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West Newton's '05 budget holds line on realty taxes

| Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2004

WEST NEWTON - Borough Council has tentatively approved a $1.3 million spending plan for 2005, although some changes are expected before final adoption at 9 a.m. Dec. 29.

Property taxes will remain at 15 mills under the proposed fiscal plan.

Councilman Dave Martinelli, who serves as budget chairman, said the preliminary plan approved Monday includes an increase in the annual occupational privilege tax from $10 to $52 and a reduction of five work hours per week for five non-uniform employees, resulting in a total savings of roughly $40,000.

Council members and the mayor also are expected to take a 20 percent, or $25, cut in their monthly stipend to help avert a tax increase.

Martinelli said a $200,000 budget reserve several years ago, accumulated by taking over two state roads and participation in the federal COPS FAST program, has dwindled to about half that amount.

"We're trying to get in line with reality and stay within what revenues are coming in," said Martinelli.

"For four years we have watched our fund balance decline and we have little means to increase revenues. We can't continue this trend and not be concerned."

So far this year the borough has overspent its snow removal allotment by $3,000 and its budget for maintenance of police vehicles by nearly $6,000.

Cut from the 2005 tentative budget is a line item that council recently learned covered the cost of coffee and bottled water at the borough building.

That amount was budgeted at $1,500 this year, but council closed the account in November after roughly $900 had been spent.

The tentative 2005 budget sets aside $250 for such expenses.

The borough will pay about 11 percent more for employees' health care coverage next year.

Martinelli anticipates changes to the proposed budget will include the addition of a $100,000 paving project that did not start as planned in 2004, and the purchase of a digital surveillance system for the borough building at $3,000.

The tentative budget breakdown is as follows: $637,744 for the general fund, $176,600 in the liquid fuels account and $483,100 for the sewage plant.

While the general budget decreased $17,611, the sewage plant budget went up $40,354.

"There are some DEP concerns at the sewage plant that are currently being addressed by our new engineer," said Martinelli.

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