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Our View: Out with the old positions we don’t need

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It’s a new year and there’s no better time to apply the familiar saying, “Out with the old and in with the new” when it comes to some of the elected positions in Auburn. Voters and city leaders should specifically focus on the roles the city treasurer and the city clerk play in day-to-day operations and evaluate whether they are crucial. In Auburn, city treasurer George Williams is paid $3,240 a year and receives $12,048 in annual medical benefits. Williams said he works about 10 hours a week for the city and mostly makes sure its investments and spending are done properly. The city council recently voted to reduce the city clerk’s pay from $270 a month to $200 a month. They also eliminated the position’s health benefits. The cuts will take effect in 2012. For now, Joe Labrie fills the post and collects $3,240 a year plus a $5,219 medical-in-lieu payment as well as $2,786 in health benefits. Labrie’s main duty is to attend city council meetings to tape record the proceeding. When Williams’ and Labrie’s current salaries and health benefits are combined the total comes to $26,533 that the city pays to both men. The bulk of that figure is the health benefits, which are the true cost to the city and need to be eliminated. Cutting health benefits for the city clerk position is a good first step. Now it’s time to follow-up with the city treasurer post. Is the city getting the best bang for its buck for two people who duplicate work already tasked to full-time staff? Andy Heath, Auburn’s administrative services director, and Amy Lind, assistant city clerk, overwhelming accomplish the city treasurer’s and city clerk’s tasks and are more than competent to handle the job. The city no longer needs the elected positions and should move to eliminate them. Voters should also get behind the effort and petition council members and the city to put a measure on the next ballot that will ask residents to remove the positions. It wouldn’t be the first time such a vote would be put out to citizens. The city has asked residents twice before in the last two decades if they’d like to remove the positions and both times voters declined. But times are different now and scrutiny of public spending is much higher. The public is more aware and educated about where its tax dollars are going and would most likely pay more attention to a move to cut unnecessary spending in the city. It doesn’t make sense for the city to pay health benefits to both a full-time, well-qualified employee and a less-than-part-time elected official. Especially when both are working on the same task. One argument for maintaining the city treasurer position has been the advantage of having an autonomous person reviewing the city’s finances. Public oversight of city spending is a must but there are more economical ways to do it. City officials should post the city’s monthly budget online and a paper copy in a place easily accessible to the public in city hall. The city council should direct its finance director to give his quarterly reports as part of the public agenda and not on the consent agenda. Also, the city could benefit from a solely volunteer citizen finance/investment committee made up of qualified individuals who independently review the budget on a quarterly basis. It seems pretty cut and dry to eliminate the city clerk’s position. City council meeting minutes are already posted online. And it’s Lind who transcribes meeting minutes, not Labrie. Labrie tapes the meetings, takes roll call and, at times, will swear-in an official. That is where his job ends. It’s time to move forward and cut what seem to be antiquated elected positions. The city council should discuss eliminating both positions and possibly others in which two people are doing the same job, as an agenda item at an upcoming meeting. Residents should attend and voice their concerns. A measure should be put on the next ballot and voters should take their concerns to the polls and help the city cut what it doesn’t need.