Budget cuts will hurt city, Aho tells council

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AUBURN — City Manager Glenn Aho unveiled $266,731 worth of cuts to his draft 2010-11 budget to councilors Thursday night, his work so far in fulfilling a City Council directive to cut at least $1 million.

“It’s all I’ve been able to do so far,” Aho said. “I was still making changes until 5 minutes before the meeting was scheduled to begin.”

Aho said the proposed cuts might hurt a little.

“These changes don’t help the city, or make the city better,” he said. “They help it get through a difficult period.”

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The cuts include consolidating polling places, reducing the Parks and Recreation program budget and cutting $66,000 from the Fire Department. They include less snow plowing in the winter, less road salt on icy streets and no summer lifeguard at the Lake Auburn outlet beach.

The cuts represent a change in the city’s mission statement, adopted last year, away from “Superior Services at an Affordable Cost” to “Reduced Services in a Changing Economy,” Aho said.

“Some of these changes, I’m afraid they will be detrimental,” he said. He and city staff will continue to look for ways to cut the remaining $733,000 required by councilors.

Councilors are working their way through the fiscal year 2010-11 budget. Aho’s proposed draft calls 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 coming to the city, it would mean a 9 percent increase in property taxes and a $336 property tax increase for homes valued at $200,000.

At least four councilors Monday said any tax increase was out of the question, and they were prepared to require Aho to cut $2.5 million from the budget. A less ambitious cut of $1 million was approved by a 4-3 vote.

Recycling and spring cleanup

Councilors didn’t have time to review all of Aho’s proposed cuts Thursday night. Those discussions will wait for workshop meetings later this month. But they did want to discuss two other decisions that stemmed from Monday’s meeting — suspending curbside recycling for a year beginning in July and canceling spring cleanup this year.

In an informal straw poll Monday, councilors agreed to end curbside recycling collections and remove $210,000 from the proposed budget.

“That’s the one thing I heard about most often these past couple of days,” Councilor Eric Samson said. His constituents told him it was the wrong decision.

Mayor Dick Gleason and Councilor Belinda Gerry both argued that Aho erred when he decided to end this year’s spring cleanup collections Wednesday in an “Open Letter to the Citizens of Auburn” on the city’s Web site.

“That was decided last year when it was put in the budget, and it should go forward,” Gleason said.

Aho said he had to cut that money to make up revenue shortfalls in this fiscal year, as well as the next one. Councilors agreed to schedule a special public meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday to discuss the 2010 spring cleanup. A formal council discussion on the curbside recycling program will wait until later this month.

Councilors Dan Herrick and Robert Hayes defended Aho and his proposed cuts.

“First, we directed him to make these cuts and then we started arguing when he did,” Hayes said. “We’re waffling.”

Herrick said he’d rather sacrifice services like spring cleanup than increase property taxes.

“Spring cleanup, it’s a very important program,” Herrick said. “But when we have people who can’t afford to pay their property taxes, we have to do something drastic.”

staylor@sunjournal.com

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