Berlin Mayor Says No Need For Uniform Budget Cuts

BERLIN – Budget cuts are coming to the town of Berlin, but the Mayor is reluctant to impose a uniform, across-the-board reduction, as the town is not in budget trouble.

“The interesting thing is we don’t have a budget crisis of any sort,” said Berlin Mayor Gee Williams in a phone interview this week. “We’re basically underbudget in expenditures to date.”

A fiscal year-to-date budget report, covering July through November, shows Berlin has used about 30 percent of its budget so far this fiscal year, not the 40 percent expected.

Acting town administrator Mary Bohlen said she did not think the under-runs are the result of conscious savings on the part of town departments.

“For ongoing operations, they’re doing what they need to do and spending what needs to be spent,” Bohlen said.

Some projects funded in the budget may not get underway until spring, with planning taking up the first part of the year. The funding for those projects would remain in the department’s budget until building commenced. This process could explain some of the underruns.

            Town staff will be tasked with taking a hard look at their budgets in the New Year as preparation for fiscal year 2010, widely expected to be tough on revenues.

“We’re trying to look ahead and say, ‘what may the future bring?’” Williams said.

During Monday night’s Berlin Mayor and Council meeting, Williams said he would ask incoming town administrator Tony Carson to sit down with every Berlin department head and review the department budget for possible cuts.

This analysis would be one of Carson’s first tasks, said Williams.

The mayor said he does not want to impose an arbitrary figure or percentage to cut on departments because each has different needs.

Carson will be tasked with working with department heads to sort out needs from desires.

“Let him do his job when he comes on board and do a town wide review,” Williams said.

Carson will take up the town administrator title after the New Year, replacing former town administrator Linda Bambary, who retired in October.

After the budget review, the town hopes Berlin will then have three months of savings as an example of workable reductions and cuts going into the fiscal 2010 budget season.

“Let’s start incurring savings wherever possible,” Williams said.

One eventuality the town must prepare for is fluctuating energy costs, which have reached extreme peaks and fallen to unusual lows, all in the last several months.

Preparation for the difficult upcoming budget season should also include a meeting with Worcester County’s state property assessor Robert Smith to get a preliminary idea on changes in property assessments.

Berlin is due for re-assessment in 2009. Assessed property values are linked to current local market values, which have been receding. Ocean City recently saw a precipitous 10- to 15-percent drop in resort property values. Any change in Berlin property values should be less drastic than in Ocean City.

The Berlin council will use Smith’s revenue predictions as guidance for the next budget.

“We haven’t been in the middle of a building boom so hopefully these adjustments to our income will be moderate instead of drastic like in Ocean City,” Williams said.