AUBURN — Of all the city services on the budgetary chopping block, retaining police officers in the city's schools had the most support in Auburn Hall on Tuesday night.
"If you pull the resource officers out of Auburn's schools, how will you guarantee that my children will be safe? Because, you can't," Melissa Robbins of 106 Western Ave. told City Councilors.
Robbins was one of 30 people who attended the special meeting to comment on the city's proposed budget.
Some said they supported budget cuts while others said they understood that taxes would have to increase.
"I think we all have to tighten our belts this year," said Laurie Tannenbaum of Lake Street. "But I'm afraid that these cuts, and this effort to save money will cause the city actual harm."
Councilors are reviewing a proposed budget calling for $30.9 million in spending in the next fiscal year, a 3 percent increase over the current budget. Coupled with cuts of $2.7 million in state revenues coming to the city, it would mean a 9 percent increase in property taxes and a $288 property tax increase for homes valued at $171,000.
Councilors need to find either $3.5 million in new revenues or cut $3.5 million from the budget to keep taxes from rising at all. Councilors directed City Manager Glenn Aho to find at least $1 million in cuts.
Aho unveiled a slate of cuts last week that trim $1.12 million from the budget. Those included less snow plowing, no lifeguard at the Lake Auburn outlet beach and a single polling place for voters. It also cuts the city's share of support for the Fourth of July fireworks and closes city offices two hours early every Friday. That alone would save the city $224,576.
Aho's cuts also do away with school resource officers, absorbing them back into the regular police patrol to cover sick time and overtime. It would save an estimated $25,000.
In an open letter to Auburn citizens sent to city councilors, news and radio stations Friday, Mayor Dick Gleason urged councilors to pass the budget as first presented, reinstating the proposed cuts. He also urged Auburn residents to attend Tuesday's meeting.
Many did, and several spoke. Most favored keeping the resource officers in the schools.
"I wish that we had those officers in the schools when I was there, or when my children were there," said Larry Pelletier of 129 Second St. "I have two sons that are incarcerated now. If those officers were there, I think things might have turned out differently."
But Kathy Shaw of 1200 Sopers Mill Road argued for the cuts, and applauded councilors for considering the $1 million in cuts.
"I know plenty of people in this city that have already tightened their belts," she said. "We already work long hours, we can't afford insurance. Our budget does not have room in it. I have to pay my property taxes monthly now, and some months its a concern. Will I be able to make it? I don't know."
Aho said councilors will continue budget discussions at Monday's meeting, and he asked for them to rate the individual line item in his $1.1 million proposed cuts.
"That would give me some feedback, an idea of where we are going and what we need to do next," Aho said. But councilors wouldn't agree to that.
"I think maybe we should flip that around," Mayor Gleason said. "I think maybe you should give us feedback, tell us how each of those items will affect city operations."