10% budget cuts appear in bleak fiscal outlook; Town officials begin working on next year's spending plan.

Byline: Bill Fortier

AUBURN - Department heads have been told to prepare for possible budget cuts in the next fiscal year.

The Finance Committee will start gathering information for fiscal 2010 at a televised budget meeting at 7 tonight in the selectmen's meeting room at Town Hall.

"It's the beginning of the process," said Finance Committee Chairman William Westerlind. The committee will meet nearly every week to gather information on the annual town budget, which will be voted on at town meeting in the spring.

One of the problems, however, is that town officials are reviewing departmental budgets based on projections of state aid that won't become final for at least several months, perhaps after the annual town meeting.

At the Nov. 24 meeting of the Board of Selectmen, Assistant Town Administrator Edward J. Kazanovicz and Town Administrator Charles T. O'Connor Jr. presented a bleak financial picture for fiscal 2010.

Mr. Kazanovicz and Mr. O'Connor both based their projections on the assumption that state aid will be slashed by 10 percent, or about $1.5 million.

Selectmen voted 3-2 that night to not raise taxes in fiscal 2010, and that means the town could be facing a $2.2 million shortfall.

The next day, Mr. O'Connor warned department heads at a meeting of the financial prospects.

"There's no question that a cut of that magnitude would severely impact services," Mr. O'Connor said.

Mr. Kazanovicz, who said more detailed information will be presented, said even if state aid remains at the same level, a decision not to raise taxes would still put the town in an approximately $700,000 hole.

"If you cut $2.2 million from the current level, it's not going to be pretty," Mr. Kazanovicz said, adding that Auburn is not the only community in the state in the same position.

Both Mr. Kazanovicz and Mr. O'Connor could not specify at this stage where the cuts would be made. But Mr. O'Connor said a 10 percent across-the-board cut would be very severe to a small department.

"A cut like that could be cataclysmic to a one-, two- or three-person department," he said.

As directed by the School Committee, School Superintendent Maryellen Brunelle is to attend next Monday's meeting of the selectmen to explain what a 10 percent budget cut would mean for the school. Mrs. Brunelle said she and Business Manager...

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