Gleason urges councilors to get rid of budget cuts

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AUBURN — City budget cuts that would pull police resource officers out of schools, reduce plowing and cut support for special events are too deep for Mayor Dick Gleason.

In an open letter to Auburn citizens sent to city councilors, news and radio stations Friday, Gleason urged City Councilors to pass the budget as first presented by City Manager Glenn Aho, reinstating a proposed $1.1 million worth of cuts.

Gleason also urged citizens to attend a special City Council meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday to demand the cuts be reinstated.

“Now is the time to keep from dropping our fine city to its knees,” Gleason wrote.

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Councilor Mike Farrell, one of the councilors urging cuts to the budget, called the mayor’s letter counter-productive.

“I’d rather he work with the council to find a way to pave a path to prosperity, rather than just throwing stones,” Farrell said. He also said he’d like Auburn citizens to attend Tuesday’s meeting.

“They know, you can’t get money out of a bank if it’s all gone, and that’s the situation many of our citizens are in,” Farrell said. “They’ve paid and paid and we can’t expect any more out of them.”

Councilors are reviewing a proposed draft budget calling for $30.9 million in spending in the next fiscal year, a 3 percent increase over the current budget. Councilors would be considering a 30 cent drop in the property tax rate, except for cuts in state aid.

Coupled with cuts of $2.7 million in state revenues coming to the city, it would mean a 9 percent increase in property taxes and a $336 property tax increase for homes valued at $200,000.

To keep the tax rate steady, the council needs to find either $3.5 million in new revenues or cut $3.5 million from the budget.

Earlier this month, councilors directed Aho to find $1 million in cuts.

Aho met the challenge Tuesday, unveiling a slate of cuts that trim $1.12 million from the budget. Cuts included less snow plowing, no lifeguard at the Lake Auburn outlet beach and a single polling place for voters. It also cuts the city’s share of support for the Fourth of July fireworks and closes city offices two hours early every Friday. That alone would save the city $224,576.

Aho’s cuts also do away with school resource officers, absorbing them back into the regular police patrol to cover sick time and overtime. It would save an estimated $25,000.

In his letter, Gleason cautioned that cut would lead to increased spending for juvenile arrests and court time. Cuts to overnight snow plowing would lead to more school cancellations.

“It turns out that no matter what he proposes, it will create what is known as a ‘domino effect,'” Gleason wrote. He also noted that owners of average valued homes would still pay $150 more a year in property taxes. Aho estimated taxes on average homes would increase as much as $336 without the cuts.

Farrell admitted that cuts are difficult to make, but councilors need to balance cuts and tax increases.

“It’s hard work, but it’s what we have to do,” Farrell said. “It’s easy to look away when things get tough and back off. But I’m not doing that. And I’d encourage anyone that has a better option to get in touch with us.”

Councilor Dan Herrick said he’s received about 40 e-mails concerned about cuts to spring cleanup and to the school resource officers.

“But mostly, they’re ecstatic about the cuts,” Herrick said. “They’re happy with this council that we made a statement and that we’re sticking by it. We wanted cuts, and we’re getting them.”

Herrick, who will be on a family vacation during Tuesday’s meeting, said the timing of the mayor’s letter was unfortunate.

“He knows he has councilors missing for this meeting, and so I think he’s being political,” Herrick said. “I wish he wouldn’t do that. I wish he would just stick to his role. He’s a cheerleader for the city, nothing more. I wish he’d remember that.”

Councilor Eric Samson said he agrees with Gleason.

“I’m glad he’s reaching out to engage the community,” Samson said. “I think we have an obligation of providing essential services and these cuts could be damaging to that.”

Councilor David Young said he’s not done considering the budget. He’s cautious about the cuts, but worries about increasing taxes.

“I might be able to afford paying higher taxes,” Young said. “But I know that everybody’s not in the same place I am. When they have to pay another $4 to $5 a week for heating oil, then a couple of dollars for gas and groceries and what not, it all adds up. It gets to the point that it’s a serious amount of money, and I don’t want to be the one adding to that.”

staylor@sunjournal.com

An open letter to the citizens of Auburn:

Nearly two years ago, Glenn Aho was hired to be the Chief Operating Officer of our city.  He came to us with many years of experience, a solid education and excellent references.
Working with staff, he spent months preparing the budget. He was pleased to announce that, if it were not for state revenue sharing shortfalls, the Auburn tax rate would have in fact, dropped again.
That, in itself, is a remarkable accomplishment.  Instead of congratulating and thanking him, the Auburn City Council voted to direct the city manager to cut one million dollars from his proposed budget.
It turns out that no matter what he proposes, it will create what is known as a “domino effect” which is a chain reaction that occurs when a small change causes a similar change nearby, which then will cause another similar change, and so on in linear sequence.
Here are some examples of the “domino effect” of proposed cuts:
1.       Drop the School Resource Officer program: What we save in dropping this will be offset by spending more in juvenile arrests, court time, and social costs
2.       Halt Capital Projects: We would realize short term financial benefits by saddling long term financial burdens upon future councils—and that burden will be felt as soon as next year.
3.       Reduce snow plowing overnight: By reducing our overnight plowing it could increase school cancellations, extend the school year, and have labor contract ramifications.
4.       Stop funding special events: We could save money by not funding the Balloon Festival, Liberty Festival, Dempsey Challenge, but we lose in terms of community spirit and community building. 
5.       Labor reduction: We save personnel costs but are losing hours of service to our citizens. For example, we will only have the Clerk’s office open in the afternoons. We unilaterally reduce non-union wages at the risk of having them unionize and only cost the City more money in the long run in terms of contract administration and legal costs.
 
Interestingly, this million dollar cut from the proposed budget would only save the average homeowner less than $150 for the year, but the long term effect could be much more expensive.
This Tuesday night will be our final city council meeting before final budget decisions.  I am asking Auburn citizens to demand that the original proposed budget be restored.  They can start by calling or emailing the city councilors. Their contact information is available at AuburnMaine.org
Second, concerned citizens should attend the meeting in Auburn Hall this Tuesday, April 20 at 7pm.

Now is the time to keep from dropping our fine city to its knees.

 
Dick Gleason, Mayor
City of Auburn, Maine
Mayor’s office: (207) 333-6601 x 1216
Business office: (207) 784-5868

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