AUBURN — After initially voting down next year’s budget in the first reading, the City Council revisited its decision and flipped the vote, backing the $90.1 million budget for 2019-20.

In an unusual, late-night move, councilors voted to revisit their previous decision to amend the budget, which initially passed when Councilor Andy Titus made a motion to cut the city budget to represent a 0 percent tax increase.

After the vote led to the council voting down the budget, councilors decided to rethink Titus’s amendment. Voting again on his motion, it failed 5-2, effectively restoring the city budget back to City Manager Peter Crichton’s proposed $42.3 million budget, an increase of almost 1.3% percent from this year.

The council then voted 5-2 to approve the entire budget.

The City Council spent most of Monday’s meeting making amendments to next year’s Capital Improvement Plan, but then took up next year’s $90.1 million budget, which includes city, county and school spending.

Titus’s initial motion to force Crichton to cut the budget initially passed 4-3, but councilors seemed confused when voting on the budget following the amendment.

Titus argued the city should arrive at a 0 percent tax increase, much like the School Department did, especially as the school referendum nears next week.

When it came time for the council to vote on the amended budget, it failed 4-3, with councilors Titus, Alfreda Fournier and Belinda Gerry voting in the minority.

After council reports at the end of the meeting, the council then voted to revisit Titus’s amendment, at which time it was rejected.

Prior to the last-minute decision, there was considerable debate.

Mayor Jason Levesque, responding to Titus’s request, said he had also advocated for 0 percent increase to the tax rate.

“At this stage, in practical sense, I don’t think it’s possible,” Levesque said. “We can’t go backwards and do more harm than good.”

Titus said he believes it is possible to have a 0 percent increase this year and “not cause devastation,” and that it was an “important message to send with the school referendum coming up.”

Crichton argued this year’s budget process has been one of the most thorough he has seen, and said he was upset with the council’s initial decision to approve Titus’s request.

“I don’t support it. I think it’s the wrong thing to do,” Crichton said. “If you want to see the city move forward and accomplish the things I think we can do, this is the wrong message and the wrong time.”

The council is set to hold a second and final reading in two weeks.

Much of Monday’s meeting focused on the Capital Improvement Plan, which was trimmed to $9.2 million after councilor amendments cut roughly $680,000 and then added $380,000.

Among the amendments, mostly coming from Councilor Leroy Walker, $180,000 for a stage for Norway Savings Bank Arena was trimmed to $50,000; $100,000 was cut from the Great Falls redevelopment plan; $10,000 was removed from the Chestnut Street field project; and $440,000 in spending on two public services plow trucks was removed.

The council also debated at length the merits of restructuring city staff into a department consisting of Recreation, the Ingersoll Turf Facility and Norway Savings Bank Arena.

Councilors have been concerned the new department could mask the financial situations of the two facilities, but those in favor, including city officials, have said the department is poised to bring a new focus on sports tourism and entertainment.


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