Auburn City Council approves $95.4 million budget in first reading

Andrew Rice, Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine
·3 min read

May 4—AUBURN — The City Council gave initial approval Monday night for next year's $95.4 million spending plan, with final votes on the school and municipal budgets scheduled for May 17.

With the proposed $42.6 million municipal budget, taxpayers would 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 property tax rate to $23.94 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, meaning a house valued at $200,000 would see an increase of $38 for the year.

The council voted 6-1 in a first reading Monday, with Councilor Belinda Gerry opposed. Passage requires an affirmative vote of four councilors at the second and final reading.

Despite millions in relief funding coming to both municipal and school departments, the budgets were crafted without that funding included. The guidelines for the American Rescue Plan relief funds have yet to be communicated to municipalities.

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

Mayor Jason Levesque applauded the work of city staff members Monday regarding next year's budget, saying Auburn is "doing outstanding" compared to "other municipalities around our region."

The council also approved $10.35 million in bonding for next year's capital improvement plan, voting to add $1.3 million in funding toward playground equipment at several city parks.

The original $9.05 million plan includes a variety of items, including city plow truck purchases and infrastructure costs for road reconstruction, reclamation and resurfacing. It also includes $1.25 million for school projects.

The additional funding is to go toward playground and recreation improvements at the Chestnut Street park, the municipal beach and Pettengill Park. Officials said they might also look into a possible skate park at Moulton Park.

The bonding passed 6-1 in its first first reading, with Gerry opposed.

The remaining budget adoption schedule is:

— 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.

City officials Monday continued their push to pursue zoning amendments that could encourage housing growth, voting unanimously to approve standalone secondary dwellings in most residential zones.

Officials have argued the move would add to the diversification of housing options in the city, possibly freeing up homes for first-time buyers in a market low on inventory.

Under current rules, even if a homeowner has the required land area and meets the density requirements, a second unit must be attached or contained within a single structure. The change would allow a second dwelling to be detached from the primary home.

Now, the council will pursue making similar changes elsewhere. Councilors voted Monday to send formal requests to the Planning Board to consider amending the zoning ordinance to allow two-family dwellings in the Low-Density Country Residential zone, which was not initially included in the previous discussions, and to allow "an additional one-family detached dwelling in all residential zoning districts where a single-family dwelling currently exists on the lot."

Like previous issues, the Planning Board will host a public hearing and discussion before making a recommendation to the City Council.

The council also voted 6-1 on Monday in a first reading to change the lot depth and density requirements in the multifamily suburban and multifamily urban districts.

The policy decisions are all tied to a city effort to encourage housing growth that has also extended to Auburn's effort to update its comprehensive plan. Under current proposals, the updates would significantly change current zoning, allowing for increased density and smaller setback requirements in most zones.