L-A Charter Commission: A vehicle to design a new future

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How many people living in Auburn and Lewiston have thought, even for a moment, about the possibility that the Twin Cities may be consolidated, or that city services may be further consolidated to improve those services.

How many have ever acted on that thought? Either in support or opposition?

There is now an opportunity to change thought into action.

On Monday, the city’s respective clerks released petitions for residents seeking to serve on the new Lewiston-Auburn Charter Commission. The elections will be held June 10; each city will elect three representatives.

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So far, only two people have taken out the papers; both are Lewiston residents.

In Lewiston, residents have until April 11 to file nomination papers.

In Auburn, the deadline is March 27.

So, there’s still plenty of time if you want to participate, and we urge people to get involved.

The Twin Cities have studied this concept of consolidation and cooperation multiple times, and along the way some very successful consolidation of services has developed. In each case, cooperation has benefited the cities.

If you live here, why wouldn’t you want to see the cities become more efficient?

Last year, Chip Morrison, president of the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce, led the effort to create the Lewiston-Auburn Charter Commission, and he quickly found there was solid interest in forming the commission and having serious talks of consolidation. Now, there should be equal interest in staffing the commission with people who want the best for these communities.

The six elected to this commission will be empowered to study the finances of both cities, and the services and the needs each face. And, they will be tasked with writing a charter to establish a united government, rules for the transition and a single name for the Twin Cities.

It’s no small job and, based on past lukewarm responses to other efforts to consolidate city services, anyone who serves should be prepared for disappointment.

In 2008, the Citizens Commission on Lewiston-Auburn Cooperation released an impressive report outlining $1.2 million in annual savings in each city if they combined police and public works departments and shared administrators in select city departments. The report was delivered to the cities, accepted by their respective councils and then set on a shelf — like so many other examinations of consolidation and cooperation.

Auburn’s mayor, Jonathan LaBonte, blames it on politics, and he’s probably right. But, there’s also the natural fear of change and resistance to implementing anything that may alter the cities’ independent employment structures.

Even so, if the Citizens Commission report had been implemented, the cities could have since saved more than $12 million, or could have spent that money on capital improvements (on roads, maybe) or other projects of importance to these communities (like development of parks and funding education).

As thoughtful as the commission’s work was, and as compelling as the savings seemed to be, the cities were content to pay the price to remain separate, even in what was then considered to be tough economic times.

The times are now tougher and the challenges greater than ever before. So, even though there was little interest in taking this radical step before, there now appears to be interest in at least talking about it in a very serious way. Close to 2,500 people in Lewiston and Auburn signed the petitions to create this commission, and while that doesn’t mean that each one supports consolidation, it does mean that they want discussion of that idea to be held.

One more time.

In fact, after last year’s hit to municipal revenue sharing and the more recent discussions at the state level to reduce those funds even more, the need for the cities to take a look at sharing with fresh eyes seems more important than ever.

The formation of the Lewiston-Auburn Charter Commission does not mean the cities will consolidate or even enhance their existing collaborations. The commission is not a cheerleader for consolidation nor is it being formed to mandate consolidation.

The commission is designed to conduct a critical study of the possibilities and be a motivator for shared efficiencies.

This has the potential to be the biggest thing that has happened in these Twin Cities, and it could be a shining example of fiscal responsibility in Maine.

Step up if you want to help design your own future.

jmeyer@sunjournal.com

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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