Cities to try new process for shared agency review

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LEWISTON — Twin Cities councilors will try a new system to settle funding requests for programs the cities operate together.

Councilors in both cities are expected to vote Tuesday on a policy appointing two councilors from each city to a Joint Agency Budget Committee.

That committee will hear reports from the arts groups, economic development agencies and emergency response organizations that are funded by both Lewiston and Auburn. In 2011, those groups represented about $1.5 million in spending from each city.

The committee will report back to their respective councils with budget recommendations.

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It’s designed to streamline the awkward process of reviewing the joint agency budgets.

“In the past, it’s been very difficult for there to be any meaningful conversations between the agencies and the councilors,” Lewiston Administrator Ed Barrett said. “Those meetings got very long, and we had one Auburn councilor walk out.”

Joint City Council budget meetings had been handled the same way for several years. Representatives from each group spoke briefly about the group’s goals, funding requirements and changes expected during the coming year. Typically, councilors heard reports from Lewiston Auburn Transit Committee, which operates the Citylink bus system, the Auburn Lewiston Municipal Airport, Great Falls TV, L/A Arts, L-A 911, the Androscoggin County Emergency Management Agency and the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council.

All councilors from both cities attended the meetings and had the opportunity to ask questions, but no decisions were made. The individual councils would vote on each joint agency’s budget later at their own meetings.

The meetings could last several hours and frequently covered the same ground from year to year.

Auburn Councilor Mike Farrell left a joint agency discussion in October 2010, saying the meeting was covering old topics and was a waste of his time.

Auburn councilors decided to opt out of the joint process the following April, asking representatives from the agencies to report to them directly.

Those groups ended up making duplicate presentations in 2011, to Auburn’s council on April 11 and Lewiston’s council on April 12.

“But that didn’t work either,” Barrett said. “Some agencies are funded by an agreement that each city pays 50 percent. What would happen if one city approved a different budget than another? We were always looking over our shoulder.”

Lewiston councilors discussed it at a workshop meeting Tuesday night. Barrett said it’s tentatively scheduled to be on the city’s regular meeting agenda at the Feb. 21 meeting.

Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte said he expects his council to vote on the same resolution at their Feb. 21 meeting.

“It will be very nice to formalize how we review, not just the budgets, but what we expect from them,” LaBonte said. “Even if it needs to be refined after this year, we need to move in this direction. There are too many agencies that have no direct oversight from either of the councils.”

staylor@sunjournal.com

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