Group finds cuts in Auburn budget

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We applaud the work of a dozen citizens who have spent time analyzing spending by the city of Auburn and have come up with $1.5 million in possible cuts.

We’re impressed with the Citizens Budget Review Committee’s commitment to consolidating services with the city of Lewiston. And we also like the group’s determination to turn additional state funding into the property tax decrease it was intended to be.

The group, appointed by the City Council, has been meeting since January to examine each line of the city’s 2006 departmental budget requests. It has urged the city to reduce employee benefits, privatize more services and delay buying new computers, software and guns for the police department.

It has come up with a list of $741,000 worth of “savings” in municipal spending and another $800,000 for the school department, based upon preliminary budgets.

The group’s spokesman, Ron Potvin, said he was surprised by some of the proposed increases: “…It’s fascinating that, given all the pain and discontent of taxpayers right now, department for department, they saw fit to propose increases.”

Taxpayers, however, shouldn’t count their tax-break chickens before they hatch.

Municipal department heads always propose increases for their departments. Normally, these are whittled down by the city manager and then further whittled by the City Council.

Also, many of the proposed cuts in spending sound more like delays in spending. For instance, delaying the purchase of new police cruisers could result in a $56,000 “savings.”

Of course, those cruisers will have to be replaced someday. When they are, the trade-in value will be less, they will cost more to maintain in the meantime and, perhaps, be less reliable.

A true cut would be to a longer replacement cycle, holding the vehicles longer and putting more miles on them. That, however, would take an analysis of the factors mentioned above.

Two areas of the group’s report concern us the most. First, it found $483,000 in proposed overtime expense, amounting to 1 percent of the city’s total budget. Second, the group estimated that if the city curbed the “use and abuse” of sick time, it could save about $100,000.

Those numbers are sure to raise eyebrows.

Next, the city manager must go through the budget and through the group’s ideas to see what will work and what will not.

The Citizens Budget Review Committee, and the taxpayers of Auburn, will expect a detailed analysis of the group’s ideas.

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