Auburn mayor pushing for more city, school shared services

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Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque, far right, speaks during the City Council orientation in December. As budget season rolls on, Levesque has been urging city and school officials to find savings through shared services. (Sun Journal file photo)

AUBURN — Mayor Jason Levesque is continuing his recent push to consolidate city and school departments and services by drafting a joint resolution that will go before the City Council next week.

On Friday, Auburn officials announced a special meeting for Tuesday, April 10, to approve putting on the June ballot the question of the Auburn School Department joining a Regional Service Center with SAD 52 in Turner and RSU 16 in Poland.

But also appearing on the agenda will be the joint resolution, which according to the City Council memo, has been drafted in “support of a collaborative effort to achieve cost savings and (or) improved services.”

The School Committee will also be asked to vote on the resolve at an upcoming meeting, with the expectation that a report from the city manager and superintendent of schools will be presented no later than June 7.

Levesque first floated the idea during a joint budget workshop in March, and on Monday, he told the City Council that the resolution would urge City Manager Peter Crichton and Superintendent Katy Grondin to identify savings through shared services.

He listed departments such as Transportation, Human Resources and Information Technology.

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Levesque said Thursday that he’d been circulating a draft of the resolution between the City Council and School Committee, and was hoping both bodies will soon vote to support it.

No matter the outcome, a resolution is only intended to state a position or policy.

“It’s not about turf. It’s about doing what’s right,” Levesque said this week about finding shared services.

He said the resolution would encourage Crichton and Grondin “to look at the mutual departments,” and relay their findings. Last week, he said it would represent savings for taxpayers “without impacting curriculum.”

Crichton said Friday that he and Grondin “already have conversations on a regular basis” and that she’s been involved in the city’s strategic planning process.

School Committee Chairman Tom Kendall confirmed in an email Thursday that the committee had been working on the joint resolution “at the mayor’s request.”

“We have traded revisions back and forth and hope to have something soon that works for both,” he said. “Much of this ground has been worked over in the past but it is always prudent to re-examine current practice. We have already committed to meeting with the city manager to begin this work with or without a resolution.”

Consolidating services also came up at the School Committee meeting Wednesday, when City Councilor Alfreda Fournier, the representative to the School Committee, said she favored consolidating.

Fournier pitched that school buses could be used to transport seniors, and that perhaps departments such as Human Resources or facilities could be shared.

School Committee member Bob Mennealy said, “You’re beating a dead horse. This has been looked at so many times. I don’t think it’s easy to find” savings.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Kendall said the School Committee would work with the city to explore ways to consolidate and save, but said it’s not likely any savings would be reflected in next year’s budget, which is being developed.

However, Levesque said he’s hoping savings could ultimately affect the bottom line expense budget next year.

“We should never think budgets and finding savings is a once-a-year opportunity,” he said.

At the recent joint budget workshop, Levesque pressed for the city’s audit and procurement committee to meet more regularly to discuss ways the city and School Department can find savings. Capital projects like LED lighting, roof replacements and even a new Xerox printer were marked as potential collaboration points. Levesque asked if the School Department could take over the city’s printing needs.

Kendall said he doesn’t foresee the resolution having an impact on the budget process between now and June 12, when the budget goes to referendum.

But he said, “Should there be findings and agreement of shared services or shifting of service responsibilities between us, I would expect that to happen as soon as it could be implemented given any contractual constraints and/or impact on personnel.”

He said any savings would be reflected in either the city or School Department’s undesignated fund balance at the end of the 2018-19 fiscal year, which is traditionally used to reduce the local tax burden in a new budget.

The City Council is also hosting a retreat on Monday at Martindale Golf Course, where they will discuss the “vision” for the city and the fiscal 2018-19 work plan.

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Staff writer Bonnie Washuk also contributed to this report. 

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