AUBURN — Auburn and Lewiston look to spend $39,000 each on buses, 911 communications and emergency operations, the airport and public arts next year.
Councilors from both cities met in Auburn Hall on Monday night to review budget requests from seven shared agencies — the L-A 911 Communications Center, the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport, the L/A Transit Committee, the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council, L/A Arts, the L-A emergency operations center and Great Falls TV.
Combined, the seven budgets amount to $3 million. But directors of the group said city officials have already reduced them because of budget difficulties. Cuts amount to $39,943 from Lewiston's share of the budget and $39,829 from Auburn's share.
Only the budget for the transit committee, operators of the Citylink bus system, entered without a cut proposed from the outset. But organizers presented three funding options, with two aimed at improving service and ridership. Chairman Phil Nadeau said the group favored a budget that tried to make the schedules more consistent, with more logical routes that would encourage more regular riders. It included a $46,362 budget increase for both Lewiston and Auburn.
A more expensive option would add Saturday bus service and extend routes later in the evening. That would cost each city an additional $70,000. A less expensive option, basically keeping service as it is, would cost an additional $21,000 per city.
Members of Lewiston's Visible Community made a pitch for an even more expensive option with even more Saturday route service.
But councilors questioned spending more on the service.
"The biggest complaint I hear around town is that the buses are always driving when they're empty," Auburn Councilor Dan Herrick said. "I understand that we need to have a bus service, but what we have now is broken. We need to find a way to fix it."
Herrick was also critical of the growth council's request, calling for $172,064 from each city — about $6,000 less than the group received in current budget. The group provides economic development services and small business loans to help bring new businesses and developers to the community.
Herrick said he wasn't sure the money was well spent.
"I think we might be better served by hiring a couple of assistants for Roland (Miller, Auburn's Economic Development Director)," Herrick said. "I feel like what you do duplicates services we're already providing."
But Lewiston City Administrator Ed Barrett came to the group's defense, saying Bangor, where he was previously city manager, didn't have a regional economic development group.
"If someone visited Brewer looking to bring a new business, the next thing they knew, they had five or six phone calls from five other communities," Barrett said. "It made us look like amateurs. It's better, much cleaner, to have one group serving the central role, working for both communities."
Both councils will review the budgets independently later this spring.
The Lewiston and Auburn councils are scheduled to continue their budget work Tuesday. Auburn councilors are scheduled to meet at 5:30 p.m. to discuss the Great Falls Performing Arts Center and the city's curbside recycling program and take public comments on the budget.
Lewiston councilors are scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. in Lewiston City Hall to discuss the city's five-year pavement plan, take public comment on road conditions and review the Public Works, Public Services and Utility department budgets.