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New mayor has tough times ahead

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New Auburn Mayor Mike Holmes has quite a year ahead of him. A crippling economic recession. A crucial decision on the city’s wastewater treatment system. A trickle of funds into the city’s general fund. But in his mayoral address to the public at Monday night’s Auburn City Council meeting, Holmes appeared ready to take on those challenges. Holmes rightfully laid out his plans and the city’s predicament, something he should continue to do during his year at the mayoral post. The public deserves openness in government, including possible cuts and taxes that may be coming down the pike to balance the city budget. During this economic crisis, residents need to be kept informed of what elected officials are doing. Holmes’ call for an economic summit to study issues and bring the best minds together is a good idea. But it will certainly take more than wishful thinking to meet the very difficult times ahead. Tourism should be a focus of the economic summit. A plan to bring traffic off Interstate 80 and into Old Town and Downtown should be a focus. Annexing land near the American River to help facilitate the growth of the rafting industry could be another boon for the city. The summit should make it its mission to develop a plan for enticing new business to town. The Auburn City Council has been supportive of bringing a Trader Joe’s to town and it has succeeded. Trader Joe’s is coming — but to a parcel outside the city limits. A comprehensive plan for attracting and helping businesses locate to Auburn, including the Auburn Airport Industrial Area, should be developed. Along with the economic summit, residents especially need a clearer picture on how sewage treatment will be handled in the future. Saying the issue is still being studied doesn’t help residents plan their budgets. If a resident is paying $50 a month and their bill skyrockets to $100 as it has in Colfax or $120 as Public Works Director Jack Warren has suggested it might, that is not going to work. Warren is leaning toward refurbishing the local plant and Mayor Holmes suggests that might be done with money currently available. No increase in fees is better than doubling them for a population that’s already struggling. Holmes’ mandate to preserve public safety makes sense, but his inflexibility in looking at how services may be consolidated needs re-examination. Local school districts and fire departments have consolidated, resulting in cost-savings and increased efficiency. In his address Monday, Holmes also touched upon the city’s ambitious Streetscape project which aims to revamp Auburn from Old Town to Downtown. Some have questioned how the city can afford a “beautification” project in the midst of such economic strife. More can be done to educate the public on how this project is an investment in Auburn’s future and has funding sources that don’t dip into the general fund. While the city faces difficult economic times, being proactive and coming up with strategies to weather the storm are the best way to lead Auburn to a brighter future.