Auburn School Committee to consider budget that won't raise taxes

AUBURN — The School Committee will consider a budget next week that would not raise property taxes, Superintendent Katy Grondin said Thursday.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Ralph Tuttle

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Gerald Tardif

Voters rejected school budgets on June 11 and July 23. By state law, the soonest the third vote can take place is Aug. 20, City Manager Clinton Deschene said.

Under that schedule, the School Committee would approve a third budget on Wednesday and send it to the City Council for approval on Aug. 5, with the third referendum on Aug. 20.

“The problem is that schedule would be really fast," Deschene said. "It may not be feasible. The School Committee is working on it.”

Grondin said the committee has asked to look at a budget that would have no increase on property taxes and cuts that would come from salaries.

That would mean the overall school budget would be 3 percent larger than the current one, or $37.1 million, because Auburn received a $1.2 million increase in state funding, Grondin said.

Under the "zero-based taxpayer budget," Auburn residents would spend $15.39 million, not much more than what taxpayers spent in 2008-09, which was $15 million, she said.

“Last year was the first time that local taxpayers have spent more for education since 2008-09," she said. "The budget that failed, we were asking for $700,000 more locally."

The School Committee will consider taking all but $500,000 of the fund balance account, or $1 million, for the budget, Grondin said. That represents an additional $176,000 from the account added to the $37.7 million budget that was recently rejected.

The problem with all of the above, Grondin said, is that one year from now, Auburn taxpayers would have to start spending more money to meet a new state law mandating towns and cities meet their share of the Essential Programs and Services formula.

“It would put us $2.7 million below EPS," Grondin said. "The budget that just failed was $2.2 million below EPS.”

Under the law, Auburn would have to start making up a third of the $2.7 million next year and two-thirds the following years.

At Rolly's Diner on Thursday, lunch patrons were mixed on what kind of school budget Auburn should have.

“I'm very distressed the way this is going,” said Ralph Tuttle, who voted to support the budget. “I encourage citizens to finally approve it this third time. Enough is enough.”

Gerald Tardif said he's opposed to higher property taxes.

“I've been living in Auburn a long time. I'm on a fixed income,” Tardif said. “When they keep bringing up our taxes, our income is still the same, so what's the answer for the thousands of people on fixed incomes?”

Meanwhile at city hall, property tax bills that usually go out in mid-August may be late, Deschene said. For the city to go without that income would be like asking a worker to go without a paycheck. “We don't know how long we can wait,” he said. “Our whole financial planning is based on that money.”

The Auburn City Council could decide to raise a certain amount for schools and send out property tax bills before a school budget is passed, then later adjust what's owed by or to taxpayers, he said.

This is the first time Auburn voters have rejected a school budget twice in a row. “It's new territory,” Deschene said. The School Department has hard work in front it it, figuring out how much to ask for in the next budget.

Maine Deputy Education Commissioner Jim Rier said Thursday that state law requires a district to keep voting on a budget until it passes.

“In a few rare cases, it's been three or four times,” Rier said.

In RSU 4 (Sabattus-Wales-Litchfield) voters have also twice rejected the school budget. The date of the next budget referendum is expected to be set on Wednesday when that school board meets.

Sabattus selectmen have said tax bills will be late.

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

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Comments

MARK GRAVEL's picture

The message should be clear

The message should be clear by now. NO NEW TAXES. Auburn needs to start looking at other options.

Jason Theriault's picture

It's gonna bite us in the butt

We're gonna start losing state funding, and then the program is going to be in deep trouble. Then, the tax hike will be huge to get Auburn back on track

Mike Lachance's picture

Jason, the taxes are already

Jason, the taxes are already biting us in the butt. This is a clear message. Things in Auburn (and Lewiston) need to be done differently. The level of taxation increasing over wages has reached the tipping point and the voters in Auburn have spoken.

The children will not all become stupid, the sky will not fall... our educational world will not collapse just because Auburn suddenly has a hard time meeting new standards dictated by the state. There are so many alternative means to tackle this problem. Salaries for example, mentioned in this article, are only NOW being put on the table? That is telling. There are many other things that can be put on the table, and other revenue streams that the municipalities have never put on the table but should. Auburn may spend less on education than other cities, but the level of taxation for that spending is far and away out of control. The two should not be linked exclusive of all other options.

This is likely to be a healthy wake-up call and could very well prove to be a moment where new approaches begin to be considered. It's been long overdue.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Well said Mike. You also make

Well said Mike. You also make a good point that taxation has risen faster than wages in many communities.

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