Council looks at slicing donations to community groups.

AUBURN – Some $43,500 in money for social programs – such as the American Red Cross and SeniorsPlus – are on the chopping block this year, councilors said Monday.

“They all are worthy programs,” Councilor Joe DeFilipp said. “I just have a problem funding them with tax money.”

Councilors continued to study their fiscal year 2004 budget Monday with a review of social program spending, the city’s Tax Increment Financing districts and debt. Councilors also began looking at each city department’s budget.

Councilors are scheduled to continue reviewing departments at a special workshop meeting Wednesday. Councilors received copies of the proposed $59 million budget last week and now must either cut spending or increase property taxes 4.62 percent compared to this year.

“Somewhere in this budget, we have to come up with what we’re going to do,” Mayor Norm Guay said. “I’m asking each councilor to consider what we are going to do about social program spending.”

Last year, the city paid $43,250 to 14 local agencies, from SeniorsPlus to the YWCA and from Abused Women’s Advocacy Project to the Sexual Assault Crisis Center.

Councilor Kelly Matzen suggested funding only Androscoggin County Head Start, while Councilor Rich Livingston said he favored funding the programs for this fiscal year, but cutting them off in the fiscal year 2004-05 budget.

“That would give them a year to get ready,” Livingston said.

Councilors agreed some cuts were coming and that they didn’t want to schedule a meeting to hear presentations by the groups. Guay said councilors might get presentations anyway.

“It’s not one of the largest items in the budget, but it’s guaranteed to get your phones ringing,” Guay said. “You’ll hear from all of them.”

TIF changes?

Councilors also had a refresher lesson on the city’s eight active TIF districts, and City Manager Pat Finnigan opened the door to changing the city’s policy.

TIFs let the city set aside a percent of property tax revenues. That money can be either given back to the large tax-paying business to encourage them to come to Auburn or to pay for improvements.

A portion of TIF money is also set aside in a city economic development fund. That fund amounts to about $1.75 million in 2003, and Finnigan said $678,009 has been used to pay for the Mechanics Row parking garage construction and Great Falls Plaza parking lot improvements. That leaves about $1.07 million in that fund, she said.

TIFs also keep new business investments from increasing the city’s assessed valuation. Higher assessed property values mean less state aid to the schools, according to Maine law, so TIF districts also help pay for Auburn’s schools.

Finnigan said the city might be able to expand the ways that it uses the $1.07 million in economic development TIF money, to pay the city’s share of Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council fees and some city economic development staff.

Using it for other budget items could jeopardize some of the state’s aid to Auburn schools, however.

“We are looking for ways to expand that beyond just those economic development items,” Finnigan said. “But that would be a policy decision for councilors to make.”

Councilor Matzen said he was unwilling to sacrifice state aid to education for TIF revenue.

“What I advocate is finding another $1 million in economic development items in this budget,” Matzen said. “There has to be some in there.”

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