Labor issues push legal services over budget

AUBURN – Labor negotiations have driven the city’s legal costs more than $20,000 over budget.

Labor negotiations with the city’s police and fire unions have cost $41,588 in legal fees from July 1, 2003, through March 15. The city had another $24,811 in legal costs during that time to review cable franchise agreements, economic development and regular municipal matters.

That pushed the city’s legal costs to $66,396, with only $45,000 budgeted. The total does not include charges from a Portland law firm for a report on Mayor Normand Guay’s OUI arrest last year, said City Administrator Pat Finnigan. It also does not include the city’s cost for defending against a Sun Journal lawsuit to force the release of that report.

Those should be in the next round of financial reports, Finnigan said. She added that she has questions about the bill from the Portland law firm of McCloskey, Mina and Cunniff. “I’m not comfortable releasing it until I’ve settled those, but it will be substantial,” she said.

The budgeted amount would have been more than adequate if the city had not had so many labor issues to contend with over the past nine months, Finnigan said.

The legal services budget usually pays for the City Council’s legal questions about ordinances and reviews of financial and economic development actions. This year’s budget also included discussions about updating the City Charter and a review of the Androscoggin Valley Council of Government’s property tax status.

“We do not proactively sue anybody, but we have to respond if someone sues us,” Finnigan said. “And that’s a cost the taxpayer has to bear.”

Finnigan did not know whether the legal services budget would go down in the coming fiscal year.

“I think we’ll have to see how the rest of this fiscal year goes,” Finnigan said. “We try our very hardest to estimate those costs as closely as possible. Despite our best efforts, it doesn’t always work.”

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