BERLIN – Town officials kicked off the annual budget process with a work session to discuss the projected $8 million general fund budget for the coming year.
The Berlin Council met Monday to take a preliminary look at the proposed $8,060,970 general fund budget for FY2018. As proposed the budget is 10 percent lower than the current year’s spending plan.
“What this budget process seeks to do is simply an ongoing commitment to provide the financial tools for the town to take care of our immediate needs while also planning for the future,” Mayor Gee Williams said.
According to Williams, the decrease in the proposed general fund budget relates to last year’s purchase of what is now known as Berlin Falls Park.
“The reduction is primarily the result of a decrease in capital investment compared to last year when we purchased Berlin Falls Park,” Williams said, adding that buying the land had impacted both the FY2016 and FY2017 budgets.
The FY2018 budget includes a $97,000 increase in property tax revenue based on the town’s existing property tax rate of 68 cents per $100 of valuation.
Williams said that as previously discussed, the town would be using its slots revenues to pay off the new police station — which is currently under construction — for the next 10 years or so. Though town officials say that trends point to a decrease in slots revenue in the coming year, whatever comes in will go toward the new building’s cost.
As proposed the general fund budget includes a wage increase for town employees as well as the one-time $500 payment per employee that has become practice in recent years. Williams said the wage increase would cost the town $102,003 while the one-time payments amount to $34,500.
The preliminary budget also includes funding for two studies in the coming year. Williams said one would focus on water and sewer rates while another would focus on the state of the town’s streets.
“The town has made a steady investment in street improvements in the past several years where there has been the most urgent need…,” Williams said. “This will continue as it has in recent years but as the most urgent upgrades are being made to town streets an engineering study would be helpful in ranking the priority of continued street improvements.”
Much of Monday’s discussion related to the town’s healthcare options for the coming year. Based on information presented by Atlantic/Smith Cropper & Deeley, officials are considering a change in health insurance companies. According to Jeff Fleetwood, the town’s managing director, if the town stays with its current carrier it will face a $38,000 increase in the coming year. The other option is to go with Evergreen, a relatively new company that would save the town about $97,000. The new carrier would mean changes for the town’s roughly 60 employees with health benefits.
“We’re happy to support you with any decision,” said Laura Bren, president of Atlantic/Smith Cropper & Deeley.
The council is expected to make a decision on the matter at its regular May 8 meeting. That, Williams said, is when the budget will be introduced. A public hearing is set for June 12.
“Our normal practice is after having the public hearing the council will then take a vote on the proposed budget,” he said.
The town’s new fiscal year begins July 1.