Tight budgets mean fewer plows, less city service

All of the budget busting councilors in the Twin Cities did this year may take effect on July 1, but residents won't notice a difference until the fall.

What to Expect in Auburn, fiscal year 2010-11

Approved city budget: $30,412,506 ($356,097 increase compared to 2009-10)

Approved school budget: $34,167,477  ($30,059 decrease compared to 2009-10)

Property tax rate: $19.38 per $1,000 of value ($1.07 increase compared to 2009-10; $135 on a $126,000 home)

Service changes:

  • Snowplowing: No overnight plowing on side streets. Smaller crews will concentrate on main, arterial and collector roads until morning.
  • Recycling: Curbisde collections go twice monthly beginning July 1, not weekly. Collections will be made on regular trash collection days but schedule is still being set.
  • City clerk hours: Clerk's office will open daily at 1 p.m. Tax and Finance Department staff will handle some clerk business during the morning; others will move online.
  • November polling places: Neighborhood polling places close. The city is still looking for a venue for a single polling place for the November 2010 gubernatorial election.
  • Streetlights: The city turned off 144 streetlights in the 2009-10 fiscal year. They will turn off 25 more in the 2010-11 fiscal year.
  • General services: Look for longer lines at Auburn Hall and overall less customer service. Reduced staff will mean slower building inspections and building permits, and reduced junkyard and other code enforcment issues.

What to expect in Lewiston, fiscal year 2010-11

Approved city budget: $43,000,194 ($782,427 decrease compared to 2009-10)

Approved school budget: $51,228,037 ($460,124 decrease compared to 2009-10)

Property tax rate: $25 per $1,000 of value (a 50-cent increase compared to 2009-10; $75 on a $150,000 home)

Service changes:

  • Snowplowing: The city has relied on a private contractor to plow some roads and sidewalks. That money was cut and the extra work will not be picked up by city employees. It will take longer for city crews to plow after each storm and roads will be snowier.
  • Library: It will open five fewer hours each week beginning July 1, and the book and magizine budget has been reduced significantly. The library's special events coordinator has been cut, meaning there will be fewer scheduled events at the Marsden Hartley Cultural Arts Center.
  • Landscaping: The materials budget for the city arborist has been reduced, meaning there will be less landscaping at city parks and fewer flowers and shrubs planted in city spaces.
  • National Night Out: The Parks Department budget has been cut for the National Night Out and the for the annual winter skating festival, although sponsors could step forward resurrect the events.

In Auburn, every voter in the city will notice the change next November at the polls. The city will replace five familiar neighborhood polling places with one.

“We're looking for locations right now that have space and parking,” City Manager Glenn Aho said. “If we can, we'll find a place on the bus routes.”

People in both cities will notice big changes during the first snowstorm of the year. Snow plowing, which costs $1.2 million per year in Lewiston and $603,000 in Auburn, was cut in both cities' budgets.

In Auburn, the city will operate a skeleton crew overnight during heavy storms. A fleet of six will concentrate on plowing main arterial and collector roads overnight, from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m., leaving rural roads and most neighborhood side streets until morning. That's a big cut, compared to the 20 plows Auburn has operated overnight for years.

“Once people get off the side roads, everything will be the same as ever,” Auburn Public Works Director Bob Belz said. “But early in the morning, they need to be careful. And if they are careful, they'll be OK.”

In Lewiston, the city has reduced staff size and cut the budget for private plowing services. That will mean snowier and icier streets for a longer time.

"We had four or five routes that were handled entirely by private contractors," Lewiston City Administrator Ed Barrett said. "We've reduced our budget for sand and salt, too. So, the bottom line is, people may not see black asphalt as soon after a major storm as they are used to."

It’s the reality for most communities in Maine this year. A down economy and cuts from the state made budgeting difficult for all municipalities. Most faced slim or no spending increases but drastically reduced revenues. To make their budgets balance, they had to choose cutting services or raising property taxes.

In Lewiston, councilors eliminated 22 positions, laying off 10 city employees, including the Director of Public Works, a fire battalion chief and a fire safety inspector.

Auburn councilors challenged their staff to cut $1 million from the proposed budget, then settled for a $400,000 reduction. Some of the service cuts — removing school-based police officers, mandating furlough days and closing offices early on Fridays — were too deep.

In the end, taxes will increase in both cites — but not enough to stave off service cuts.

"We're trying to do the best we can, but some people are not going to like it," Auburn's Aho said. For example, the city clerk's office will begin opening at 1 p.m. daily. The city's finance clerks will take over some of the clerk's responsibilities during the mornings. They'll register voters and issue garage sale permits in addition to registering cars and taking property tax payments.

"For a lot of people, the lines are the things they don't like," Aho said. "It doesn't matter how nice the city employee is, how much they smile or how polite they are, it's still poor customer service if they have to wait. But we're asking for their patience."

Barrett said he's worried that lines will be a problem in Lewiston. The third-floor planning staff has lost a receptionist, so other planning and code enforcement employees will have to take over some of her tasks, slowing them on their regular jobs.

"We've done what we can to limit those service impacts, but there may be a bit of that here," he said. "We worked hard to keep it from being a problem."

Both cities are concentrating on making their operations more efficient. Auburn is using a computerized route-drawing program to design the fastest snowplow routes possible. Both cities are counting on a new joint software program to make things run easier.

"In particular, our planning and code enforcement staff are already overburdened," Lewiston's Barrett said. "So we are looking to this software to make them more efficient and make it easier for them to keep up."

A citizen version of the application should debut this fall, letting residents take care of much of their city business, such as buying permits and paying taxes, without having to set foot in a city building.

staylor@sunjournal.com

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Comments

 's picture

SORRY

AND EVERYONE WOULD BE WALKING ......

 's picture

Thank

THANK GOD THAT LEWISTON DOES NOT GET THE SNOW IT DID BACK IN 60'S AND 70'S . EVERYONE WOULD BE OUT OF WORK BECAUSE OF NO SNOW PLOWING .. AND THEN EVERYONE WOULD WALKING .. WELL ALMOST EVERYONE ??

 's picture

MONEY

Snow plowing Lewiston should just go out and VOTE . Get the Fat cat's out and put the working class to work ..

GARY SAVARD's picture

The State balanced their

The State balanced their budget on the backs of municipalities, and now, being at the bottom of the hill, taxpayers will pay the price at the local level. The blame for this belongs to the taxers and spenders We The People have been sending to Augusta for years, like Baldacci, Mitchell, and Pingree and their cohorts. We need to change that scenario in november, and it starts with electing Paul Lepage governor and electing a majority legislature willing to actually work with him to cut wasteful spending on bloated programs and entitlements for people that don't want to pull their own weight.

DANNY FITZSIMMONS's picture

And for cutting services

And for cutting services which ARE LIFE THREATING instead of many others which could have been cut THE CITIES SHOULD AND WILL BE SUED FOR GROSS NEGLIGENCE and those involved in going through with this dangerous act should be tried and convicted of Negligent manslaughter. Who are these idiots think they are fooling come-on you cut these to try to extort higher taxes since we will have to drive in great danger and Some of us know exactly their little ploy but when it blows up in their face all I can say is you got it comming to you scumbums!! they could have completly wiped out city sweeping and required those on the welfare dol to earn thier keep as well as other areas, many of these so called disabled Bi-Polar welfare cases if they can move about they can carry a broom!!!

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Those two new cops they hired

Those two new cops they hired will spend all of their time investigating winter accidents.

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