A view of Auburn on Aug. 14, 2019. Lewiston and Auburn officials were informed the cities will receive $22.8 million and $14.2 million in federal relief funds and are awaiting guidance and what funds can be used for. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal 2019 file photo

AUBURN — As it stands, the fiscal 2021-22 budget represents a slight increase to taxpayers, and officials are hoping economic activity in the city will largely offset it.

The budget in front of the City Council includes a recently-trimmed school budget of $48.34 million.

As originally proposed, the school budget would have represented a 1.3% local increase, but favorable bonding rates for the new Edward Little High School shaved the proposed local increase to 0.8%.

Finance Director Jill Eastman said the city estimated bond rates of more than 2%, but was able to secure a rate of 1.7%, which represented a savings of roughly $80,000.

With the proposed $42.6 million municipal budget, taxpayers will see a 19-cent increase to the property tax rate. That breaks down to 10 cents from the city, 7 cents from the school department, and 2 cents from the intergovernmental and county budgets.

The slight increase would bring Auburn’s tax rate to $23.94 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, meaning homes valued at $200,000 would see an increase of $38.

Mayor Jason Levesque said Thursday that the city is in “a great spot” with its budget, with projections for the city’s overall valuation to increase due to economic activity.

He said next year’s budget also meets the city’s goal of remaining below a tax rate of $24.

Despite millions in relief funding coming to both municipal and school departments, Levesque said the budgets were crafted without that funding included. The guidelines for the American Rescue Plan relief funds have still not been communicated to municipalities.

The initial allocation of funds for the city — some $7 million — is expected May 10. Auburn is slated to receive another $7 million next May.

Superintendent Connie Brown said Thursday that the School Committee will take up the latest iteration of the budget at its next meeting Wednesday.

While next year’s school budget represents an overall increase of $2.53 million over this year, a $2.39 million increase in revenue means an increase to taxpayers of $145,819.

School officials, meanwhile, are still working through a process to determine how to use the latest round of COVID-19 relief funding. Brown said there were a number of positions that have been unfilled and are not included in next year’s budget. But the School Committee could decide to fill some needed positions using relief funds.

She said if the committee approves the use of relief funds for positions, it would not add to next year’s budget approved by voters. The School Department will have three years to spend the relief funding, she said.

During a budget discussion Tuesday, Councilor Brian Carrier, who serves as the council’s representative to the School Committee, said officials need to keep an eye on the year-over-year growth of the school budget.

“It’s something to keep in the back of our mind,” he said. “How much growth do we have to have to sustain two to three million (more) every year for the School Department?”

The initial Capital Improvement Plan presented to Auburn officials proposes $13.4 million in bonding for capital expenses like municipal equipment, roads and other infrastructure spending.

Levesque said officials may want to consider more bonding this year due to favorable interest rates, and that councilors were particularly interested in investing in recreation facilities.

The proposed Capital Improvement Plan already includes funds for Union Street park, the municipal beach, Pettengill Park renovations, and a proposed building expansion at Norway Savings Bank Arena.

The schedule for adopting the municipal and school budgets in Auburn is:

• May 3: First reading and public hearing for the appropriation budget (requires four councilors vote in favor)

• May 3: First reading on fiscal 2022 bonding (Capital Improvement Plan requires five councilors vote in favor)

• May 17: Adoption of the fiscal 2022 school budget

• May 17: Second reading for the appropriation budget (requires four councilors vote in favor)

• May 17: Second reading and public hearing on fiscal 2022 bonding (Capital Improvement Plan requires five councilors vote in favor)

• June 8: School budget referendum

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