Auburn budget gets ‘yes’ vote on first-round reading

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AUBURN — A compromise budget that cuts $537,764 from the 2010-11 budget but would still increase property taxes got its first approval Monday, despite two councillors’ arguments that the plan did not receive enough public scrutiny.

Councilors voted 4-2 to approve the $30.4 million spending plan at Monday’s regular meeting. They’ll vote on it at a second and final reading at a special May 24 meeting.

City Manager Glenn Aho said the budget represents the bare minimum for city staff. Despite a proposed tax increase — estimated at $135 for a $150,000 home — the budget actually cuts services.

“We are taking a risk,” Aho said. “I think this budget is do-able, but not without some problems.”

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Councilors began working on their proposed 2010-11 budget in April, understanding that there would likely be deep cuts and higher property taxes. Aho’s first draft budget called for $30.9 million in spending in the next fiscal year, a 3 percent increase over the current budget.

Coupled with cuts of $2.7 million in state revenues to the city, it would have meant a 9 percent increase in property taxes and a $300 property tax increase for homes valued at $175,000.

In April, councilors directed Aho to find at least $1 million in cuts. He responded with $1.12 million in budget reductions that meant less snow plowing, closing city offices two hours early every Friday, taking police officers out of the schools and having a single polling place for voters.

After reviewing those proposed cuts, councilors changed their bottom line to $400,000 and directed Aho to remove $700,000 from the city’s ongoing fund balance to help buy down the tax rate.

Monday’s latest draft budget amounts to a $1.2 million reduction from the budget proposed in April.

Councilors also directed Aho to take several items off the chopping block. Those cuts would have ended the school resource officer program and reduced City Hall hours.

Aho said the resulting budget would cause some difficulty. There will be one polling place at the polls in November, less frequent snow plowing and fewer people working in city departments. Aho said one supervisor complained his department was one person away from system failure.

“So we have to be prepared, because there will be complaints,” Aho said. “We cannot offer services at the level we did before this budget.”

Aho said he was working on the final draft of his budget until Sunday afternoon, the day before Monday’s meeting. He had paper copies of the budget printed and available at the back of the council chambers Monday, and said the proposed budget would be posted to the city’s website after Monday’s meeting.

Councilor Belinda Gerry said a vote on the budget should be postponed until residents had enough time to review Aho’s work.

“I can’t support this until we’ve given the public more time to look this over,” she said.

Councilor Dan Herrick said he objected to items that survived the budget cuts. Those included $8,700 for July 4 fireworks and a 2 percent wage increase for the city’s non-union staff.

Aho defended the raise, saying city staff will be working harder under difficult conditions. He had originally asked for a 3 percent raise. The 2 percent raise amounts to $33,720 in the budget.

“We are going to need the goodwill of our employees to work under very difficult conditions,” Aho said. “I think this is something they deserve.”

staylor@sunjournal.com

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