Auburn makes headway on budget, trims $393,000 from tax levy

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AUBURN — City Manager Glenn Aho’s controversial management restructuring survived budget cuts Monday as the City Council struggled to trim $393,000 from the fiscal year 2011-12 tax levy.

Several councilors continued to voice skepticism about Aho’s budget forecasts and his plan for managing the city. Specifically, councilors targeted $50,000 in stipends paid to top managers.

“If someone came up to me and said, ‘You do what I want, and I’m giving you this amount of money; You help me out,’ ” Councilor Daniel Herrick said. “I’m going to do it. I’ll take that salary increase. I’ll take that stipend, any day of the week.”

That prompted both Police Chief and acting Assistant City Manager Phil Crowell and Deputy Public Works Director Denis D’Auteuil to call on Herrick to apologize.

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“If you are saying that stipend, that councilors approved, bought my allegiance to the city manager, please take it back,” Crowell said. “I don’t want it. I’d just as soon go back to what I was doing and I think every one of the directors would tell us the exact same thing. We work really hard in this city. If what you are saying, ‘Accept this stipend and do what ever the city manger says’, please take it back.”

Herrick did take his words back, and said his issue was with the money being spent, not with any individual city employees.

The stipends are part of Aho’s management restructuring. They are paid to three employees, Crowell, D’Auteuil and Information and Communications Technology Director Renee Bogart who, in addition to their regular jobs, serve on a managers team that reports directly to Aho.

Ultimately, the stipends cut failed by a 3-4 vote. Councilor Eric Samson, saying he’s not convinced Aho’s management changes will work, said it is up to Aho.

“The team approach is the city manager’s preference,” Samson said. “If the city manager is employed here, we need to give him what he needs and the structure he needs to survive.”

Councilors did trim $350,000 from the property tax levy, using proceeds from last year’s sale of Webster School.

They also eliminated a $39,000 receptionist position from Aho’s office.

They also made $4,241 in general cuts to the city clerk’s office.

Councilors then tabled the first reading of the budget until their June 6 meeting.

As proposed, the current budget calls for $341,000 increase in the property tax levy and tax rate increase of 34 cents for every $1,000 of property value. It would mean increase a property tax bill for a $145,000 home by $49.30.

One bone of contention Monday as a large, ledger-sized spreadsheet listing staff salaries, insurance and other benefits. Aho said those sheets list all staff salaries and benefits from the previous year rolled forward into the coming year. Department managers use those sheets to forecast their staffing costs.

“But they are not the budgets. They are a forecast,” Aho said. “A manager knows if they have employees that are leaving or need to give raises or make other changes. It’s a tool they use to create budgets.”

But Councilor Ray Berube said there were too many discrepancies between the forecasting spreadsheets and the final budget.

“None of these things match,” Berube said. “This is my 15th year working on budgets and none of these make sense.”

staylor@sunjournal.com

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