Auburn City Council

May 7, 2018

Budget discussions

What happened: The City Council began department-by-department budget discussions, beginning with the Police Department, Fire Department and Public Services, where department leaders outlined the proposed expenses for fiscal 2018-19, including spending on new equipment and vehicles. 

What it means: Mayor Jason Levesque urged the department heads to focus on the “return on investment” in equipment costs, especially in weighing whether to replace or repair items. In the Fire Department, that meant scrutiny on a combination ladder and pumper truck that the department spent $43,000 to repair this year. 

During the council workshop, Fire Chief Robert Chase said the department is beginning to collect data on its equipment, and will need time to determine whether repairs to vehicles is more cost effective than purchasing new ones. 

For Public Services, which has requested a number of vehicle replacements next year, Levesque again asked for a “cost-benefit analysis” for each, which includes two new plow trucks and a “skid steer.” 

Public Services is also proposing a new cold storage building with multiple garage bays, which many called overdue. However, Levesque questioned whether the city should invest $700,000 in the project when there has been discussion on developing plans for a new Public Safety/Public Services headquarters at a new location. Director Dan Goyette said the storage building would be modular and able to be relocated. 

Levesque asked Goyette how many Public Services employees live in Auburn. Out of 62 employees, Goyette estimated five live in the city. When asked why, Goyette said, “They can’t afford to live in Auburn,” pointing to the starting salaries of the jobs.

That’s something we need to take to heart,” Levesque said.

What’s next: The City Council will continue each week in May with department budget reviews. The first reading on next year’s budget is June 4. 

School budget concern

What happened: Leading up to a vote on the school budget next week, more concerns were raised with the school budget and the use of proficiency-based learning.

What it means: Scott Thistle, an Auburn resident and parent, spoke during public comment to ask councilors not to support items in the school budget that support proficiency-based learning. 

He said he’s part of a group of parents who are trying to get info from the school department, and have been forced to use Freedom of Access Act requests. He said the school department has spent thousands on consultants, software, and evaluating teachers but has not seen improvement in test scores, and that parents who can afford it are sending their children to private schools. 

“It’s all a bunch of hocus pocus,” he said, referring to proficiency-based learning. 

What’s next: Councilor Alfreda Fournier said a task force created to discuss proficiency-based learning has not yet met. Last week, the School Committee amended its proposed budget heading into a City Council vote May 14. A number of councilors and the mayor had previously pushed for a zero percent tax increase.

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