Councilors demand $1 million in budget cuts

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 AUBURN — A split City Council demanded at least $1 million in cuts from the city side of the 2010-11 fiscal year budget Monday night.

Councilors voted 4-3 to demand the cuts at the end of a public hearing on the city and school budgets in Auburn Hall on Monday night. But the $1 million number was a compromise offered after several councilors demanded $2.5 million in cuts.

That was too much for City Manager Glenn Aho.

“It can’t be done like this,” Aho said. “It needs to be discussed. If you want to discuss this with department heads and figure out where we can cut, that’s different. But I urge you to vote against this as it stands.”

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Councilors will continue their budget discussions Thursday night in Auburn Hall.

The city still faces a 9.18 percent increase in property taxes in the 2010-11 budget, according to Aho’s draft budget. That amounts to an increase in property taxes of $1.68 per $1,000 of property value.  That’s a $336 tax bill increase for homes valued at $200,000.

The increase comes from $2.7 million in state revenue cuts. State revenue sharing, from state property taxes, are down 40 percent, Aho said.  State excise taxes are down 15 percent and road assistance is down 24 percent.

The city would need to find $3.5 million worth of budget cuts, an additional $3.5 million in other revenue or $190 million in new property values to keep the property tax rate from increasing.

School Superintendent Tom Morrill presented the school department’s proposed $34.2 million budget, which calls for a $30,000 spending decrease and level property taxes despite state aid cuts.

Roughly 50 people, including many Auburn teachers and parents, attended Monday’s meeting to defend the school department’s budget. But councilors said the school department budget was safe this year.

“The schools have done their work,” Councilor Dan Herrick said. “But now it’s time for the city to step up.”

Councilor Mike Farrell said many people in the audience at Monday’s meeting seemed to favor more spending, with one woman saying she was willing to have her taxes raised.

“But the people in this room, we’re all better off than most people in this town,” Farrell said. “If we have people saying they’d pay more, that’s great. But that closes out those other people that don’t have extra money. They can’t afford to pay more.”

Farrell and Herrick both called for $2.5 million in budget cuts, but not all councilors agreed. Councilor Eric Samson said he’d rather have councilors come up with the cuts.

“I’m willing to put in the work,” he said. “But to just come up with a number off the tops of our heads, that’s not the responsible thing to do.”

Councilors Gerry, Farrell, David Young and Ray Berube all voted to require $1 million in cuts to Aho’s draft budget. Councilors Samson and Robert Hayes voted against, saying they preferred councilor cuts. Councilor Herrick, who supported the steeper $2.5 million cut, also voted against it.

staylor@sunjournal.com

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