Council votes down budget draft

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AUBURN — City councilors said they don’t have enough faith in the city manager’s numbers to pass a budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year.

“The numbers are always changing,” Councilor Eric Samson said. “It doesn’t seem to matter what the questions are on Monday or Thursday night, we get different numbers the next time.”

Councilors voted down the budget on their first reading Monday. The package called for $31 million in spending for city services such as police, fire and city administration. Combined with reductions in state aid, it would mean a $1.1 million increase in property taxes for city services.

But councilors still need to set a budget by the end of June and they made no move toward reconsidering their decision Monday. City Manager Glenn Aho said he would present the same budget councilors voted down on Monday at their next meeting on June 6.

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“They didn’t give me any other direction,” Aho said. “If they’d told me to cut $300,000, that’s what I’d do. But I didn’t get any direction, so I’ll present the same budget.”

Monday’s discussion began with a review of savings from staff reductions. Aho said the proposed budget spends 0.06 percent more in the coming fiscal year for salaries, thanks to labor savings.

According to Aho, the city has eliminated 20 positions — ranging from administrative assistant jobs to the Community Services director — for a savings of $919,874.

The city has created 12 new positions for a total cost of $479,107. Since most were lower paid positions with smaller benefit packages, the city has saved $812,457 since 2009 because of the restructuring.

Aho said his numbers have not changed, but the councilor’s questions have.

“The first time I was asked about labor reductions,” Aho said. “So I gave the numbers about labor reductions and then someone asked to add benefits in — and then the savings were even greater.”

Councilor Dan Herrick said his own calculations disputed those savings, saying all of his numbers were taken from the city’s proposed budget.

“There is something wrong there, and I don’t know what,” Herrick said. “This changes everything.”

Councilor Belinda Gerry said she wanted to table the budget discussions until councilors had a better handle on the numbers.

But Councilor Mike Farrell said councilors had the ability to make any changes to the budget they wanted.

“What I’m seeing is people saying ‘This isn’t right, I feel it’s not right but I don’t want to say how I know,'” Farrell said. “If we know something is wrong and you know where, you have the papers, you have whatever, bring it forward. If there is something to substantiate what we are discussing, please, provide it for the rest of us.”

Voters go to the polls Tuesday to approve the School Department’s $34.7 million for the 2011-12 fiscal year, with $19.8 million coming from the state and $14.5 million from local Auburn property taxes.

That’s a net decrease in property taxes devoted to the schools — $181,484 less than the current budget. Combined with the proposed city budget, that works out to an increase of 54 cents per $1,000 of property value and about $77 more for an average, $143,465 home.

staylor@sunjournal.com

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