Councilors undo cuts: Fire station, recycling, special events back in budget

AUBURN — City councilors found $165,000 for the fiscal year 2013-14 budget Monday and undid the three most unpopular cuts they made last week.

Councilors will fund $120,000 in overtime for Fire Department, ending a plan to close New Auburn Fire Station 2 for 190 days each year.

Councilors also agreed to put $25,000 toward resurrecting the curbside recycling program and $20,000 for police support for special events, especially the Great Falls Balloon Festival and the Dempsey Challenge.

City Manager Clinton Deschene said he'd have to meet with staff to see how quickly those new revenues would filter into their intended budgets.

Auburn's curbside recycling officially ended Monday, the first day of Auburn's 2013-14 fiscal year, and Deschene did not know how quickly the city's Public Works Department could bring the program back.

"We should know in a couple of days," Deschene said.

Similarly, neither Deschene nor police Chief Phil Crowell would say if the police overtime money would be enough to let police close Court Street for Thursday's July 4 fireworks. The city traditionally closes the road on Goff Hill between Lake and Fern streets to let residents gather on the road and watch the Liberty Festival display.

But councilors said the Fire Department cuts were the most crucial ones to reverse.

"We can sit here and we can argue here or in the back room about economic development or about putting money to the arts, but this is just basic level stuff here," Councilor Joshua Shea said. "It's about protecting our citizens."

The Fire Department "brownouts" were among $1.7 million in cuts approved as part of the 2013-14 budget last week. Councilors cut $405,000 in overtime for city employees in all departments. Those overtime costs covered vacation replacements for firefighters, special events for police and road maintenance and snowplowing for the city's Public Works Department.

Shea said accepting that was a mistake on his part and he apologized. He said he did not understand when he voted that the New Auburn station would be closed for more than half the year.

"This is something that, frankly, I can't believe it came to us at the last minute," he said. "I can't believe it was so different than what we first talked about. It was a mistake and I apologize to anybody who thinks I don't support the Fire Department. I didn't realize how far-reaching it was."

Mayor Jonathan LaBonte said he received an enormous amount of phone calls from residents concerned about the cut, and he urged councilors to rescind it.

Councilor Mary LaFontaine agreed, saying she'd received more phone calls from residents on the fire station issue than on any other.

Councilors covered the $165,000 by finding some new state revenue and making other strategic cuts.

Deschene said the city did not know the final amount of state revenue sharing to expect when the council adopted the budget. State legislators adopted their budget two days later and Auburn received $110,000 more than the council expected.

Councilors also agreed to spend $20,000 from a special police revenue fund and skip replacing a police cruiser for $35,000.

Councilor Tizz Crowley balked at that swap.

"We have a lot of things in this city that $20,000 can support," Crowley said. "That's why I'd like to pause and not spend any money. Before we give it out as in-kind support to events, we should consider we might enjoy the events but I'm not sure we have measured results on how they are helping our community for the investment we give."

staylor@sunjournal.com

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Comments

"Found" $165k?

How convenient that the Council just happens to check under the couch cushions and finds the money for those things after the hue and cry over cuts. "Oh, look what we JUST HAPPENED to find! Isn't that a strange coincidence?"

 's picture

A good thing

One issue the average homeowner doesn't realize is that your insurance bill is based -- in part -- on the ISO fire rating for your city. If Auburn had continued with the brownouts, the ISO calculation would have been worse, and your insurance bill would have increased.

 's picture

Not exactly - as Councilor Crowley said last night

Councilor Crowley stated last night that she called her insurer and asked if a change in ISO would affect her premium. She was told it would not. She stated that during the meeting last evening.

This is a myth the fire department has been throwing out there for some time now. They say how important the ISO rating is when it helps their cause, but resort to NFPA when that is more suited to their needs. These two standards are different and contradictory. So, which do you follow? Also, the ISO isn't calculated each year as the organization only comes around to evaluate the community every decade or so. They were here a couple years back. So this one year of "brownouts" would have no impact on the ISO rating.

Further, Auburn's ISO rating is based only 50% on the fire department. The water district and 911 call center also account for 50%.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

This should be a wake up call...........

lets face it, we can not deny the facts, if LePage had his way, and the current budget was not allowed, just in Auburn, one third of one of the largest cities in the State, would go without fire coverage, for half a year.
Aside from everything else we already know about the man, under Paul LePages leadership, thousands of people would have been left with little if any fire protections. The reversal of that plan is referred to by the Governor as a "sad day for Maine".
This is just a slice of LePages reality, we need to be very careful of his ideas.......

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

A brief look into the tea

A brief look into the tea leaves....
2035---Sun Journal Headlines read...
LAKE AUBURN GOES DRY.

Earley's response...
"It's LePage's fault"!!!

FRANK EARLEY's picture

I was making breakfast......

I was making my breakfast this morning, I went for the milk only to find an empty carton. I blamed LePage, I guess it's second nature now. In my life. So in 2035, LePage will be 80 years old, I'll still blame him.....................

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Hahaha....I know. Whatever

Hahaha....I know. Whatever your feelings are about LePage, many of us have the very same feelings about BHO. The upside? It'll soon be over for both of them. Thank God for elections.

Bob White's picture

Frank your off a bit your

Frank your off a bit your talking one truck in a city that has 4 other trucks not to mentioned a full time fully staffed department across the river. People acted the same when they closed down the Lincoln St. station in Lewiston back a few years ago. The out cry people are going to die Little Canada is going to burn flat. Guess what it hasn't. I'm not sure how you came up to thinking that other departments were going to lose coverage the majority of departments in Maine are Voluntary very few departments have full time paid departments in Maine.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

You fail to consider........

Two things, mutual aid should not be a solution to short staffing a fire department. Also there are only three other staffed trucks at two locations in Auburn, as of my last count. Tower and engine 5 on Center St. Engine 3 and squad on Minot Ave. They do have a spare truck for replacing regular trucks. Engine 2 is located at a tricky spot. If they were going to take a truck out of service, Engine 3 makes more sense. Train tracks through town create sever delays for fire trucks responding to New Auburn. En 5 and Tower are the closest, on the other end of town.
As for the rest of your argument, unfortunately, unless it hits you people on the head, you refuse to acknowledge anything you don't like. If you deny it enough times maybe someone will believe it. Well it won't wash, LePage has ideas that only hurt the people of Maine. You can finagle a twisted excuse all you want, but the results speak for themselves................

 's picture

thank you

Thank you to the city for reconsidering funding for the curbside recycling, and the fire department. It is tough to juggle funds.

Looking forward to hearing more about the continuation of the curbside recycling for the time being. Hoping it can be a semi-seamless restart, along with the research into the alternative larger bins for the following year.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Really real

It seems to me that people need to look at real figures and stop the paranoia that assumes that there is all kinds of free money floating around in the government that can be cut without hurting anyone. When you get down to reality there isn't all that much you can cut and all the cuts will hurt somebody. People who don't care about cuts that don't affect them need a civics lesson. As for me I am delighted to see the return of the fire station as that affects my family directly. And if Auburn is so broke that it can't afford safety, streets, schools ,recycling and festivals then I agree with their leaders that festivals and recycling need to go even though there will be long term consequences.

Bob White's picture

Claire buy taking festivals

Claire buy taking festivals away your shooting yourself in the foot. I'm sure you know this but people and businesses pay for government. So take away the festivals which bring money from out of town and goes to businesses which pay people which pay taxes which support your governmentally programs. Where your facts to back up that we are creating paranoia? Are you saying that the trillion dollar debt that we cant control is make believe that housing and unemployment has been a problem is that just people being "paranoid" The economy is hanging on by a thread not just in our country but in many other countries is that the Republicans making this all up? Well I'm glad you figured that all out the Sun Journal should do a report with you so the word will get out that the last few years that we thought we were in a recession was just the Republicans causing "PARANIOA"

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

real facts

See that is what I mean. I had not heard that Auburn has a trillion dollar debt. That would certainly call for cutting spending but my understanding is that the financial problems in Auburn and other Maine towns were caused by the sudden withdrawal of promised State funds. I also don't believe that reality would support the notion that the economy is "hanging by a thread". I am reading all sorts of different statistics that show that the economy has nearly rebounded to where we were in 2008 before it all came crashing down. What I challenge is people who just assume the government is wasting taxpayer money and has a huge slush fund with no basis in factual information when the reality is that the programs that are in place were put there because there was a need. When you take away those programs you create a new need. I support cuts that don't end up costing more in the long run and don't unfairly target people who have legitimate needs.

Bob White's picture

Well Claire if I am without

Well Claire if I am without proof then I guess I would ask were is your proof? Believe or not Auburn Maine is part of the United States Of America which has the very out of control very large and not to mention no real solution on stopping the increase of the debt. Your statement "I had not heard that Auburn has a trillion dollar debt" That's like saying if your husband has a debt and they call on the debt and you say gee I didn't know anything about it so I'm not responsible. Well Claire I do believe the City of Auburn gets money from our federal government which does have the trillion dollar debt. Do you know something else when people say "we cant go wrong the feds are going to kick in the money" guess what that magic money comes from somewhere and it adds up so yes Auburn and all the rest of our cities in the great USA has a trillion dollar debt. A man I once knew and I consider a very intelligent and wise man once told me " Everybody wants to go to haven but nobody wants to die" I'm sure you wont get the meaning behind that saying so I will explain it. Everyone says they want less taxes and stuff but nobody really wants to give up anything. Everybody wants cleaner energy nobody wants to have it in their back yard. I hope you see what I'm saying everybody wants wants but nobody is willing to give give.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Debt

I am certainly aware of the federal debt but I see no way cutting recycling in Auburn is going to impact that in any way. It would seem the federal debt can be solved on the federal level mostly by eliminating all the loopholes and tax evasion and corporate give-aways but as you say nobody wants to give up their perks To me the solution is to recognize the difference between perks and needs. When I hear people want to eliminate food stamps I have to wonder how they assume food is not a need but a billion dollars a week in military hardware, some of which the Pentagon has said they don't even want, is. Regardless none of this pertains to the Auburn budget. It is just another example of people trying to instill fear to manipulate votes where it does not apply.

Bob White's picture

The fear you talk about kinda

The fear you talk about kinda like if we suspend a fire truck for some days we are going to endanger life. That's instilling fear in people. I Highly doubt that to be the case if we took one truck out part time. People don't know this about their trucks that are their stations. If you go to central station on most days during the day you will see their respected neighborhood fire truck parked there. Not many people know that during the day the trucks are at central for training leaving their neighborhood fire house empty. So I ask would it be a big deal to trim back a bit I think not.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

A big deal

If we were told the truth it is estimated that, in a fire, taking that truck out would add 15 minutes to the response time and I don't know if anybody figured in the train or what happens if the tenements in Lewiston are burning at the same time. My grandchildren sleep on the second floor of a house near that station and you bet 15 minutes extra in a burning house is a big deal.

Bob White's picture

Now who is using paranoia to

Now who is using paranoia to scare people? Look the fire station was 2 blocks away and they managed to burn 4 buildings down in Lewiston in the middle of the day. Trust me one fire truck with 3 men sure isn't going to do a whole lot for you and for sure if their at central for training. You should be holding regular fire drills have window ladders and good working fire alarms don't wait for someone else to save you save yourself. One question which I'm sure you wont answer how do other towns do it with railroad tracks and single stations? Do they have a high rate of death? I haven't heard of that.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Lewiston fires

So, many buildings burned in Lewiston but did anyone die? I think that is the point. As for towns that have longer wait times, well I think one of the reasons we live in a city is we want to be near police, hospital, ambulance and fire services. People who don't care and are willing to risk it have the choice to live far away. When I lived in a rural town pretty much every house that caught fire burned to the ground. It was considered a win if the neighboring properties were saved. That's why I live in a city. I don't want to save myself any more than I want to perform my own heart operation.

 's picture

Not to worry - facts, not hype, should calm your nerves

The city manager stated last night that the response to New Auburn could be as much as 8 minutes. The 15 minutes the fire department stated was going to Danville or the Durham line. Those areas are currently in a 12 minute response time zone. That is the reason Auburn's ISO rating is split. the first number (3) represents the coverage the more urban areas of Auburn have and the second number (9) represents the more rural areas of Auburn.

 's picture

Still frustrated

It's still frustrating that we had to go through 2+ weeks of dealing with steadily worsening announcements because they couldn't have been organized enough to vote on the budget after they got detailed reports from the city departments on what cuts would mean.

The "I had no idea" line doesn't really hold water.

Steve  Dosh's picture

Fire station, recycling, special events back in budget

. .Auburnites
. .'Tis a good thing ? 
These are all highly visible line items that the public suppports
" Mayor Jonathan LaBonte said he received an enormous amount of phone calls from residents concerned about the cut, and he urged councilors to rescind it. "
/s Steve

Mike Lachance's picture

Crowley is on to something

I do believe the general idea Councilor Crowley is discussing is what needs to be looked at. Not an easy subject, but the financials are out there somewhere. Unfortunately its too easy to take one or two mouthpieces for their word when their word directly or indirectly promotes and bolsters their own financial business interests in local events.

The two cities need third party objective data to work with, not inside-the-loop filtered and carefully presented puff pieces. Perhaps the special events are infact reaping huge revenues that exceed the two respective City's investments each year... but perhaps not.

A "facts-and-figures only" study of financials, investment and returns going back through the last 10 years could shed some light on these questions.

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