Berlin Budgets Holds Tax Rate Steady

BERLIN – Berlin will operate on a $16.6 million budget in fiscal year 2009 if nothing is changed between now and the second reading, and the vote to accept the budget, in two weeks.

The Berlin property tax rate remains the same as last fiscal year at 73 cents per $100 of assessed value.

“It’s a conservative budget as has been the practice at least in the last two to three years,” said interim Mayor Gee Williams.

The town has made conservative estimates of revenue and limited expenditures, he said.

The FY 2009 budget has increased 11 percent, about $600,000, over the FY 2008 budget. That increase will be funded by additional tax revenue, Program Open Space money and surplus from FY 2008 reserved for capital outlay projects.

A 3.5-percent cost of living salary increase on staff salaries and step increases from 2 percent to 3 percent, will cost another $298,000, to be offset by the higher revenue.

The town also added two new full time positions, a deputy administrative director, who started with Berlin this week, and a finance director, who has not yet been hired.

Berlin will not have to pay an increase in health insurance costs, but will see a $58,000 increase in workman’s compensation insurance and retirement benefits.

Half of the salary and benefits for the Berlin Volunteer Fire Company’s emergency services employees will continue to come from Berlin’s coffers. The town also allocated the requested increase to the fire department.

Fuel expenses have increased, Administrative Director Linda Bambary reported, which is as expected.

Berlin will also contribute $50,000 to Atlantic General Hospital and $13,650 to the African American Heritage program under this budget.

The town will purchase several vehicles under capital expenses, one police car, two administrative cars, and an automatic garbage hauler and 500 containers.

The Wastewater Enterprise Fund budget for FY 2009 will see a large increase for work on the expanded and improved wastewater plant, about $2.1 million for engineering and other preparation costs for the work. The budget for the enterprise fund will go up three percent over last year.

No changes have been made in the special wastewater connection fees, as suggested by calculations on what is needed to defray the costs of the sewer plant expansion, for the budget as submitted for this week’s first reading. That could be changed in required for the second reading, Bambary said.

Berlin should end FY 2008 with a $950,000 surplus. About $366,000 of that excess money is from increased revenues that exceeded the budgeted expectations, mostly from real estate taxes. Funds from Worcester County, an increase in state income tax money and additional dollars from Program Open Space make up the rest of the unexpected revenue.

Vacant positions yielded unspent salaries worth $249,000 and deferred capital spending of $236,000. The town also saw savings on travel, streetlights, elections and professional services, amounting to $87,000.

Generating the budget has become smooth in recent years with the presentation of numbers streamlined to just the essential amounts, Williams said, just the bottom line.

The recent death of Mayor Tom Cardinale did not disrupt the process, he said, although more work fell to Bambary during the transition.

“I give her a lot of credit,” said Williams.

The council will vote on the budget at its June 9 meeting.

“We have a good, workable budget that can adapt to unforeseen circumstances,” Williams said.