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updated: 12/11/2012 11:10 PM

Aurora city council approves higher, 'responsible' budget

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The Aurora city council Tuesday night passed, with one dissenting vote, a budget officials called "responsible" and "responsive" to resident needs.

The $396 million spending plan is up from last year's $381 million budget mainly because of $21.5 million set aside for a new main library and increasing pension costs, Mayor Tom Weisner said.

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Other new spending will fund a canine unit for the police department, the first year of a city branding campaign and two new employees -- a grant writer and a forensic examiner.

Aldermen will vote in the coming weeks on a tax levy to support the budget. The proposed $74.4 million levy would be up about 2.5 percent from last year's $72.7 million, Finance Director Brian Caputo said.

"Library costs and pensions are basically responsible for the increase in the levy," Weisner said.

Alderman Rick Lawrence, who cast the dissenting vote, said the levy increase shows Weisner "overspends on projects." With home values still declining, Lawrence said the cost of living in Aurora is becoming too high.

"You're taking more from less wealth," Lawrence said.

When home values decrease, the tax rate has to rise for the city to generate the same amount of revenue. But Weisner said there is a difference between a higher tax rate needed to fund a levy that increased 2.5 percent, and a taxing body imposing a major levy hike to seek more funds.

"We're not a taxing body that's out there trying to get more money" just for the sake of money, he said. "Were it not for pension increases and the library, the levy would have went down."

Before current aldermen voted on the budget, three candidates seeking city council seats in the April 9 election shared their views on the city's spending plan.

Mavis Bates, one of seven candidates for the Ward 4 seat, praised the Aurora Public Library's $30 million plan to build a 92,000-square-foot main library downtown along with satellite locations and technology improvements. She said the new building's value will be worth the extra taxes Aurora residents will pay to fund $19.2 million of the project not paid for by a $10.8 million state grant.

But Edward Bugg, one of five candidates for the Ward 9 seat, said the library must continue looking for ways to decrease the project's tax burden on residents.

"Going forward, we need to continue to hold the library board accountable," Bugg said.

Kevin Mathews, who opposes Bates and five others in the Ward 4 race, gave one way for the city to save on pensions.

"I suggest you start looking at contractors in this city in order to deal with the ongoing problem of pension costs," Mathews said.

Weisner called their comments productive. He said the city already has used private contractors for median mowing, snow plowing, legal needs and other city tasks, and hiring a private contractor for the new grant writer position is not out of the question.

The budget approved Tuesday night is effective from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2013.

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