Town Weighs Budget Issues

BERLIN – An expected upswing in Berlin’s real estate tax revenues is good news for the town in the face of the rising costs of operating the small municipality. 

Revenues should increase somewhat in fiscal year 2009, Berlin Administrator Linda Bambary said, referring to the third year of phased-in assessment increases.

The draft budget she has presented to the Berlin Mayor and Council over two work sessions shows moderate increases related to increased costs, the need for new equipment and the addition of one new position.

One budget challenge facing Berlin is the rising cost of health insurance, which could go up significantly next fiscal year.

“It does appear there might be as much as a 12-percent increase in our health insurance premiums,” Bambary informed the council during Monday’s budget work session.

Bambary said she is looking into alternate insurance providers and health savings plans, which she felt might not be the best choice.

“It’s really putting a lot of the health care weight on employees and it’s not felt some take health care expenses seriously,” Bambary said.

The town is also working on offering some kind of health insurance to retired employees with 30 years of working for the town, Bambary said.

Health insurance for retired employees could retain good police officers for their entire careers, Berlin Police Chief Arnold Downing said. Nearby police departments offer health insurance to retired, long-serving officers at an 80/20 payment split.

Legal costs will also go up this year, from $6,000 to $10,000, according to the budget. The new comprehensive plan will require code changes, Bambary said, which requires the services of an attorney.

Staff will explore adding an Information Technology (IT) position to handle increasing computer service needs generated by changes to town operations, such as the remote water metering system. Currently, IT help is brought in when necessary, but the costs of hiring a full-time staffer could be the same or less.

“It was not put in the ’09 budget. We’re just talking about it,” Bambary said.

The town will also add a deputy administrative director position, which could be filled before the new fiscal year.

“We have advertised and I’ll probably re-advertise the position to broaden the search,” Bambary said.

The position should be filled in the next 30 to 60 days, according to Bambary.