School officers in as councilors settle budget cuts

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AUBURN — Councilors agreed to keep police in the city’s schools Monday as they whittled their budget cuts down from $1 million to $400,000.

City Manager Glenn Aho said he would have to work over the next few days to come back with a report on exactly which items would be cut under the proposed budget and which of the cuts proposed last month would be reinstated.

“I don’t want you to think that there won’t be pain associated with these cuts, now that we are cutting $400,000 and not $1 million,” Aho said. “These are still going to cause profound changes.”

But councilors made funding for the city’s  School Resource Officers a funding priority. Last week, the ruled out a plan to close Auburn Hall two hours early every Friday. That would have saved the city $255,000.

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“It’s going to be more difficult because you’ve called some other things out,” Aho said.

Councilors also agreed to remove $700,000 from the city’s ongoing fund balance to help buy down the tax rate.

The proposed budget would see property taxes increase about $172 for a $150,000 home.

Councilors have until the end of June to finish their budget. It has to be approved at two public hearings. and the first reading is scheduled for  May 17.

Councilors have been reviewing a proposed budget calling for $30.9 million in spending in the next fiscal year, a 3 percent increase over the current budget. 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 $288 property tax increase for homes valued at $171,000.

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

On Monday, councilors said the $1 million challenge got residents talking.

“One thing we’ve done with this process is engage our citizens,” Councilor Mike Farrell said. “I’ve been called a lot of things during process — and not all of them good — but I learned  a lot.”

Councilor Dan Herrick echoed Farrell.

“I think of all the things we’ve learned on this budget, we learned how important these people, these School Resource Officers are to people,” Herrick said. “If it did nothing else, that $1 million challenge got people talking.”

A group of eight residents spoke to councilors, urging them to keep the officers in the schools.

“I’m here to ask one thing: Can we keep these officers in our schools?” asked Cynthia Brown of 155 Nottingham Road. “I do worry about my children going to school, and I shouldn’t have to because this is Auburn. But I feel better with the officers.”

staylor@sunjournal.com

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