AUBURN — Former City Councilor Ron Potvin said his group of tax watchers had all but disbanded.

Potvin’s group, Small Property Owners of Auburn, grew up in the wake of a 2005 property tax revaluation.

“But this year we had some pretty conservative people on the council, and we liked the people we had on the School Committee,” Potvin said. “We kind of thought our work was done.”

But that was before elected officials began talking about budgets this year. When it looked like proposed tax bill increases for average homes would be about $200, residents got interested.

“I had people contacting me, calling me up and saying we had to do something,” Potvin said.

Potvin said his group is back and bigger than before and it’s now working with like-minded individuals from the United New Auburn group, the New Auburn Seniors, the Auburn Bowlers Association and others.

“It’s been the audacity of the School Committee that’s been our biggest recruiting tool,” Potvin said. School officials are proposing a 5.2 percent spending increase. Coupled with a plan to give iPads to kindergarten students next year, it’s too much, he said.

“What angered most people was the hard line the school officials took,” Potvin said. “The word ‘taxpayer’ never came up in discussions with the School Committee. It was all about what they were going to ask for and how they were going to get it.”

Representatives from all of the groups are attending council meetings, lobbying the city and encourage property owners to go to the polls when the school budget appears on the ballot, Potvin said.

Councilors are scheduled to meet Monday to officially put the school’s proposed budget on the May 10 ballot. Councilors haven’t approved that budget or decided how much they’ll give the schools. They’re scheduled to vote to adopt the school’s budget at the May 2 meeting.

Monday’s workshop budget discussion begins at 5:30 p.m., followed by a special 7 p.m. meeting to discuss the May 10 school budget referendum.

Auburn councilors are working on a draft municipal budget that calls for a $983,004 increase in spending combined with a $475,768 reduction in non-property tax revenues. The city-side of the proposed budget would need an additional $1.5 million from property taxes — a 7.2 percent increase.

School officials have called for a $35.9 million budget, a 5.2 percent increase over the current year. That would be paid with $19.2 million in state revenues — $165,000 less than the current budget — $926,000 more in property taxes and $1 million from the School Department’s fund balances.

Combined increases proposed by the city and the School Department would require $2.2 million more from property taxes. That amounts to an increase of $1.25 per $1,000 of value increase in property taxes, about $181 for a $145,000 home.

“We understand that some increases are necessary,” Potvin said. He’s proposing limiting spending increases for both the city and the School Department to a 2.1 percent cost-of-living rate.

That would still require $801,000 in new revenue compared to the current year, but Potvin said that should be paid entirely with fund balances. There should be no property tax rate increase this year.

“We understand the schools and the city have lost revenue,” Potvin said. “What we’re trying to do is avoid drastic cuts. Both cities need help recovering what they lost, and there should be a modest increase to maintain the operations. So this is what we came up with.”

Tom Giberti , of 35 Flanders St., is an avid bowler and said the tax talk has been the hottest topic on the lanes this spring. He figures his Auburn Bowlers group has about 200 members.

“We’re not a political group, or affiliate,” he said. “But people start talking, and it’s been a good opportunity to get a feel about what people are thinking.”

The goal is to get people out to vote.

“It’s one thing to sit here and complain about it, but if you don’t get there to stop it, it’s not going to get stopped,” Giberti said. “The people have to stop it. It doesn’t look like anybody else is going to.”

Potvin said he’s heard the same things said, over and over.

“There is a clear understanding right now that government cannot be allowed to grow,” Potvin said. “Voters are just not going to allow it. Increasing expenses is one thing, but when you are going to propose a 5 percent increase with new programs and new teachers, it’s too much.”

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