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This week’s edition!

Only Steps Forward: Auburn’s city budget depends on citizens’ priorities

By Jonathan P. LaBonté

Mayor of Auburn

If you take the time to read this weekly report, odds are you aren’t just doing it out of boredom. Perhaps you are from Auburn and catching up on local issues. Or, most likely, you are an Auburn resident, business owner or taxpayer and you want to ensure you know more about what’s happening with your tax dollars.

While citizens elect a city council, and that council adopts a budget, your input as the investors paying those bills is essential for two reasons. Are the goals of the Auburn City Council and city manager ones that you support; if not, how do we align them? And if they are, how much should we ask of you in tax money to implement them?

The city charter, or local version of a constitution that sets up rules for how the government operates, lays out a fairly rigid process for hearing a proposed city budget and acting on it. There are set public hearings and a set number of votes, and all of that must happen on the timeline the charter lays out before the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

On top of that are state laws for the adoption of a school budget by the school committee, then city council and ultimately the voters.

All of those steps, however, outline the required minimum. The charter gives broad flexibility for how the city council and management solicit input on goals and how much in taxes is enough.

So this week, I’m writing to ask each of you how to best get your input. And I want to take your ideas to the city council and management to ensure that this year’s budget is yours as much as it is the city council’s.

Per past practice, the Auburn City Council meets on Monday evenings, and public hearings on financial matters occur in the same way, on a Monday night. Are evening meetings convenient? Or is there a better day of the week or time that would make it possible to appear in person?

In previous years, ward or neighborhood schools have hosted forums to discuss city or school issues. Would coming to a conversation in a neighbor’s home or at your local school be more inviting and more casual than coming to Auburn Hall downtown?

Rather than being divided up by neighborhood, or perhaps in addition to, is there interest in a city-wide meeting somewhere for residents to come together and talk about what they see as the biggest challenges or opportunities and how the city budget may help address them?

I can imagine that for many citizens, the luxury of getting out to a couple-hour-long meeting just isn’t possible. With the 21st century offering so many tools to electronically interact and get input, would a survey available to submit input and ask questions garner enough responses to add value to the process?

These are some of the ideas I’ve heard from residents recently. The five-month budget process provides enough time to get input on city direction and priorities to influence the city manager’s first draft budget, and then further input on what the right spending priorities are in the final budget.

If you have ideas on how we can best get your input, or perhaps you want to get right to the point and communicate what’s most important for this year’s budget, please contact me. I can be reached at jlabonte@auburnmaine.gov or 333-6601 ext. 1216.

I will provide your input to the full Auburn City Council and city manager during my regular meeting reports. Thank you in advance for being an active citizen!

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