AUBURN — City officials on Monday got a preliminary look at a slimmed-down budget for fiscal 2020-21, which arrives at a zero percent tax rate increase for next year.

City Manager Peter Crichton listed a number of recent adjustments to the $42.2 million municipal budget, which he said will result in a flat property tax rate of $23.75 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

Councilors, after pressing the School Committee to find ways to trim its budget earlier this month, had sent similar direction to city staff as municipalities continue to deal with an uncertain economic outlook due to COVID-19.

The School Committee has since asked school administrators to also arrive at a budget that will not increase property taxes. That board is scheduled to meet Wednesday.

On the city side, the most recent cuts from the original proposed budget include a fundraising position for the Edward Little High School building project and delaying hiring a deputy finance director position.

The school fundraising position was slated to cost $60,000, and was aimed at helping the school department reach its goal of raising between $3 million and $5 million toward the new high school.

The cuts also include roughly $200,000 from next year’s $9.5 million Capital Improvement Plan, which takes out $50,000 for a Lewiston-Auburn passenger rail study, a $75,000 portable stage for Norway Savings Bank Arena, and a $100,000 study of Auburn’s public safety building.

While Lewiston announced its budget cuts last week due to the pandemic, officials said they were still considering funding the city’s share of the passenger rail study.

In Lewiston, city administration is planning for big losses in revenue — about $1.6 million — due to COVID-19, which ultimately means keeping 12 vacant positions unfilled and pulling money from the city’s fund balance, considered a “rainy day” fund.

Mayor Jason Levesque said Auburn’s budget is more optimistic regarding revenues heading into the next fiscal year.

During the meeting Monday, he said he’s “hopeful that we’ll have a quicker recovery,” but that the city has been careful about its municipal revenue-sharing projections. As a buffer, he said, the proposed budget adds $400,000 into the city’s “emergency reserve” account by using money carried forward from this fiscal year.

“Hopefully we never have to touch it,” he said. “If the state shorts us on revenue-sharing, we can use it without tapping in to our fund balance.”

Now, officials wait to see what the School Committee decides this week. Like Lewiston, Auburn is slated to receive federal coronavirus relief funding provided to public schools.

City Councilor Brian Carrier, who serves as the council’s representative on the School Committee, said he plans to request the School Committee make the necessary budget cuts without cutting teaching positions.

“Teachers are the very last thing to go,” he said. “We look at every other category before teachers.”

CDBG funding

Also on Monday, officials discussed how to use additional Community Development Block Grant funding provided to the city through the federal coronavirus relief package.

According to Zachary Lenhert, community development manager, about one-third of the funds, which must be directed to low and moderate-income families, would go to the Auburn Senior Community Center.

The city is slated to receive about $335,000.

Lenhert said about $135,000 would be directed to the senior center kitchen, which has been the home base for Auburn’s “grab ‘n’ go” meal program during the pandemic. He said the money would go toward “refrigeration capacity” and a backup generator, and could also be used to assist Auburn’s PAL Center, which has also been assisting with the meals effort.

Another $100,000 is proposed to create grants for low-to-moderate-income “micro-enterprises,” or businesses with between one and five employees, that have been affected by the pandemic.

The remaining $100,000 would go toward grants for local public service organizations responding to the pandemic, and to administering the programs.

Lenhert said staff is drafting guidelines for the small business program.

“The goal is to keep the categories a little bit broad so as things come up we can respond,” he said.

Councilor Holly Lasagna urged staff to be thoughtful about how the funds will be used.

“It’s a lot of money and I know there’s pressure to get it out there quickly,” she said.

Lenhert said a more detailed plan will be coming forward. The City Council meets again Monday, May 4.


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