s also an expectation that expenditures might come in lower than budgeted in the next fiscal year, which would continue a pattern of the last four years. If revenues come in higher and expenditures lower than expected, Carson remarked that Berlin is on a good path.

“Every year if we can have that we’re certainly going to be able to have some significant fund balances,” he said.

Berlin will also be entering this year’s budget with a prior year surplus of $181,000, which makes up the majority of the $182,000 projected capital budget for next year.

Some areas the town hopes to see more revenue collected than projected would be casino grants and funding from the Department of Liquor Control (DLC). Just like last year the town is currently budgeting $200,000 in the expectation of local impact grant funding, the money that the Casino at Ocean Downs shares with Berlin for providing town services like police coverage. Last year that $200,000 was exceeded to the tune of about $216,000, something the council hopes to see again but is being cautious while budgeting.

Likewise, grant funding from the DLC liquor mart in Berlin is not being budgeted for. The $100,000 the town budgeted last year was not received and the council decided to take a better-safe-than-sorry approach this year and not expect anything. Should any money be received Williams said it will be considered a surprise.

A final budget won’t be adopted until early May and the council still has to review the town’s enterprise fund. Williams is expecting a basically flat budget, though, and highlighted how unusual that is with all of the changes to utilities this year. For example, an entire new stormwater utility has been added, while the electric utility has seen a $67,000 loss in revenue due to the council’s decision to lower non-residential rates.

Sacrificing that revenue to offer businesses in town better electric rates was not a decisions taken lightly, said the mayor, but one he still fully supports.

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