AUBURN — The City Council began trudging through the details of the fiscal 2017-18 budget Monday, first tackling the proposed Capital Improvement Plan.

The spending plan features funding for economic development projects and maintenance and capital purchases for public services, city buildings and other departments.

Monday marked the beginning of the council’s look at City Manager Peter Crichton’s proposed Capital Improvement Plan, which saw open debate on many aspects of the capital budget. 

Spending requests from city departments totaled nearly $14 million, but Crichton’s proposal whittled that figure to about $7.4 million that the city would bond. 

The biggest expenses come from the School Department’s $1.2 million plan, $790,000 for city projects, including the New Auburn village revitalization, and $3.4 million in various Public Services expenses including engineering, road resurfacing and new plow trucks. 

Other expenses include $315,000 for parking lot upgrades at the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport, a $214,000 chiller unit at Auburn Hall, and $535,000 for a radio replacement project for Lewiston/Auburn 9-1-1. 

While no decisions were made by the council on the Capital Improvement Plan, councilors had comments. 

Councilor James Pross asked Crichton to explain his decisions on which projects to fund next year. He said not funding the full requests and making the capital purchases in segments could be seen as “kicking the can down the road.” 

Crichton said he worked with a goal of bonding a total of about $9.5 million, which he met with the $7.4 million in new spending and nearly $2 million in carryover. 

“When you have limited resources, you can’t do it all at once,” he told the council. “I want to follow good financial planning.”

He said that includes hard choices that depend on the necessity of the project.

Other parts of the Capital Improvement Plan that were discussed at length included funding for economic development projects such as the New Auburn revitalization, and the Minot Avenue and South Goff Street extension, associated with the stalled Miracle Enterprise medical tourism project. 

Michael Chammings, director of economic and community development, said Monday that the $125,000 included in the Capital Improvement Plan budget is for engineering costs associated with some of the proposed improvements for the project. 

The budget also includes $40,000 to study the city’s expansive agricultural and resource protection zone for potential economic development benefits, on which the city is receiving proposals. At least one person spoke against the study during public comment Monday. 

Also discussed is a project to overhaul all city streetlights with LED lights. The entire project would cost $881,000, but only $81,000 would be funded under Crichton’s proposal. 

Councilor Andrew Titus said the city should fund the entire project now because it will save the city money quickly while restoring needed safety lighting to neighborhoods.  

“To me, it’s an automatic,” he said. “Our neighborhoods can’t wait that long.” 

Councilor Grady Burns said streetlights have been an “issue for years, and we’ve been unable to make progress.” 

A recent addition to the budget, a new chiller for Auburn Hall, brought criticism for the entire proposed budget by Councilor Leroy Walker. 

“We’re breaking the bank and we’re breaking it fast,” he said, referring to the overall budget. 

The City Council adopts the Capital Improvement Plan as a separate item to the entire municipal budget. Finance Director Jill Eastman said the first reading on the plan would likely be the first week in June. 

The council will continue to host budget workshops throughout May. On May 15, it is slated to take up the school budget. 

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