AUBURN — After a lengthy decision-making process, the proposed name for a consolidated Lewiston and Auburn is a familiar one: Lewiston-Auburn.
The Lewiston-Auburn Joint Charter Commission voted unanimously on the name Thursday, capping a two-month process that sought public opinion on what to call the potential merged city if voters ultimately approve a merger later this year.
Charter Commission Chairman Gene Geiger said the decision came down to a choice between Lewiston-Auburn and Great Falls.
“It had to be something familiar,” he said Thursday about the name. “We’re not throwing away anything, we’re building on who we are.”
A news release following the decision stated, “Putting the two city names together is a clear signal that the new city is one rooted in a strong, shared heritage.”
About a dozen people attended the charter commission meeting Thursday. Four of the seven commission members were present.
Leroy Walker, an Auburn city councilor and member of the Coalition Opposed to Lewiston-Auburn Consolidation, said residents in Auburn want to stay Auburn, and said the decision to use the name Lewiston-Auburn was made to help the pro-merger campaign.
“All you’re doing is trying to make a lot of friends out there,” he said.
“It does maintain the history of both communities,” responded commission member Holly Lasagna.
The process to find a name was aided in part by a team from the Association for Consulting Expertise. Name submissions were taken on the commission’s website and in letter form. In all, the group received about 1,000 suggestions.
“We got all kinds of names — some goofy and others more logical,” Geiger said.
Last month, commission member Chip Morrison said some of the name suggestions shouldn’t be repeated. Geiger said other considerations were variations on Androscoggin, but most members felt it was too difficult to pronounce and spell, especially by those from out of state.
Some suggestions were even more creative. One set of drawings depicting “Future, Maine — the newest city in the USA,” was also given to the commission.
At previous charter commission meetings, the group debated between Lewiston-Auburn and Great Falls, Geiger said. He said those in favor of Great Falls argued it’s new and bold, “a break from the past.” It’s also used by many area businesses.
But ultimately, he said, it’s not a unique name. There are a number of them in the country. The group also argues that a transition to Lewiston-Auburn won’t be difficult.
“Business names will still be comfortable. The mail will still be delivered. There will be no confusion with drivers’ licenses or other documents,” the release states, a rebuttal to one of the arguments from the anti-merger campaign.
“Lewiston-Auburn represents the least amount of disruption,” member Lucien Gosselin said during the meeting.
According to Geiger, Maine law on municipal consolidations stipulates that the Lewiston-Auburn Joint Charter Commission is responsible for choosing the name of the new city. It’s one of eight steps that must be included in the commission’s consolidation agreement, the final set of documents that it has been working toward for three years.
The steps also include the new city charter. They also include financial considerations such as each city’s property, debt, and terms for apportioning tax rates to pay off the remaining bonded debt in each city.
Geiger said the decision on the name was the last of its eight requirements.
As work from the charter commission has ramped up, so have separate campaigns for and against the merger.
Those in favor of the merger argue that a consolidated city could save money while boosting economic activity for the region. It would make the largest school district in the state, and solidify the Twin Cities as the second largest metropolitan area in Maine.
Opponents say evidence is lacking for the potential financial savings of a merger, and that a consolidation would come with unintended consequences, such as a revaluation that could hurt taxpayers and lost identity.
Geiger said the commission will submit documents to both cities by the end of June, hoping for the required public hearings to be held between July and August, leading to a Nov. 7 vote. Both cities have to adopt the measure by a majority vote for it to pass.
During the meeting, Geiger said he’s talked to many people who like the name Great Falls, but believes Lewiston-Auburn is the “smartest decision.”
In Thursday’s news release, the name decision was backed by a quote from a resident from outside the Twin Cities.
“Today, we call ourselves Lewiston-Auburn, and that is how we are known by outsiders. As one non-L-A resident said to us, ‘You’ve always been Lewiston-Auburn to us. The merger will just make it official.'”