AUBURN, Maine — Councilors held their noses Monday night and accepted a school budget they admit has little chance of getting voter approval.
“I was against the school budget because I thought it was too high, and it passed,” Councilor David Young said. “This year, I think it’s extremely high, and I guess I’ll send it on again. But I don’t think this will pass.”
Councilors accepted the proposed budget that calls for $17 million in property taxes for the 2013-14 fiscal year, an 11 percent increase compared to the current fiscal year.
That proposal goes to the voters at a June 11 referendum in Auburn Hall. City Clerk Sue Clements-Dallaire said absentee ballots should be available Wednesday morning.
Other financial business before the City Council was set aside while councilors await the outcome of the June 11 vote. Councilors tabled votes on their city and school capital budgets as well as the city’s $36.9 million municipal budget.
If both budgets are approved as is, it would mean a $3 million spending increase — $2.4 million more spending for the schools and $600,000 more for the city — and a $2 million increase in overall property tax collections. It represents a $271 property tax bill increase on home valued at $150,000.
City spending, compared to the current fiscal year, would increase from $36.4 million to $37 million. At 1.68 percent, that’s just under the 1.7 percent goal councilors set for the budget.
Spending on education is up 6.9 percent in the proposed budget, compared to the current plan.
At a standing-room-only public hearing, 19 people told councilors they supported the budget as it was.
“I don’t want to pay more taxes, but I don’t think it should cost the schools,” said Jaime Thibodeau of Beech Hill Road. “The schools should not have to suffer because of that.”
Others said they felt the city needed to devote more attention and money to the schools.
“I picked Auburn because of the school system, and now I’m a little disappointed,” said Cynthia Jalbert of 11 Shepley St. “I don’t want to blame anyone, and I don’t have solutions. I just would like everyone to just figure it out. Because we were a great little city. And now, it just breaks my heart.”
Only two spoke against the school budget, but they said they represented many that could not attend Monday’s meeting. Ron Potvin of 82 Northern Ave. said the proposed school budget increase would hurt taxpayers.
“Things are just getting tougher and this is not the appropriate time to be coming forward with this percent of an increase,” Potvin said.
He promised that taxpayers would get out to vote and would defeat the school budget at the polls.
“Small property owners in Auburn are going to stand united,” Potvin said. “We are going to work to defeat this budget and we will continue to keep working until it’s down to 1.7 percent.”
Most councilors said they felt Potvin was right, and Councilor Joshua Shea urged everyone to vote it down, including parents who love the schools and want to support education.
“Before you go to the polls, ask yourselves what your money is buying,” Shea said. “I don’t know that this budget does anything but support the status quo, and I don’t think that it will do anything to make things better. I don’t think it makes education a priority in Auburn and I don’t think it starts a process that we need to really talk about making education a priority.”
His colleagues agreed.
“I think the tax increase proposed is a lot,” Councilor Mary LaFontaine said. “Someone said at a previous meeting that this tax increase was equal to a couple of meals at Longhorn Steakhouse. Well, a lot of people in Auburn can’t afford Longhorn Steakhouse now. They’ve already cut that out of their household budget.”