AUBURN — Mayor Jason Levesque told city and school officials Monday he would like to see the school and city budgets require no increase in local property taxes for next year.

The workshop discussion came after the School Committee last week informally supported a lower school budget for 2019-20 that represents a 0% increase in taxes.

However, as the City Council begins a month of budget workshops, officials also have lofty goals of finding between $600,000 and $900,000 in cuts to the proposed municipal budget to bring it down to a 0% increase.

The budget as proposed is $45.6 million, about $1.2 million more than this year.

The focus on conservative spending for next year is based on the $125.8 million high school project facing voters June 11.

The proposed school budget of $45.3 million is about $1.6 million more than this year, but is offset by a $1.5 million increase in state subsidies.

During the workshop Monday, Levesque said he would like to see the School Department increase be reduced to $1.1 million, meaning the district would have to find about $500,000 in cuts.

He said capping it at $1.1 million could lower the tax rate while providing “wiggle room” in case numbers change at the state level.

Originally, the council had scheduled a special meeting to vote on a resolve to urge the School Committee to arrive at that number, but it was removed and changed to a workshop discussion only.

Some councilors Monday said the City Council should be concerned with its own budget for now.

“It seems a little bit cart before the horse,” Councilor Holly Lasagna said. “Maybe we need to get our budget to where we want it.”

School officials, including Superintendent Katy Grondin, were in the audience, but Levesque said he would not be taking public comment. At one point, when Grondin prepared to respond to questions, Levesque cut in, stating, “You can sit there, but we’re not taking public comment at this point.”

Most of the council’s discussion Monday was free-form, with councilors often jumping between discussing the proposed city budget, Capital Improvement Plan and school budget.

Levesque said officials last year had asked for the extra time to discuss the proposed budget prior to the official department review process and eventual votes. Some complained the process felt rushed.

“Last year the biggest criticism was not having enough time,” Levesque said earlier Monday. “I want the council to feel like they’ve had enough time to make good decisions.”

If both budgets, along with the county budget, were to pass as is, the city’s tax rate would increase 47 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. It would add $70.50 to a property tax bill for a home valued at $150,000 and $94 for a home valued at $200,000.

A series of workshops are scheduled for May, and the council is slated to vote on the school budget May 13.

Grondin said Monday only $320,000 of the proposed budget increase is for new positions, meaning that if the School Committee were asked to cut more, it would be cutting other positions.

Levesque said he and other councilors have a series of questions regarding the School Department’s budget process that will be given to Councilor Alfreda Fournier, the council’s representative on the School Committee.

“Questions we have the right to ask,” he said.

Other councilors commended the School Department for getting to the 0% increase to begin with, and promised that the City Council would attempt to do the same.

City Manager Peter Crichton said getting to that level “would still be extremely difficult.”

“We can get close,” Councilor Andrew Titus said. “I don’t think $650,000 (in cuts) is an impossible dream.”

At one point in the meeting, Levesque polled the council on a hypothetical scenario: If the city were to receive a $1.5 million subsidy, would it spend it or put it toward tax relief.

Some said they would use it to lower taxes, but Councilor Bob Hayes argued the state subsidy is calculated according to need.

“If we did get extra revenue, it would be recognizing that we have needs that need to be funded,” he said, adding he would use the funds to address the city’s roads.

In his proposed budget, Crichton included an additional $200,000 in revenue sharing based on Gov. Janet Mills’ proposed budget, which calls for raising the level of municipal revenue sharing. If fully funded, Auburn would receive $400,000 in additional revenue sharing.

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