The Auburn City Council and School Committee conducts a budget workshop remotely Monday.

AUBURN — City officials got an initial look at next year’s school budget figures, asking the School Committee to drop its proposed budget increases by more than $1 million.

During a joint workshop Monday, Mayor Jason Levesque said city officials have set a goal to limit the overall increase to property taxes to 2%.

With members of the City Council and School Committee meeting via videoconference, the COVID-19 pandemic was front and center in budget deliberations.

“These are unsettling times at best right now, and we’re going to have similar conversations with the city manager in regards to his operating budget,” Levesque said during the meeting. “Things could get better, but we have to temper that with a looming economic crisis on our hands and revenue streams for residents and our businesses might be down.”

During the workshop, school officials outlined next year’s $48 million budget proposal, which would represent an increase of $2.7 million from this year.

Superintendent Katy Grondin said of that proposed increase, $1.4 million comes from increases in regular salaries and benefits.

Due to that figure, Levesque said he and School Committee representative Brian Carrier have given a “nonbinding directive” for school officials to lower the proposed increases to $1.4 million.

If approved, the $1.4 million would mark a 38-cent increase to the local property tax rate, officials said.

The district is only expected to get an additional $360,000 in aid next year.

Grondin said the School Committee will hold another budget workshop Wednesday.

“It will be an important meeting to talk about where those reductions are going to come from,” she said.

Asked to share the “per-pupil” rate, meaning how much does the district spend per student, Grondin said Auburn is at roughly $10,030. The state average is $12,947.

City Manager Peter Crichton also presented the five-year Capital Improvement Plan on Monday, considered the larger outlook compared to his proposed spending plan for next year, which he will outline April 9.

The five-year plan is a more strategic focus, which he said will prioritize the protection of natural resources and bodies of water while focusing on the downtown.

Specifically, Crichton said downtown capital projects will continue to focus on Great Falls Plaza redevelopment, the New Auburn Village revitalization project, and downtown parking and walkability. He also said it may also include removing the fountain system at Festival Plaza.

For Public Safety, he said the five-year plan will likely include a public safety facility study and L-A 911 study, which relates to Auburn’s request to review its 911 funding formula with Lewiston.

Crichton said Monday that he doesn’t consider the current arrangement “relevant” to today’s needs. The current formula stipulates a 50/50 match, but Auburn officials argue it should be based on population. Crichton said the two cities might go with an independent study to look at the formula.

Also included is the “meat and potatoes” of any CIP: expenses like road reconstruction, police and Public Works vehicles, and equipment.

On the School Department side, Crichton said he is recommending $1 million in CIP spending.

School officials outlined the proposed projects Monday, including new security measures such as new exterior doors at elementary schools, as well as additional parking at Fairview Elementary School.

Levesque said he’d like to see CIP projects prioritized with local businesses, as a sort of “stimulus” during the pandemic.

In a separately-recorded video message Monday, Levesque reassured Auburn residents that city government is working for them.

“Although city facilities are closed to the public, your city government is fully operational,” he said. “The city is committed to helping our residents and businesses through this difficult time . . . We are all in this together.”

The city website now features a coronavirus resource hub, he said.

Crichton is expected to present his proposed fiscal 2020-21 budget during the April 6 council meeting.

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