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Council approves first balanced budget in four years

Fire department would not change much under charter, chief says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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The Auburn City Council approved the city’s first balanced general fund budget in four years and discussed how a charter status might affect the Auburn Fire Department Monday. Andy Heath, administrative services director for the city, presented the council with the budget for fiscal year 2011/2012 Monday night. Heath said a 5 percent increase in sales tax is expected in the new fiscal year, and this has to do with an increase in gas prices and opening of McCaulou’s, the new department store expected to debut next month at the old Gottschalks location. Heath said there is also expected to be a 3 percent decrease in the assessed valuation of properties in the city. Heath mentioned several of the capital projects planned for the fiscal year’s $3.6 million capital project budget including finishing the wastewater treatment plant upgrades, fuel island repairs at the airport, the Mikkelsen bus shelter, the Mercy Housing project, the East Hangar project and more. The budget also keeps about 34 percent of funds in reserves, which stays above the City Council required 30 percent reserves, Heath said. Several issues could impact the city’s budget after the passing of the state’s budget including the dismantling of redevelopment agencies and the potential loss of various state grants and payments, Heath said. City Manager Bob Richardson said city staff was looking at some contingency plans if these impacts should take place. Councilman Keith Nesbitt said he appreciated the citywide effort to control costs in the budget. “Coming through with a balanced budget is a big headline at this point in time,” Nesbitt said. Councilman Mike Holmes said he thought the council would be eager to hear quarterly updates about the budget. Auburn Fire Chief Mark D’Ambrogi made a presentation about the various operations and tasks of the fire department as a part of the council’s continuing effort to review each of the city’s departments. D’Ambrogi gave a breakdown of all of the department’s functions, including operations, administration, training and fire prevention. He also mentioned how the department reorganized itself in 2009, reducing full-time staff, and how the department works with other fire and city agencies for assistance in various tasks. D’Ambrogi said if the city were to take on a charter status, there would only be a couple of things that might impact the department. Like the city’s planning commission, the fire department under a charter could have a fire commission that would then report to the City Council. D’Ambrogi said charter status might also impact the way the department goes about requesting funding for and building facilities. The requirements for training and maintenance and the day-to-day operations of the department wouldn’t really change under a charter status, D’Ambrogi said. “The fire agency is so mandated by federal and state mandates, it’s really hard to change that,” he said. City enforcement programs like the weed abatement program would remain as is because they follow health and safety codes, D’Ambrogi said. It could be difficult to implement a performance-based budget for the department, because of all the unknowns, but more routine tasks such as training could be monitored in a performance-based manner, D’Ambrogi said. “We are halfway there on a lot of our non-emergency-response-type situations,” he said. Councilman Mike Holmes asked D’Ambrogi what he sees as being the biggest expenditures for the department over the next couple of years. D’Ambrogi said apparatus would be the biggest expense, because equipment eventually wears out. Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com