By Heather Killen
Bridgetown’s road to recovery is straight and looking clear.
Residents in the town of Bridgetown heard some promising news at the July 18 town council meeting. The books are back from Kent and Duffett, municipal auditors, and have been approved as presenting a fair picture of the town’s financial situation.
“The audit is a key factor on the road to recovery,” said Mayor Bob Fowler. “It’s a bill of health we can understand. Last year we had to make some pretty broad guesses, this time there is no uncertainty.”
Until the financial records were sorted out, last year staff was forced to base the budget on estimates about the state of town’s coffers. This year Harold Duffett confirmed 2010-2011’s operating deficit at just over $333,000, putting its net debt at $3.3 million.
With a clear picture of the town’s financial situation, staff was able to create a budget that will cut the town’s debt and begin building a reserve fund for rainy days.
Council set the tax rate and approved the general operating budget for 2012-2013. While there is another tax hike on the way, it’s not as high as originally feared; and if all goes as expected, there shouldn’t be another tax hike next year.
The residential tax rate has been raised .09 from $2.01 to $2.10, while the commercial rate rises .11 from $3.79 to $3.90, with an overall operating budget of slightly over $2 million.
Darrell Hiltz, chief administrative officer, presented the budget giving an overall explanation of expenses, revenue and changes to this budget. According to his estimates, the town’s debt repayment should continue to drop over the next four years to a more manageable level freeing up more resources.
As more resources are available, the town can begin to build up an operating reserve, a rainy-day fund to offset unforeseen expenses. And, if all goes according to plan, the next council won’t need to introduce any more tax hikes.
Barring the introduction of new major projects, the council elected in the fall should be able to hold the line on the tax rate. Councillors Anna Allen and Jim Thurber both said they were pleased with the presentation.
“We originally anticipated a lot higher taxes this year,” said Allen. “This is somewhat softening. Good job!”
Councillor Thurber said it was his hope that after this council’s term ends the new council will be on solid ground without having to increase the tax burden on residents.
“I hoped that if they manage it properly, the new council would be able to get through next term without an increase,” he said. “So I’m very pleased with this.”
A statement giving an overall view of the town’s budget and the new tax rates will be sent out over the next few weeks with the town water bills.