AUBURN | The Auburn City Council took a look into the city's fiscal future, which one councilor called a "nightmare."
City Comptroller Lauren Poehlman presented four scenarios for the city's budget forecast Thursday night.
The first showed a 2 percent tax levy increase, projected no new revenues and showed a $3.4 million budget gap in 2013-14 and a $7.4 million budget gap in 2016-17 if things stayed the same.
In the second scenario, a 2 percent tax levy increase, a removal of the gas tax cap and a hotel occupancy tax were shown, with a $2.8 million gap in 2013-14 and a $6.8 million gap in 2016-17.
The future looked a little rosier in the third scenario, with no gap next year and only a $3.6 million budget gap in 2016-17.
However, to achieve this, a 4 percent tax levy increase would be needed this year, in addition to removing the gas tax cap, adding the hotel occupancy tax, freezing city employee wages, cutting $1 million in expenses and using $1.15 million of the city's fund balance this year and $1.5 million of the fund balance in 2014-15.
Also in this third scenario, a $2.1 million budget gap in 2015-16 would require a 16 percent tax levy increase to avoid depleting the fund balance to a dangerously low level, Poehlman said.
In the fourth scenario, the budget can be balanced now through 2016-17, but it would require 6 to 8 percent tax levy increases annually, removal of the gas tax cap, the hotel occupancy tax, $1 million in cuts, wage freezes and the application of $1 million from the fund balance each year.
Although the city must comply with the state's 2 percent tax cap law, the council could take a larger levy increase to a public vote if it chooses, said Councilor Peter Ruzicka.
The councilors discussed the grim fiscal outlook.
"If we raise these taxes like this, how many people are we going to chase out of town?" Ruzicka said. "We'll be a village in four years."
Councilor Matt Smith agreed, saying there would be "anarchy" with such tax increases.
Mayor Michael Quill said going to the public with a tax levy increase higher than 2 percent would be a big decision for the council and would require "a lot of soul searching."
"It's a tough pill to swallow," he said of a larger increase.
Quill said after the meeting that it's too soon in the budget process to start proposing cuts.