BETHEL – Selectmen and Budget Committee members will get one final whack next month at Bethel’s proposed $3.2 million municipal budget before it heads for town meeting vote in June.

As of Thursday, the total appropriation less revenues is up 11.3 percent over this year’s $3,098,446 budget. The final joint selectmen/Budget Committee meeting will be at 7 p.m. May 19 in the town office.

The new budget proposes a $445,137 increase in property taxes.

“There will definitely be a tax increase in Bethel as far as the rate goes. Depending on the school budget and town meeting, it could be as high as 11 percent,” Town Manager Scott Cole said early Thursday afternoon in the town office.

He attributed the spike mainly to a $1.3 million or 12.4 percent reduction in non-tax revenues, a 10.4 percent increase in the county tax assessment, an estimated 5 percent increase in the SAD 44 assessment, and an initial $1.3 million in capital improvement projects that has, so far, been slashed to $444,250.

After meeting five times in the past three weeks, officials pared the initially proposed $4,151,699 budget – up a whopping 17 percent over last year’s $3.9 million approved budget – to $4,377,583.

“That original shocker, so to speak, was reduced to something more manageable. In Bethel, the town manager presents all the options. . . . but the reality is that only so much can be accepted. I present everything on the horizon, then it’s up to the selectmen and the Budget Committee to sort it out,” Cole said.

As the budget stands, the tax rate of $9.15 per $1,000 in valuation will climb to $10.20, despite a proposal to use $100,000 from surplus to offset the tax rate.

“This assumes there will be no growth in the tax base. We gained 32 housing units, but on the other hand, we lost seven units at Eden Ridge,” Cole said.

He was referring to the March 7 propane gas explosion that obliterated three of 12 Eden Ridge condominium units off Vernon Street. Four other units in the two side-by-side buildings, which were built in 1987, were damaged.

“The assessors took $1 million off (the tax rolls) just for that,” Cole said.

Bethel completed a revaluation last year that cut the tax rate in half to $9.15, so, the proposed fiscal 2009 budget will be the first one based on the new values.

“For this 2008 tax year we’re finishing out, the reval shifted the burden and, yes, some higher-end properties had increased, but a number of them had a tax decrease. So, the deck was reshuffled to some degree, and now we’re pushing forward with this budget, and the burden will fall in the same proportion as it did with the last one,” Cole said.

Barring further cuts on May 19, the proposed municipal departments’ portion of the budget of $3,230,663 will increase by 4.3 percent or $132,638 over last year’s departments’ budget of nearly $3.1 million.

Driving the hike, are $39,000 for higher fuel costs for vehicles and buildings; a $32,000 increase in the town’s ambulance service budget to cover a shift to paid staff due to a lack of volunteers; and a $20,000 increase in the Bethel Water District assessment for fire hydrants.

Among proposed road projects totaling $297,250 are resurfacing Philbrook Street, Annis Road and a mile of Intervale Road; paving Bailey Road for the first time; and putting another $100,000 toward Sunday River Road as a town-state project.

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