Citizens urge cuts in Auburn


AUBURN – A dozen citizens poring over Auburn’s budget since January say they’ve found ways to cut $1.5 million worth spending.

They urged the city to trim employee benefits, hire more private firms to handle some government jobs and delay buying new computers, software and guns for police officers until they’d talked to Lewiston.

“We fully support the efforts to consolidate city services with Lewiston,” said Ron Potvin, spokesman for the committee. “We don’t see the point in buying some of these things until we’ve discussed it with them. They could be redundant and wasteful.”

The Auburn Citizens Budget Review Committee was appointed by Mayor Normand Guay in January to review the budgets and provide a fresh perspective for city councilors. The group has been reviewing department budget requests since then.

City Manager Pat Finnigan hasn’t presented her budget yet. She’s scheduled to unveil her proposed budget later this month, and that’s the budget councilors will work with the most. They have until the end of June to adopt a budget for the 2006-07 fiscal year.

The group came back Monday with a list of $741,000 worth of cuts in municipal spending and another $800,000 off of the school committee budget Monday night based on the preliminary budgets before it.

“That’s $1.5 million, and we’re not even halfway through,” Potvin said. Member Jonathan Labonte said the group would provide a summary of cuts for all city departments in coming weeks.

Potvin was surprised by how many cuts the group was able to find. They are proposing flat spending across the city.

“But it’s fascinating that, given all the pain and discontent of taxpayers right now, department for department, they saw fit to propose increases,” Potvin said.

Potvin said committee members were also surprised by the job benefits for city employees. Most are union jobs, and he urged councilors to work with the unions to cut costs.

“Most of us work in the private sector, and we don’t realize these kind of benefits,” Potvin. “What we do realize is that they hit us in the pocket book when we pay them.”

The group felt pay scales for city employees were low however, and urged councilors and union leaders to find a better balance – higher pay for employees, but less expensive benefits.

Potvin said the group settled on the cuts in the school budget just before Monday’s meeting.

“We don’t have line item cuts here,” he said. Instead, group was focusing on $1.6 million proposed increase in state aid. Half is devoted to paying for Auburn’s new elementary school.

“But the other half was earmarked by the state for tax relief,” Potvin said. “That has to be acknowledged. It’s time to give that money back to the taxpayers.”