By Jann Wiswall

“This was one of the most difficult budgets I’ve ever had to draft,” said Mansfield Supervisor Bob Keis before reviewing a proposed 2016 municipal budget with the town board at its meeting on Sept. 14.

With ever stricter state limits on tax levy increases and a concerted effort to boost the highway department budget, Keis said he did the best he could within revenue projections “to make it work.”

In the end, the board approved the tentative budget and scheduled a public hearing for the board’s Oct. 19 meeting.

The town’s projected revenues for 2016 are $361,245 for the general fund (compared to $352,845 in 2015) and $794,628 for the highway department (compared to $966,927 in 2015 – which included FEMA monies). Projected expenses in each category are the same to balance the budget.

It is difficult to compare the 2016 highway department expenses budget to the 2014 actual and 2015 projected budgets because FEMA monies were awarded for emergency road repairs in 2014-15 and final insurance reimbursements related to the 2012 highway barn fire were received in 2014.

However, the board managed to add about $15,000 to the highway budget to cover salt cost increases and a one percent salary increase for department staff for 2016, by significantly reducing the highway machinery budget for the coming year. In addition, costs for state retirement are projected to be lower in 2016 than in the past few years.

It is the board’s goal to continue to increase the highway department budget over the coming years in order to keep up with the declining conditions of the roads and rising costs. Funds will be generated through property taxes on new construction, especially at HoliMont’s WestMont Ridge development, which is not progressing as quickly as the board had hoped.

The proposed general fund expense budget is an increase of $8,000 over 2015, due primarily to increases in workers’ compensation and property insurance costs. The board did not budget raises for itself, the supervisor and some other non-highway employees for 2016.

Since 2013, the tax rate per thousand dollars of assessed property value in Mansfield has been $4.75. For 2016, the board proposes to reduce that figure to $4.73 per thousand.

The next meeting of the Mansfield board will be held at 7 p.m. on Oct. 19 in the town hall. Residents who would like to comment on the proposed 2016 budget are invited to attend the public hearing that will be held at that meeting.