AUBURN – Two hours of taxpayer testimony Monday night didn’t appear to sway city councilors intent on passing a budget with no property tax rate increase.

More than 150 people people came to the Fairview School auditorium to hear a presentation on proposed $58.8 million fiscal year 2004-05 budget for Auburn city and school departments. Then, 27 people – many Auburn high school and middle school students – urged councilors to spend some more on Auburn schools.

Councilors took a short break about 9:30 p.m. and reconvened after more than half of the audience left. Councilors said they were impressed by the speakers, but their opinions weren’t changed.

“There’s not a person up here who wouldn’t like to give the schools every nickel they ask for,” Councilor Richard Livingston said. “That goes for any of the other services we provide. We would love to give the police, the fire departments, every nickel they ask for. But we also have to keep a lid on taxes.”

At the end, councilors tabled a vote on the budget, scheduling a special hearing for it on June 14. A tentative second hearing on the budget would be set for June 21.

Councilors are facing a budget that keeps the property tax rate at $29.38, despite requests from city and school departments for spending increases. The city wanted $447,008 more to spend, compared to the current budget. The school department wanted $1.4 million more.

Instead, councilors favored no tax rate hike. That would mean no budget increase for the schools and a $60,544 cut for municipal departments.

School officials have already started trimming their staff. The School Committee voted last week to cut two English teachers and a social studies teacher from Edward Little High School and a part-time elementary school foreign language teacher.

City Manager Pat Finnigan said her cuts include taking two of three police officers currently stationed in Auburn schools and putting them back on patrol. The rest of her cuts would be announced later on, she said.

Most speakers argued against cutting those officers and against cuts to Advanced Placement classes.

“Colleges expect a certain number of AP credits for admission,” said Amber Churchill, an Edward Little student. “My question is, will they be there when I need them?”

Others pointed out that good schools were a strong economic development tool for the city.

“If you keep cutting and taking and slashing and burning, people will not want to live here any more,” said Marcy Ellingwood, of 142 7th St.

Thirty Auburn firefighters stood in the back of the room holding signs asking for support. Union President Mike Scott said firefighters fear city budget cuts could affect firefighters’ jobs.

John Cleveland, 183 Davis Ave. chided both councilors and school officials for their adversarial take on the budget.

“Your relationship does not seem to be based on trust and understanding, and that is undeniable unacceptable,” Cleveland said. “We elected all of you, and you need to work together.”

Cleveland also criticized the city for not releasing details of its cuts.

“We know very little about what the municipal side is going to do, other than the two police officers in the schools,” Cleveland said. “You wouldn’t tell public works to cut a certain amount, if there was a chance they wouldn’t have enough money to plow the roads next winter.”

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