Auburn council delves into budget, CIP

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AUBURN — Before presenting his draft budget Monday, City Manager Peter Crichton told the City Council he has a different twist on how the spending plan has been prepared in the past. 

Most importantly, elected officials will have more time to look over the numbers. 

Crichton laid out his initial recommendations for the fiscal 2018-19 budget and Capital Improvement Plan on Monday, calling it a “30,000-foot overview.” All together, the preliminary budget for next year is $43.3 million, an increase of $1.6 million, or 4 percent, from this year. 

“This is a journey,” he told the council. “There will be many more opportunities to talk about the budget.” 

He said he’ll make final recommendations on April 30, giving elected officials and city department heads the month to finalize budget decisions during a series of hearings. 

For next year’s budget, he said the biggest drivers are regular increases in salaries and benefits, debt service and Fire Department overtime. 

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During the meeting, Crichton said it has “become apparent that overtime needs to be addressed.” The overtime expenses have been well above what was budgeted during the last several years, he said, but added that three emergency-medical services positions added this year “have been beneficial.” 

He said a report on overtime expenses is in development. 

If the municipal and school budgets were approved as is, it would boost the property tax rate to $23.86 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, a 3.79 percent increase. 

At an Auburn School Committee meeting last week, only one parent spoke during a public hearing on the proposed $44.1 million school budget. 

“We look forward to digging into this,” Mayor Jason Levesque said regarding the budget. 

During his report to the council, Levesque said he’s working with School Committee Chairman Tom Kendall to draft a joint resolution “to encourage consolidation of services” between the city and School Department. 

He listed departments such as transportation, Human Resources and Information Technology. He said it would represent savings for taxpayers “without impacting curriculum.” The council will most likely vote on the resolution during its next meeting, he said. 

Capital Improvement decisions  

During an earlier workshop, Crichton ran through his draft recommendations for the city’s Capital Improvement Plan, which proposes just over $8.5 million in projects that will mostly be bonded. 

The original “wish list” requests from city departments totaled more than $16 million.

Among the high profile expenses included in the draft Capital Improvement Plan is $3.7 million in various public services road projects and vehicles, $800,000 for purchasing and converting all city streetlights to LED, $200,000 to upgrade the city’s operating system, and $511,000 for Lewiston-Auburn 911 Center’s radio replacement project. 

The plan also includes funding for the New Auburn Village Center revitalization. Crichton proposed borrowing $286,000 and using $600,000 in TIF funds for the project. 

The economic development part of the capital budget also includes $50,000 for “strategic plan implementation,” and a total of $370,000 for “downtown parking and walkability,” with $270,000 of that funding coming from Tax Increment Financing or Community Development Block Grant funds. 

A workshop agenda item to discuss replacement parking at the Auburn Public Library was removed from the agenda Friday. 

Crichton said the strategic plan will “act as a road map for us,” and there were questions throughout the workshop on whether to fund certain items based on plans in the works for new facilities.

A $200,000 central air system proposed for the Ingersoll turf facility was not recommended by Crichton. He said the question lingers over whether to invest in the facility now, or possibly construct a new one.

Councilor Holly Lasagna asked if money would be lost by not investing in the facility, and that anything the city does should be “aligned with the sports tourism study” that was recently completed. 

Crichton did include in his recommendations funding for a new, $125,000 event floor at Norway Savings Bank Arena, which is used for non-ice related activities. The arena manager said the new floor will allow more events, which will boost revenue. 

Councilor Andrew Titus said he wants to see revenue increase at the arena,  adding that it has been operating “in the red.”

“I’d like to see a plan that’s going to help defray the cost of this,” he said. 

At one point, in response to a line item of $100,000 in police station improvements, Levesque said he “would like to encourage bargain shopping.”

After a pause, he said he quickly found less expensive office chairs than the item listed in the budget. 

“If you need to use my Amazon Prime account, let me know,” he said. 

Finance Director Jill Eastman told the council that the city is “close to even” in  what it is paying off and what it would bring on for new debt with the proposed budget.

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