Auburn mayor favors bigger changes for city’s voting districts

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AUBURN — Now might be a good time for the city to create voting districts based on neighborhoods, Mayor Jonathan LaBonte said Thursday.

City councilors on Thursday reviewed a plan to shift the city’s ward boundaries, based on 2010’s census numbers and redrawn state legislative and county commission districts.

City Clerk Sue Clements-Dallaire’s plan changes the city’s wards slightly, keeping the same basic shape with most wards beginning in the downtown and moving out to the more rural parts of the city.

But LaBonte said it might be a good idea to scrap those traditional ward lines in favor of something new.

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“The wards, as I look at them, seem dysfunctional and I don’t know if that’s by intent or by sprawl and poor design,” LaBonte said. “The interests of downtown Auburn are split between four wards, so that someone representing the downtown is also representing Danville.”

Maine cities and towns are expected to balance each ward to contain an equal number of residents based on the most recent census. Dallaire said Auburn’s five wards each need to have roughly 4,611 residents, based on the 2010 census. Cities are allowed up to a 10 percent difference between the most and least populated wards.

But Dallaire said another goal is to match updated Androscoggin County district and State House of Representatives district maps. Both were updated by the Legislature in June.

Dallaire said the state’s district changes crossed Auburn ward lines, creating several voting districts that have multiple ballots. Having ward lines that matched the state lines cut down on those changes, making them less confusing.

She said she hoped to have the final ward changes approved by councilors in March so the new ward lines can be used in the June primaries.

LaBonte said the wards drawn around neighborhoods could encourage new residents to get involved in city government and bring neighborhood issues to the council chambers.

“I’d rather protect Auburn’s districts than accommodate the state,” he said. “Their districts are all about nominating Republicans and Democrats. They don’t care about Auburn, and that’s a fact.”

Councilors Mary LaFontaine and Adam Lee disagreed. LaFontaine said she liked that her ward, Ward 3, included both downtown and rural Auburn.

“We are such a small city, I think that I would be neglecting my job to say that I could not represent those people, regardless of where they lived,” LaFontaine said.

Dallaire said she and city staff would bring their proposed ward lines back to councilors for a vote later this month, along with written descriptions of their proposed changes.

They’ll also report back on other potential ways the city’s wards could be drawn up to fit LaBonte’s criteria, she said.

staylor@sunjournal.com

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