Auburn Fire Department 'brownouts' part of 2014 budget cuts

AUBURN — New Auburn's fire station would be closed 190 days out of the year under a budget approved by city councilors Monday night.

A plan to schedule fire department "brownouts" was among $1.7 million in cuts approved as part of the 2013-14 budget.

"It certainly is not something I feel good about, but it may be a part of our reality," fire Chief Frank Roma said. "We are not alone in this."

Other budget cuts include biweekly curbside recycling collections and funding reductions in multiple departments.

Funding for the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council, the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport, Community Little Theatre and L/A Arts was also reduced under the new budget.

The fiscal year 2013-14 budget calls for $73.7 million in total spending for the city and the schools and an estimated $41.5 million in property taxes. Councilors will vote on a new school budget in July. Voters will have the final say on that budget.

Taxpayers were not helped by an updated property valuation that showed Auburn losing almost $4 million — from $2.01 billion to $2.006 billion.

All told, the new budget looks to set the city's tax rate at $20.70 per $1,000 of assessed property value. That translates into a $3,104 tax bill for a $150,000 home — an increase of $166 compared to 2012-13 fiscal year.

Councilors have been working on their municipal budget since April. They approved a first draft version of the budget and a capital plan at their June 3 meeting that would have increased taxes by $275 on a $150,000 home knowing that they'd have to make deeper cuts.

They wanted to wait until voters had weighed in on the school budget's proposed 6.9 percent increase. It would have increased the school budget to $38.4 million for the 2013-14 year — a potential 11 percent property tax increase for the schools — and voters turned it down overwhelmingly at the polls.

Last week, councilors told staff to draft a budget that cut $2.3 million off the city and school spending plans. Combined with cuts already proposed by the School Committee, staff needed to find an additional $1.7 million.

Monday night, councilors got to see what that budget looked like.

One cut, which would have sent voters to a single polling place in November and June 2014, didn't survive council scrutiny.

"In a city this size, with this many miles, it's not practical to have one polling place," Ward 5 Councilor Belinda Gerry said. "There are still people without cars and there is not adequate public transportation. There are many reasons to keep multiple polling places."

A single polling place for both elections would have saved the city $4,410. Councilors compromised, keeping all five polling places open in November but sending June 2014 primary voters to a single polling place for a $2,205 savings.

Most other cuts City Manager Clinton Deschene proposed survived with little debate.

Roma said the brownouts are the logical result of no budgetary increase in overtime. With overtime budget locked at the current year levels, Roma said he will not have staff to keep all the stations open year round.

When firefighters take vacation, days off or sick days, the remaining staff will be moved around to other stations.

"What we will have to do is see what the best risk management profile for the city that will brown out a station and still provide the best service for the city," Roma said. "Right now, Station 2 in New Auburn appears to be the one that will fit that profile."

Councilors did have concerns about closing the New Auburn fire station, but not enough to put them back in.

staylor@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Kelsie Chamberlain's picture

Ref: How many

Like I said, they are all clearly making more money than me. Further more we should not negotiate free health care with union or any other employees. We are stuck footing the bill for the rest of our lives, and while we are at it, let them have 401k pensions like the rest of us. Instead of expecting generation after generation to pay for their benefits. Time for government employees to face the realities of the real wage world. Thanks for letting me vent.

ERNEST LABBE's picture

So

So they just paid almost 600 thousand for a new truck and for half a year it is going to be laid off. What happens when there is a fire, do they depend on all the area towns to spend their money giving mutual aid to Auburn because they laid off firefighters?

You big city folks can get by without a lot of things, but public safety items are not one of them.

Kelsie Chamberlain's picture

budget cuts

Well if all city employees where paying for some of their health insurance cost, weather they are single or have family, that would help out a lot. They all certainly make more than me and and I pay over $420. a month for health and dental. Think of the savings that would bring. Rest assured they all make more money than I do. Average the 821 city employees at $350 a month health and dental and that would save $287350, a month, and what about $3.1 mil a year? Hmm... works for me.

Jason Theriault's picture

How many

How many of the 821 employees make enough that a $350 pay cut isn't going to ruin them? It would be one thing if they all made $100K a year, but most are probably pulling down $30-50K. $350 would be almost 20% of their take home.

That, and it won't happen anyway. That 821 would include police and frie and other union employees.

Mitch Sperry's picture

Idiots

Hard to believe we are going back to the Mike Farrell/Dan Herrick days on the Auburn City Council. Don't think the council understands what they did when they voted on the budget last night. Browning out Engine 2 station on certain days! Are you serious!? They seem to think it will not happen that much. But after putting in 28 years as an Auburn Firefighter I can tell you that Engine 2 station will be closed, at least half the year! Do they realize what that does to the public safety of South Auburn residents. They were also thinking that during elections they would cut the polling places to one. But our fine "at large" council woman Belinda Gerry said "In a city this size, with this many miles, it's not practical to have one polling place." What an idiot! I say "In a city this size, with this many miles, it's not practical to close a friggin' fire station!" Never mind the size of the city, just look at a simple thing like train tracks and the loss of response time when the Fire trucks are held up by a train. I don't think I am to far off base when I say some response times to South Auburn could be 15 Minutes or longer! As a tax paying resident who resides in New Auburn, I say thank you for nothing Mr. Mayor and Auburn City Councilors!! And as for my councilman, Leroy Walker, you better screen your calls, because I am calling....Oh and God Bless the residents South Auburn.

Bob White's picture

I believe Mitch if you were a

I believe Mitch if you were a Auburn firefighter then I would say you probably standing up for your brothers. Lets be real here for a minute. Taking one truck out of rotation are we really going to lose life? Is it going to increase response times? I don't think so if you take this in to account during the day all trucks most of he time go to central for training. Sure their are days and time they are in house but come on seriously. As far as the train sure that could happen but what if a calls comes in as a "real call" like a working fire then why wouldn't you want to call Lewiston their across the bridge and besides remember the trucks might be at central for training. I do know for a fact fire calls are down across the USA in most part because of better constructed homes and buildings plus education and prevention. That is one of the reason why departments have joined in with EMS because those calls have gone up over the years due to a aging population. By responding to EMS call raises call volume and the need to grow departments and equipment. Do we need to send a $350,000 truck to a medical call I think not. Most fireman fatalities happen responding to and from calls. I know your going to say well some medical calls you need all the help you can get well then I would say let the medical unit responding due their own back up. Their will be times sure you may have to respond to a medical call but not all of them.
I do believe that the department should be doing things like they did after the major fires in Lewiston going around and securing and identifying these vacant buildings. Sure these duties take you out of the firefighting end of things but if you look into cities and towns that tend to have a low fire problem you will see that prevention is key to their success its not size of the departments.
I'm sure my comment wont be the popular comment but I to have firefighting experience the good thing was I wasn't involved in the union end of things so I think I could see things a bit clear from both sides.

It looks like the council has

It looks like the council has found the school dept. play book. Hit the people where it hurts the most. Shut down a fire station. Touche to the council. Put the peoples safety at risk to prove a point. Thank God November is not far away.

Jason Theriault's picture

Well, then what would you cut?

Roads, Police or Fire.

Or raise taxes
Choose.

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