LEWISTON – Overtime spending for police, fire and public works won’t be cut from this year’s budget but will get extra scrutiny from city councilors in the coming months.

Councilors agreed Tuesday to restore all but $8,000 for overtime wages in their proposed 2009 budget. They were poised to cut $99,000 for overtime in police patrol, firefighting, highways and snow removal.

“That’s meant a lot of raised eyebrows on my staff,” City Administrator Jim Bennett said.

Councilors wrapped up their review of Bennett’s proposed $44.49 million city budget two weeks ago and began collecting suggestions for budget cuts. Councilor Robert Reed put all suggested budget cuts on a single sheet, which was given to city staff and councilors Tuesday.

Councilors worked their way through that list Tuesday night, agreeing to $46,000 in budget savings. All told, with suggestions from councilors and staff, councilors are considering $1.2 million in possible cuts.

They’ll continue their review of the budget at 6 p.m. Thursday.

Several councilors had targeted overtime spending in city departments with their proposed cuts. For example, projected overtime for police patrol is $216,000 and projected overtime for firefighting is $470,000.

It’s not easy to cut, according to department heads. Overtime can be necessary for small departments that need staff on call every hour of the day. Overtime also pays to cover for employees on vacation or out sick.

Councilors agreed.

“We have to understand that it is what it is now,” Reed said. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t work to find a better way.”

Councilors directed staff to begin providing quarterly spending reports on budget line items, including overtime, printing and hiring for temporary summer employees.

“We need to keep watch on all of that and see what we can do later on,” Councilor Tom Peters said. “But for this budget, I don’t know what else we can do.”

City administration suggested another $1.08 million in general fund savings. That included transferring $150,000 in federal block grant money to the city’s road paving budget. That will mean less general fund spending for paving.

Bennett said he plans to discuss the future of the Androscoggin Bank Colisee at Thursday’s meeting as well. A possible sale could reduce city spending there by $332,600 he said. That amounts to a balloon loan payment to former owner Roger Theriault.

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