J. Keenan: Cut Auburn's budget in half

Auburn taxpayers have taken the bull by the horns and brought the school officials back down to Earth. The proposed School Department budget was up on cloud nine.

I graduated from Edward Little High School in 1979, one of 476 seniors. Now there are 190 seniors, yet school officials claim there is no room. Perhaps that is because there are so many School Department employees. According to figures from past Sun Journal articles, I calculate the ratio at about seven students per employee. That is outrageous.

School officials press for a new high school, maybe so their cloud-nine heads can get through the doorways. Or maybe they think that if a new school is built, more students will come?

Where do I sign up to recall School Committee members?

Talk about spending money, people should take a look at the new school on Park Avenue, with its beautiful sidewalks and lights, but take notice of the "For Sale" signs on both ends of the street.

If Auburn's tax rate doesn't stay down, businesses and homeowners will flee. The 2010 Census reported that Auburn lost residents.

Also, there is no crime to speak of in Auburn. Let the Sheriff's Department handle things. They do a great job in surrounding towns.

And the Fire Department needs to scale back. New buildings have sprinkler systems. How about using volunteers?

I say, cut, cut, cut. The whole town needs to be pulled back. No kids, no crime, no fires.

Lewiston-Auburn doesn't need to combine. Auburn could cut its budget in half.

Jeffrey Keenan, Auburn

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Comments

Joe Morin's picture

Tricky issue

I was born & raised in Auburn. I graduated from Edward Little in '98. I am also a property owner but no longer a resident. The school budget is a difficult subject because all the folks in Auburn who own property know that approximately 48% of the taxes collected go to the school department. We also know that we have a proposed city bond of up to 60 million dollars to replace ELHS which will drive up our tax burden what another 8-10%. Property taxes increase yearly, so does the cost of home heating oil, milk, gas, etc.. My tenants are not making anymore money and are also suffering from the increase in the cost of living. I cannot, in good conscience, raise my rent on "the grandma", "young couple expecting their first child" or the "single mom that works her tail off to provide for 2 kids". This leaves me to make less money every year on my unit. Oh, and by the way I do not have children. What's the answer? It always boils down to higher taxes. The youth of our community need proper education less we hasten the decay of our society but I'll go broke like any one else... So frustrating.

Noel Foss's picture

Cutting the budget in half seems poorly thought out

As an example, try cutting your household budget in half. I suspect you'd find that some of the things you stopped paying for would be very sorely missed (like maybe food, or electricity).

Much like a household budget, there's usually things that can be trimmed in a city's budget. But, also like a household budget, typically there's not enough excess to cut it in half.

 's picture

Joe Gray makes a lot of

Joe Gray makes a lot of sense. Claire, you do not even live in Auburn but you insist on telling us how to run our city. Go figure.

David  Cote's picture

What difference does it make where one lives?

Whether or not someone lives in a specific town in which a story such as this is printed for the general public to examine is immaterial. What matters is someone that obviously possesses a tremendous amount of knowledge about the inner workings of a school department has chosen to lend her insight. So she doesn't live in Auburn...big deal. By that logic I suppose anyone living anywhere other than Auburn should just avoid it altogether because of the very elitist and exclusive attitude you seem Hell bent on laying forth. Your city has a high school that is out of date and in need of serious refurbishing. Do you honestly believe the students of Auburn deserve to attend that train wreck of a school called Edward Little? And before you rail on me let me add I saw two of my kids graduate there in 1999 and 2003 and the place was a dump then. The kids of today deserve the investment of better schools and the latest educational tools to be given to them because it shows them that, as the adults we should be, we care about them. Don't you believe for one moment those kids don't keep up with what's happening with their school system, or not follow what's being said about them and this subject in print, in articles derived from investigative reporting and from citizen feedback from people like you and I. Just for the record, I don't have kids in school anymore. They're grown and raising their own families. But my neighbors still have kids in school, and it matters to me, as a person who regards education to be of the utmost importance to every child that they are never denied the tools to help them learn and succeed. As adults, we ALL owe them that.

RONALD RIML's picture

Did Mark Gravel even read the report he submitted??

Let us know, Mark.

And if you did - address the questions below.

David  Cote's picture

First and foremost...

A town's school department is, in my opinion, the most important and delicate department of any town because of its importance to the community it serves. In attendance within the walls of each school are our future doctors and nurses, future police officers and first responders and future business owners and other positive participants of our communities. We, as adults, owe them the very best opportunity to achieve their ambitions and dreams. It's not fair, nor is it right for these kids to be denied the best teachers, books and equipment available. Yet every time residents of a town scream bloody murder about their taxes it seems the schools are targeted for reductions and cuts in funding first, and that is so very wrong. In the town I live in there was a battle over a new budget proposal last year that eventually raised taxes to property owners an average of about $35.00 for the year. And what I heard were complaints from residents that have no kids attending school. That's a damn selfish attitude. If a lousy ten cents a day is going to get you all agitated and belligerent then maybe you need to move to the Rockies, build a cabin high above, without anyone governing you and rename yourself Grizzly Adams. Prices do rise if you haven't noticed. Food, fuel, clothing and rent. We all pay more as we go. Why do you believe school departments don't feel a similar pain? Do you attend school board meetings and read town reports to learn how funding is spent. If you don't then you have no right to complain because you cannot possibly understand the situation if you decide to remain ignorant. Mr. Keenan, I don't see anyone's head in the clouds when the talk is centered around providing the tools and knowledge the kids of today need AND DESERVE. However, I do see the heads of naysayers like you firmly planted someplace else. Hope you're not claustrophobic.

Jason Theriault's picture

Hey, f-roads.

Why pave the ground? F it, lets have dirt roads. And why plow? Plow your own way.

Water district, water smistrict. Get a well.

I mean, why bother having any of it? Lets disband the city

No Crime?

You said, and I quote "Also, there is no crime to speak of in Auburn." Really? Have you been living under a rock? There is plenty of crime in Auburn, open your eyes... Getting rid of the police and fire departments would be a huge mistake.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Services

I don't get why people who don't want to pay for services move to towns that have them and insist on taking them away from the people who live there because they want services. There are oodles of towns in Maine that already have no fire dept. substandard schools, no police, trash collection, water or internet service, intermittent electrical service and no local medical care or jobs etc. If that is what you want to pay for why aren't you living there? Can you just imagine the wonderful impression it will make on any new business considering relocating to Auburn when they are told there is no police, fire or plowing and bad schools ? Even Walmart won't stick around if everybody is out of work and has no money to shop. How many people are you happy to put in the unemployment line? One thing I agree with you on. The committee to join Auburn with Lewiston may as well disband. The last thing Lewiston needs is to pick up a stingy uncle that won't pay his way and just wants to mooch.

Noel Foss's picture

HA!

You're right, Claire. Auburn should be more like Lewiston.

wait, that's not right....

MARK GRAVEL's picture

In typical Clair fashion, you

In typical Clair fashion, you present your argument as “all or nothing”. I don’t hear people talking about wanting NO government services but rather “right sized” government services based on what the community can afford.

Personally, I would like to see a top-down approach to the budgeting issue. For example, a number of States effectively cap property mill rate. This assures the taxpayer that their property taxes will not vary widely from year to year or skyrocket out of control, at least there is an upper bound. This also established an upper bound on spending. Take the same approach will all taxes. Force the government to “right size” services to meet the financial ability of the community to pay.

Remember that taxes paid into any government decreases disposable income of the taxpayer; thereby, reducing the ability to spend in local establishments. Since money is not created (less printing money at the federal level), your reference to no taxes – no jobs – no Wal-Mart is simply not true. However, if you take more income from the “real” producers, there is a 1-to-1 correlation to that and consumer spending – less money, less spending. You are not creating wealth in the community, but you are simply moving it from one spot to another.

Given that most private business are more efficient that government, more overall jobs will be created in the private sector than the public sector on a dollar for dollar bases.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

My point exactly

Clearly Auburn is not the right size government for this guy. It's like somebody going to Fishbones and eating their meal then saying they only want to pay $5 because that's what Denny's charges. If that's the case then you should be eating at Denny's and not spoiling everybody's appetite at Fishbone's . As for business being more efficient I would take exception given the number of businesses that go belly up every year and as far as businesses are concerned customers are customers and they don't care if their income is from the private or public sector and since you seem to admit there is a need for some services then we will always have public sector employees. The question is do you want to cut their numbers to the point where the services are practically non-existent or do you want government services to function efficiently ? For me efficiently means when I call 911 somebody shows up and when I mail a letter it gets delivered and government is responsive to majority rule. Less than that is a waste of taxpayer money. The next question is what are services worth? If I get $30 back because I got a tax cut but my fire insurance or health insurance goes up by $100 because I no longer have good services, I will not be shopping with the extra bucks in my pocket. There is no proof anywhere that cutting taxes and services results in economic development. It is a fantasy of people who just hate paying taxes.

 's picture

We must get informed and connected with city government

To be honest I think you are overstating the benefits of our high taxes here in Auburn. The idea of "right-sizing" government is a good one. It is true those of us who care about right sizing could move to another town, but so could those of you who seem to want to waste your tax money. Why do you get to determine what is right sized? Why do we get to determine right sized? It really is all about compromise. But first, you need to understand the particulars.

You state that saving $30 dollars in taxes will raise your fire insurance or health insurance. Can you prove that? Where is the study saying that is true? Did you know many insurance companies have stopped linking fire scores (Auburn is 3/9) with insurance rates? State Farm started decoupling these around 2001. Their research shows that most payouts are a result of natural disaster and not fire damage. They pay far more in tornado, hurricane and blizzard damage than fire damage. So each time I hear people say things like you mention, it tells me you are merely repeating talking points. Also, how many fires did Auburn firefighters attend to last month? Do you know? How many firefighters do we have employed in Auburn? What is the right size for our fire department or our police department? Do you think we are right sized simply because you are told we are right sized or do you keep abreast of the city staffing levels with an eye toward efficiency? I'm not being sarcastic or trying to embarrass anyone, I just think it is far too easy to believe those in city government are definitely looking out for our best interest. I'm sure that is partially correct, but self-interest is involved as well; they are human.

My point is that WE, the taxpayers, need to decide what is right sized as a group. We need to keep in contact with our representatives and make them aware of our needs and our desires to be efficient and not wasteful. It is our responsibility to keep involved with the goings on in our respective municipalities.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Sooo

You think cutting city services in half sounds right to you. I don't have to count how many fire trucks Auburn has to know that is not what a city should do. I already drive over the pot holes, and I have seen some of the schools. And I know just how well the streets are plowed. In fact I can't think of a single service that Auburn provides that should be cut in half.

 's picture

Claire, read then respond to the comments made

I NEVER said we should half the taxes in Auburn, did I? I said we should "right size" them. I even stated we need to work together as a community to decide what "right size" means for all of us together. I stated we need to stay informed and communicate with our representatives.

Clearly you have an agenda and don't care to try to work together to solve Auburn's problems. That is your right. But please don't criticize those of us who are trying to get involved and stay on top of things. We are trying to work through Auburn's problems and come up with solutions.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

The letter

Sorry I thought we were responding to this particular letter stating that he things we need to cut the budget in half and make the fire dept. voluntary and to cut the school budget in half etc. It sounded to me as though you agreed with the letter. Clearly I do not.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

There are two basic options:

There are two basic options: Cut services, increase efficiency of existing services, or perhaps combination of the two.

I really want to see a tops-down approach to budgeting. First, decide a reasonable and tolerable tax burden (TBD). Next decide what services you can afford based upon the agreed to revenue. This approach forces priority setting.

This is compared to bottoms-up approach where each department submits a budget; it is summed to provide the overall tax burden.
The tops-down approach allows everyone to focus on the big picture without getting mired down in detail.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

You make a valid argument

You make a valid argument Jeffrey.

“New Study Finds 21 States Have More Non-Teaching Staff than Teachers”

Maine ranks second.

http://www.edchoice.org/Newsroom/News/New-Study-Finds-21-States-Have-Mor...

RONALD RIML's picture

Report is 'Ambiguous' at Best

Nowhere in the report are parameters defined to indicate what is counted as 'Teaching' and "Non-Teaching' Staff.

Where do coaches, Teachers' Aides, etc fall in here???

RONALD RIML's picture

Imagine having support staff so that teachers don't have to

Stoke the furnace, drive the school bus, fill out the rest of the govt forms, provide custodial maintenance, do 'teacher aide' thingies....

Is this hardly an unbiased report???

"The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and nonpartisan
organization, solely dedicated to advancing Milton and Rose Friedman’s vision of school
choice for all children"

Mark - Note if report addressed the increase of mandates applied to educational institutions during the period of time under study. Also note is school/population density as experienced in states such as Maine is discussed.

Come back with the information and we can then see if your concerns are valid.

Jason Theriault's picture

As I pointed out

As I pointed out before, that website is a bit biased, with their stated goal of "Advancing school choice for all children". And the report was written by someone who used to be on Georgia’s Charter Schools Commission. He clearly biased as well.

As an example, notice the dates. His data sample is from 1992 to 2009.
18 years.
Seems interesting he didn't take 20 years. What he was trying to do is spike his data, trying to get maximum increase over the minimum time. And thats about when the provisions of the new amended Individuals with Disabilities Education Act took affect. Which would results in a large increase in support personnel.

So, in other words, the report is chock full of BS

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Let me see if I understand.

Let me see if I understand.

I measure 21 items with a yardstick that is a foot short of a yard. Maine measures second longest.

I notice my error, so I again measure 21 items with a yardstick of the correct length. Oh! Maine still measures second longest.

You can argue the length of the yardstick, yet Maine always measures second longest among 21 no matter which measure we use.

RONALD RIML's picture

Yep - still simplistic with no analysis......

but what else would we expect.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Yes, it is simple. Maine has

Yes, it is simple. Maine has more non-teaching than teaching staff.

This is a measure of efficiency or lack thereof.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Does anyone wonder why

Does anyone wonder why education keeps sucking wind? We'll be having the same discussion 10 years from now.

RONALD RIML's picture

What's this 'We' Crap???

You gotta mouse in yer pocket?????

MARK GRAVEL's picture

You are correct, you may not

You are correct, you may not be around in a decade to have that discussion with us. I applogize.

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