Question 1 on the November ballot in Lewiston and Auburn gives voters the power to merge their two city governments into one consolidated city government. They should seize this opportunity.
Proponents point out that consolidation will create efficiencies that save money and improve city services. Research conducted by independent firms with no skin in the game have upheld these findings. My evaluation of these findings has led me to the same conclusion. As Maine’s state treasurer, I support consolidation for its benefits to Lewiston-Auburn taxpayers.
I care about Lewiston-Auburn and my friends and neighbors who call it home. My husband owns a business here. I used to live and work in the community. Today, we live in nearby Buckfield and, as longtime area residents, we know that Lewiston-Auburn’s economy drives the region’s economy because we have seen it and felt it. When Lewiston-Auburn prospers, it has a ripple effect across the entire region and the state.
Consolidation of city governments will create efficiencies that lower operating costs and save taxpayers between $20-$40 million through the next decade. This cost-savings translates into more police on the street, faster response times to fires, more choices for students, and additional benefits for the local, regional and state economy.
Today, the city governments of Lewiston and Auburn are competing against one another for economic development opportunities. Consolidating the city governments, with a unified strategy for economic growth and job creation, will allow Lewiston-Auburn to compete with Portland and Bangor and the rest of New England to keep jobs in the region and attract new employers.
Currently, businesses that operate in both Lewiston and Auburn are required to follow two separate sets of rules, one for each city. Municipal consolidation will result in simplified and standardized rules, thus improving the business climate and allowing business to focus more time and resources on their core competencies and their customers.
With consolidation, Lewiston-Auburn has the potential to be an even greater economic engine for Maine’s economy. Lewiston-Auburn, with a combined population roughly equivalent to that of Portland, will compete for new economic opportunities that create jobs, raise wages, lift people out of poverty and grow the middle class. This is what we need to do to keep our young people in Maine and to entice those who have left to come back home.
Maine faces a serious demographic challenge: It has the oldest population in the nation and those people are getting older faster than any other state. Our work force is shrinking, and so is our tax base. To reverse this trend, we need to be smarter with our limited resources and innovative in our approaches to governing and problem-solving. Question 1 promises a smarter, more innovative way forward to leverage taxpayer dollars.
As Maine’s state treasurer, my question to taxpayers is always, “What can we in government do to help you become an enthusiastic taxpayer?” I recognize that “enthusiastic” and “taxpayer” don’t fit in the same sentence for most people, but that is not the point. Here is another way of putting it, “Do you feel like your government is spending your tax dollars wisely and doing all that it can to grow Maine’s economy and improve the quality of life for all Maine people?”
If, like me, you think that city officials can do a better job managing and stretching your hard-earned dollars, then I hope that you will vote “Yes” on Question 1 on the November ballot.
This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Lewiston and Auburn to the lead the way in creating a smaller and smarter government that responds to the needs of its citizens and solves problems. Let’s make the most of it.
Terry Hayes of Buckfield is the Maine state treasurer.