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AUBURN — The Auburn City Council unanimously approved the 2018-2019 city budget Thursday, and with it a 1-percent spending increase and a 4.6-percent tax levy increase. 

For the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, the city will work with a general fund of $34,257,715. About $12.4 million of the general fund will be raised by taxes. The tax rate is set at $11.78 per $1,000 of assessed value, an 18-cent decrease from 2017-2018. The 4.6-percent tax levy increase is below the state-determined cap of 4.72 percent. Garbage collection, sewer and water fees will not increase.

City councilors agreed that the upcoming year's budget falls in line with the city's long-term goals and they thanked city staff members for the work they put into developing the final budget.

Councilor Debby McCormick said the council's willingness to invest in new positions, including a technical director for the department of municipal utilities, shows its support for the work city staff does every day.  

"The people we have are doing a great job, they're working very well," she said. "But without support, it's not going to work forever."

Councilor Jimmy Giannettino said he was "happy about" a number of items included in the budget, such as resources to combat vacant housing and water-quality issues, funds to replace bulletproof vests for the Auburn Police Department and $20,000 to develop an arts district downtown. Councilor Terry Cuddy agreed that the funding for the arts district was a priority for him as well.

Mayor Michael Quill said that he has worked on over 20 budgets during his time with the city, as both the mayor and a fire chief, and said the process has been "very respectful."

"Every one of us wants something just a little bit more but we have to be reasonable about what is icing on the cake and what is actually the cake," he said. 

Councilor Dia Carabajal remarked, "I do believe our biggest responsibility is to be fiscally responsible in offering services to the residents of the city. I think this budget does that and well represents the priorities of council and our city residents." 

In other news 

• The city is considering purchasing 100 acres of land in the Owasco Flats for $69,500 to continue to protect the Owasco Lake watershed. 

The property is contiguous to land the city already owns at the flats. Director of Municipal Utilities Seth Jensen said the city was approached by the family of the landowner, who has passed away, to purchase the land, located at 2680 Rockefeller Road in Moravia. 

"This is certainly one of the most unique areas in our watershed," Jensen said. "I think it's a great opportunity for us to purchase, potentially." 

The city had previously been in discussions with the property owner, Shirley Jones, but had not been able to come to an agreement about a purchase price before she died, Corporation Counsel Stacy DeForest said. 

Councilors said they would like city staff to pursue purchasing the land, but also requested they look into potential grant funding to cover the costs. 

"I think the price is not only reasonable but the reward for doing it is well worth it," Giannettino said. "That land will be in trust, hopefully forever, to protect the health of the lake."

Carabajal said she thinks the move will be "a wise investment."  

• The council awarded construction bids for two upcoming city projects: the water filtration plant effluent treatment facility, or "lagoon," cleaning project and the North Division Street bridge replacement project.

Denali Water Solutions of Russellville, Arizona, was the only company who bid for the lagoon project, at just over $632,000. When Giannettino raised concerns about the city only receiving one bid for the project and the location of the bidder, Jensen said the project is highly specialized and that a local affiliate of the company from Weedsport will likely be involved in the process. 

Economy Paving out of Cortland will complete the work for the North Division Street Bridge replacement for about $4.5 million. Most of the project cost is eligible for reimbursement, Superintendent of Engineering Services Bill Lupien said. He estimated work will begin on the bridge in the next six months and during construction, there will be road closures and detours. 

Staff writer Natalie Brophy can be reached at (315)282-2239 or natalie.brophy@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @brophy_natalie

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