Critics question budget magic

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AUBURN – Like kids at a magic show, city budget watchers were impressed by the slim 1.7 percent budget increase Pat Finnigan presented Monday night.

But they were more interested in figuring out how she did it.

“The devil will be in the details,” said Jonathan Labonte, a member of the Auburn Citizens Budget Review Committee. He expected his group to begin working on line-by-line budgets as soon as they’re available.

“We want to see what shifts were made where,” Labonte said.

Finnigan said more detailed budgets would be available Thursday. Councilors and citizens had to be content with a simple departmental summary Monday, a single sheet that presented a rough outline of the budget.

That outline showed a $524,446 increase in city spending compared to the current budget, an increase of 1.7 percent. That was down from departmental requests of $1.6 million more in spending over the current year.

Budget committee members presented their own cuts earlier this month, suggesting $1.5 million in cuts.

Finnigan said she used some of budget committee’s suggestions, but wouldn’t be more specific. Her budget calls for no cuts to city services. Instead, it spreads small cuts throughout the city.

In all, Finnigan said Auburn’s budget is being pushed up by $820,000 in hard costs the city cannot avoid. Those include $438,000 in wages and benefits, $135,000 in higher fuel costs and $119,700 in capital investments.

“Without those cost increases, our budget would actually go down,” she said.

Finnigan stopped short of discussing property taxes. She does not know how much money Auburn will receive from the state in the form of cost sharing and aid to education. She declined to discuss property taxes until she knows more.

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