AUBURN — City ambulances and steady recycling emerged Saturday morning as two things the city needs to budget for.

“In this day and age, to cut out a recycling program when there is so much concern about the environment and about what is happening to our Earth is really backward,” said Nancy Greene of Granite Street. “I don’t think Auburn wants to be backward.”

City Manager Clinton Deschene hosted a special Saturday-morning session for people who wanted to talk about the city’s budget and a proposed tax increase of about $157 on a $150,000 home. Four city councilors and 15 residents joined Deschene in Auburn Hall for coffee, doughnuts and conversation.

It was the third informal budget discussion he’s hosted this week. Two others were held Wednesday, in the morning and evening.

“The City Council’s budget process and how we are working with all of you this year has totally changed,” Deschene said. “We are listening. We are not going to fix this on our own and we need help from everyone. As you sit here, I need you to share your ideas.”

The City Council is considering a 2014-15 spending plan that calls for $76.5 million in total spending between the city and the schools. That includes $38.6 million in school spending and $37.9 million for city departments.

That would push the tax rate up by about $1.05 per $1,000 of property value and the city would collect more than $41 million in property taxes. That would be the city’s highest property tax commitment since it implemented a full property revaluation in 2006.

Councilors have said they want to keep any tax increase below the inflation rate. That would require $1.7 million in cuts from the proposed municipal budget and $300,000 in cuts from the School Department’s budget.

“People say taxes are too high, and to cut,” Deschene said. “Well, cut what? Do what? How do you want it? What services do you want, and which ones don’t you want? Opinions may vary, but we have to come to some kind of consensus.”

The proposed budget already does away with the city’s twice-monthly curbside recycling program. Deschene said the city’s recycling trucks would have to be replaced if the city expects to offer collections. A more economical plan would be to hire a contractor to collect residential recycling on a weekly basis, but it would cost $225,000.

Deschene said his proposed budget does not include any recycling collections, but it could be put back if that’s what residents and city councilors wanted.

Greene said it’s what she wants.

“Cutting recycling sends a lousy message to the kids growing up in Auburn today, who will have to live with the damages that the rest of us and the generations before us have brought to the environment,” she said. “I urge that $225,000 be kept in the budget.”

Deschene said he also wanted to hear opinions on running a city ambulance service out of the Fire Department. Auburn fire already responds to most medical emergencies but cannot charge insurance companies for those trips because the city does not transport patients to hospitals.

Councilors are considering a plan to create a city ambulance service that would respond, transport patients and charge insurance companies — earning the city an estimated $362,000 in new revenue. It would replace United Ambulance in Auburn.

Several people said they supported it.

“Even if they don’t transport, (Auburn firefighters) are there in half the time,” said Dan Poissan of Gosnold Street. “How many lives would that save? And if we can earn some money to go back into the city, that sounds like a pretty good program.”

United Ambulance representatives have said the city’s numbers are too optimistic. Deschene said he stands by the Fire Department’s numbers because has not seen hard data from the ambulance company.

“What I’ve heard has been opinions from the director of United Ambulance,” Deschene said. “We’ve asked for months and for years for hard data and facts. Until facts and data are presented, opinions do nothing but confuse the issue.”

A City Council formal public hearing on the budget is scheduled for May 5. Councilors must adopt a budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year by the end of June.

Deschene said he is still taking comments and questions about the budget. People can email him at [email protected], leave a note on the city website’s “Say it” feature  or drop a written note in the drop box in the courtyard between Auburn Hall and the Mechanics Row Parking garage.

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.