AUBURN — City Manager Peter Crichton, nearing his seventh week in the role, already has some changes in mind regarding his office.

On the final night of the City Council’s budget review meetings Monday, Crichton gave his budget presentation regarding the manager’s office, which includes funding a compensation study for all Auburn employees. 

Crichton said the study is needed to look at how Auburn stacks up against similar municipalities when it comes to paying its employees. Just last week, employees from Auburn Public Services picketed outside Auburn Hall, demanding better wages and benefits. 

The city has held department budget review sessions throughout May, and is set to vote on the fiscal 2017-18 budget on June 5. Heading into the sessions, Crichton’s proposed municipal budget for next year was $41.3 million. 

Under Crichton’s proposal for the city manager’s office, the city would eliminate $100,000 for an in-house city solicitor, instead adding $75,000 to the manager’s legal services budget, for a total of $125,000.

He said the city will continue to work with attorney Michael Malloy, who logs about 15 hours per week, instead of hiring a full-time attorney.  

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Those savings, he said, will help the city pay $40,000 for the compensation study, which he said could take a few months. 

Depending on the results, he said, the city will use that information during next year’s budget talks, possibly spreading out any wage increases over a number of years. 

Crichton also proposed using roughly $40,000 from the tax increment financing account toward a sports tourism study, which he called “a positive step for the city to take.” 

Councilors had concerns regarding some of the ideas, but were not outright opposed.

Councilor Andrew Titus said the city pays about $16 million in salaries and benefits, and he questioned the continued increases affecting the city and school budgets. He said the city has conducted a compensation study in the past, then didn’t use it. 

“People think we don’t pay enough, but look at what we have for fringe benefits,” he said later in the meeting. 

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During the workers’ protest last week, a union representative for the roughly 50 employees of the Teamsters Local Union No. 340 called the current wages a “travesty.”  

Walter Reynolds, a veteran plow operator in Auburn, said the city has continually promised wage increases, with no results. 

Titus also asked Crichton if the proposed legal services will be “enough to get the job done.” Malloy also sits in on union negotiations. 

“The last thing I want to do is not hire (a city solicitor), then be overbudget,” he said.  

Councilors Grady Burns and James Pross said the city may also need to hire regulatory law experts for the ongoing dam relicensing negotiations. 

“We need wiggle room in the budget if the city has to hire a specialist on top of Malloy,” Pross said. 

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Then Councilor Bob Stone mentioned the possible merger of the Twin Cities, and how legal services would work then.

“If it happens, it will be very interesting,” Crichton said. 

Fire overtime discussed at length 

As the city continued its department-by-department budget reviews last week, a few sticking points emerged, including how to resolve continually high overtime costs at the Fire Department.

Fire Chief Geoffrey Low presented his proposed budget, which includes more money for an EMS coordinator and three new staff members for the EMS division.

The proposal comes a year after former City Manager Howard Kroll laid off five city employees because of budget constraints, including then-Fire Chief Frank Roma. Low said the EMS coordinator would essentially become a second deputy chief position alongside Deputy Chief Tim Allen.

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At the same time of the new request, councilors discussed at length the Fire Department’s ongoing issue with overtime costs. In each of the past five years, the department has come in overbudget, most often by six-figure numbers. 

Low said the additional staff, at a cost of about $170,000, would relieve some $100,000 in overtime costs. This year, $200,000 was budgeted for Fire Department overtime, but roughly $450,000 was spent. 

Crichton agreed that the city should include additional funds for salaries rather than overtime. He also said that when the EMS program was rolled out in 2014, former City Manager Clint Deschene designed the program to grow by four employees once EMS revenues reached a certain level. 

The proposed municipal budget of $41.3 million is a $1.5 million increase from this year. Including the $41.7 million school budget, the fiscal 2017-18 budget sits at $83.09 million, a 3.18 percent increase. 

If approved by the council, the property tax rate will increase by $1.26 to $23.61 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. 

The proposed Fire Department budget for next year of $4.3 million is an increase of $283,000. 

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“I’m dismayed by the increase we’re seeing here,” Titus said last week, referring to the overall budget. 

Titus and Councilor Leroy Walker had harsh comments on the Fire Department’s overtime budget as well. 

“It continues to be overbudget, it has to come to a stop,” Walker said, adding that fire administration “should have been back here six months ago” when the budget looked off track. 

Crichton implored councilors to let him work with the Fire Department on a solution. 

“We’ll be working on how to improve the situation, with targeted goals,” he said. 

Most of the Fire Department’s increases come from contractual increases for salaries and benefits. 

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“Whatever you give me is what I’m going to work with,” Low said about the department’s budget. 

The council also reviewed the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport budget last week, which will increase from $106,000 to $167,000 because of maintenance that has been deferred in the past. 

According to airport Manager Rick Lanman’s budget report, the delayed maintenance has, in some cases, “compromised safety because of failing condition.” 

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Employees of Auburn Public Services picket for better wages and benefits outside Auburn Hall last week. On Monday, City Manager Peter Crichton proposed adding $40,000 to the 2017-18 budget for a compensation study. 


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