AUBURN – A tough financial year is to blame for city budget cuts, councilors said Monday.

Councilors voted to approve their fiscal year 2009-10 budget on first reading after a public hearing Monday. It calls for a $14,341 increase compared to the current budget.

The only public comments during the meeting came from members of the Auburn Firefighters Union and their supporters, decrying a plan to take the city’s rescue vehicle out of service and put its staff back to work on other fire vehicles.

Councilors said they were confident it wouldn’t make the city less safe, but it would save money.

“It’s not just the Fire Department that’s facing this,” Councilor Dan Herrick said. “It’s the whole city, and the whole government. Everybody in the city has to cut back. That’s what we’re doing.”

They approved the budget by a 5-2 vote, with Councilors Ron Potvin and Bob Mennealy dissenting.

According to the budget, the city will spend $30.05 million in fiscal year 2009-10. State revenue, including the city’s portion of sales taxes, is expected to decrease $203,728. Overall, that means that the city’s share of property taxes will increase $218,069.

The school budget will decrease $269,317, however. That’s thanks to a $260,013 increase in state revenue and $9,304 less spending.

The end result is a slight spending increase but an 11-cent property tax rate decrease, about $17.10 less in taxes for the average home. Between the city, the School Department and a $164,945 reduction in county taxes, property tax collections will decrease $235,000.

The budget comes back for a second public hearing and vote on May 18.

It was an $80,991 decrease in the fire department budget that concerned the Firefighters Union. Fire Chief Wayne Werts said removing the rescue vehicle from service would save the city about $115,000 compared to the current budget. That includes fuel costs for the truck and overtime reductions by putting the rescue staff to work in other areas.

“It’s not something we wanted to do, but it’s what we were directed to do,” Werts said.

City Manager Glenn Aho said he and Werts were negotiating with United Ambulance to have them cover the city’s rescue calls. Werts told councilors he won’t approve any contract unless he’s satisfied.

“I want to be convinced it’s going work and that’s it’s going to be the best for the city,” Werts said. “If it isn’t, we’ll be right back in front of you later on asking to change it.”

Firefighters said they’re also concerned about the city’s effort to reduce the minimum staffing size from 14 firefighters to 13. That’s part of labor negotiations between the city and the Fire Department. They also argued against not replacing Fire Prevention Officer Gary Simard, who retired this year.

“You can’t look at all that and say that we are not reducing our services,” Union President Mike Scott said. “It’s obvious that we are.”

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