Cities talk shared landscaping

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The Twin Cities could share one landscaping department, but there are still questions about who would be in charge.

“The question we have today is, if we share an arborist, who does he answer to?” said Steve Eldridge, staff coordinator for the Citizens Commission on Joint Services. “We need direction. Will he have to answer to one city manager or the other, or is he going to have two bosses?”

It’s a policy decision that could shape future efforts to combine services, and Eldridge said he’s looking at different government models for answers.

“One way we could do it is give Auburn one set of city departments and Lewiston another,” he said.

He’s also investigating the way some cities and provinces in Canada share services through a federation.

“There are several different structures and models that we could use and we plan to look into them more in the fall,” Eldridge said.

Lewiston has a six-person arborist department. Auburn has a two-person department and a smaller budget.

Eldridge said the consolidation committee wouldn’t change that, but would put one arborist in charge of both crews.

They’d also be able to share equipment, supplies and expertise.

Eldridge said he’s scheduled to meet with the City Councils from both Lewiston and Auburn on Aug. 7 and talk about the committee’s progress.

“I have an entire presentation built on where we are in the process,” Eldridge said. “People think the talk so far has been about merging the two cities, but it hasn’t. Our only goal right now is see if we can find efficiencies and cost savings made possible by the two cities sharing services.”

Twin Cities leaders have talked about sharing core services – police, fire, public works and schools – as far back as 1975.

Groups even published reports on possible savings, part of a University of Maine study in 1975 and a city effort in 1976.

Brothers Lionel and Normand Guay – then mayors of Lewiston and Auburn – resurrected the idea in 2004, creating a new commission to see if there could be savings. That group finished its work last year and called for the consolidation of the biggest services – police and public works – over the next five years. It suggested eventual cooperation for Lewiston and Auburn fire departments and school systems. Back-office services, such as building codes and computer systems, could be combined more quickly.

The newest group began meeting monthly this spring, suggesting specific ways to save money.

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