Council grapples with budget cuts

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LEWISTON — With plenty of room left to trim in the budget, councilors made clear some things that won’t face financial cuts this year: city support for parochial school buses, books and tests, neighborhood polling places and hours the Lewiston Public Library is open.

But councilors left potential cuts of up to 20 city staff positions as a budget-saving option after Tuesday’s meeting.

“We’ve said a lot here, but I don’t know that we’ve really gotten anything accomplished,” Councilor Renee Bernier said. “The big question is still out there, and we’re going to have to make that tough decision. So my question is, where do we stand? I don’t think it’s fair leaving our employees and citizens on the hook.”

Councilor Stephen Morgan said he wanted to see what the city’s labor unions had to say about reducing their costs before making a decision about staffing cuts. City Administrator Ed Barrett said he had met with leaders from all of the city’s labor unions and expected to hear back from some as early as May 4, the council’s next scheduled meeting.

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Councilors are reviewing a draft 2010-11 budget that calls for $43.6 million in spending, a slight decrease compared to the current budget. Even with the cuts, the proposed budget would increase property taxes by about $150 on a $150,000 home.

Councilors worked their way through a list of proposed cuts designed to reduce the city’s budget at a workshop meeting Tuesday. Barrett presented a slate of cuts that would reduce a proposed tax rate increase to about 25 cents per $1,000 of property value. After two hours of discussion, councilors had agreed to a few of the cuts.

Councilor John Butler made a strong pitch for cutting nearly $140,000 in support for Trinity Catholic School, including $126,965 in costs to bus Lewiston students to the parochial school, $10,000 for books and $3,000 for testing.

Butler said the city does not provide similar funding to students attending other local religious schools. He also objected to paying for the private school with public money.

“In a year when we are considering cutting police officers, I feel we can’t afford this any longer,” Butler said.

But no other councilor shared that opinion and the money was put back in the budget.

A plan to put all of the city’s polling places into one location in November was unpopular all around. Barrett said the city was considering using Lewiston High School as the single polling place because of the readily available parking, but the idea wasn’t popular with school officials. Councilors agreed.

Councilor Mark Cayer recommended reducing hours at the library from about 57 per week to 48, a $27,000 savings. He also recommended reducing the circulation budget by $44,258.

“If we cut the hours this much and reduce the circulation budget, we might as well chain the doors shut,” Butler said. Most councilors sided with Butler.

Councilors couldn’t decide how they wanted to handle their budget for special events, including the annual July 4 Liberty Festival. Festival President Dick Martin said the Lewiston council’s decision might not matter. Auburn councilors are considering cutting their $10,000 contribution for fireworks and Martin said the group could not afford the event without that money.

“We might be able to raise the money for next year, but we don’t have time to ramp up a fundraising campaign for this year,” he said. “We just might not be able to do it.”

staylor@sunjournal.com

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