Fireworks survive Auburn’s budget ax

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AUBURN — Fourth of July fireworks are preserved in the latest budget draft, but the city has only one polling place for voters next fall, City Manager Glenn Aho said Wednesday.

Aho said he planned to work on his last draft of the budget until Monday, when he’s scheduled to present it to councilors for final approval. So far, he had found $425,000 in reductions without cutting money for Liberty Festival fireworks or cutting city staff support for it and other city-supported events.

“Despite all of our budgetary hardships, we still need to have the sense of community that those events create,” Aho said. “It’s very important to have things like that for a vibrant, healthy city.”

Councilors began working on their proposed 2010-11 budget in April, understanding that there would likely be deep cuts and higher property taxes. Aho’s first draft budget called for $30.9 million in spending in the next fiscal year, a 3 percent increase over the current budget.

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Coupled with cuts of $2.7 million in state revenues to the city, it would have meant a 9 percent increase in property taxes and a $300 property tax increase for homes valued at $175,000.

 Councilors directed Aho to find at least $1 million in cuts. He responded with $1.12 million in budget reductions that meant less snow plowing, closing city offices two hours early every Friday, taking police officers out of the schools and having a single polling place for voters.

 After reviewing those proposed cuts, councilors changed their bottom line to $400,000 and directed Aho to remove $700,000 from the city’s ongoing fund balance to help buy down the tax rate. The latest draft budget amounts to a $1.1 million reduction from the budget proposed in April. The new draft would still see property taxes increase by about $201 on a $175,000 home.

Councilors also directed Aho to take several items off the chopping block. Those cuts would have ended the school resource officer program and reduced City Hall hours.

Aho said Wednesday he had been working since that meeting to flesh out the rest of the budget based on the city council’s requirements.

 “Conditions have changed a lot since that first draft,” Aho said. “Not only have the council’s directions changed, but other things have popped up — different projects and odds and ends that we didn’t know about in March when we were writing the budget.”

Aho said his proposed budget also continues a 12-person staff reduction begun last year. Since 2009, Aho said he has eliminated 10 positions and has two cuts to make. The city will save $157,000 because of those reductions, Aho said.

“We’ve done a very slow, deliberate staff reduction on purpose,” Aho said. “There is no good way to do a labor reduction, but we’ve opted for the slow phasing-in of those cuts.”

staylor@sunjournal.com

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