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Berlin balances budget with no tax rate increase

Berlin council members have approved a tax rate of $0.8275 per $100 of assessed land value, the same as it is now.

Downtown Berlin

Downtown Berlin
File photo

By Charlene Sharpe, Associate Editor

Berlin’s elected officials voted unanimously this week to adopt the current tax rate for the coming year. 

Town council members on April 22 approved a rate of $0.8275 per $100 of assessed land value, the same as it is now. The tax rate was increased last year from $.815 to the current level. Unexpected healthcare cost and other insurance savings and budget adjustments made in recent weeks addressed the initially projected shortfall for Fiscal Year 2025.

“Thank you for not raising taxes,” resident Mary Hedlesky said.

While no residents weighed in on the proposed tax rate during the public hearing, Mayor Zack Tyndall and council members had a lengthy discussion on the proposed budget before approving the tax rate. 

“I think it’s important to have that conversation together before we act on a tax rate,” Tyndall said.

Much of the talk related to ways that revenues could be adjusted to allow more funding for expenses, such as fire and EMS service, as well as providing longevity compensation for staff with more than 10 years of service. 

The council agreed to adjust the projections for health reimbursement account utilization to provide additional revenue. While the town has budgeted for paying for 65% of the health reimbursement account utilization, multi-year trends show that the actual spending averages around 35%. As a result, the town’s insurance consultant recommended adjusting the budgeted amount to 52%. Berlin officials agreed on a more modest adjustment to 55%. The change resulted in savings of $40,000 for the general fund. 

That funding, along with the increase in revenue the town is set to see related to increased property values, will help the municipality cover the cost of providing longevity payments to staff with more than 10 years of service. After lengthy discussion, officials agreed to provide staff with more than a decade of service with a one-time payment of $100 per year of service to address the issues of fairness associated with the creation of a step and grade system that did not account for years of service.

Tyndall said he also wanted the council to discuss the increased request for EMS funding from the Berlin Fire Company. The department requested $605,000 for the coming fiscal year. While officials agreed last week to bump up their contribution toward fire service, they said this week they also wanted to increase their funding for EMS. While they agreed not to provide funding for a new supervisor position, town council members agreed to increase the town’s contribution to EMS by $75,000 with help from the county’s grant, which the town asked be increased by 8% this spring. 

Councilmembers acknowledged that the budget discussion had been lengthy but said they were pleased with addressing several key issues in the coming fiscal year. 

“It’s truly amazing,” Councilman Jay Knerr said, praising staff for their support during the budget process. “Thank you all for making it happen.”

Councilman Steve Green said he liked the transparency of the process even if ugly at times and was proud of what the council had accomplished.

“I’m very at peace with what we did tonight,” he said.

Tyndall thanked Finance Director Natalie Saleh and the rest of municipal staff on their efforts and reminded those present that putting together the town’s budget was one of the most important things elected officials did. 

“Holistically we have a budget that is relatively conservative on most of our estimates,” he said. “I think we’ve charted a path for fiscal year 25 that really is achievable and balanced. I appreciate that.”

Moving forward, Saleh said she’d like to see more citizens get involved in the budget process.

“It’s their town,” she said. “We need to hear from them.”

Tyndall agreed and said ideas on how to increase citizen involvement and participation were being discussed during the town’s strategic planning process, which is nearing completion. 

The town’s budget will formally be introduced May 13. A public hearing on the spending plan is set for May 28.

This story appears in the April 25, 2024, print edition of the Bayside Gazette.