L-A together? Common software a meaningful step


Can it be?

Lewiston and Auburn city workers are testing new computer programs this week to create a joint — as in same, together — planning and permitting system.

It’s not a done-deal yet, but city governments on both sides of the river appear to be moving forward with a common software platform for planning, permitting and land use regulation.

The cities began working on this in October, and jointly agreed to buy a suite of software modules designed for community government.

It’s a small step in what has been a stop/start (emphasis on stop) process of consolidating city services.

This project, which is undergoing testing and tweaking this week, will eventually allow citizens, businesses and contractors to apply for permits, pay fees and take care of other city business from their computers.

But, more importantly, it will allow city government computers in at least one department on each side of the river to talk the same language.

Installation is scheduled for July — unless, of course, some city councilor gets irked about the word “joint.”

We hope this is a sign that meaningful cooperation and consolidation aren’t dead.

If anything it points up the absolute necessity of doing more, as if the recession and massive cuts in state support haven’t done so already.

Last week, Lewiston announced it was cutting 22 positions, including several in its police and fire departments. Even so, a tax increase seems likely.

Auburn, meanwhile, is still sorting through the budget process, but cuts in services and personnel — and a tax hike — seem inevitable.

Lewiston and Auburn are capable of cooperating. Really. They jointly operate an airport, a transit system, a sewage system, an emergency dispatch service and an economic growth council.

But the combination of actual city departments — police, fire, assessing, planning and, dare we say, schools — has been difficult.

Efforts to do so date to the early 1970s, culminating in the 1996 “L-A Together,” which recommended specific proposals for consolidating public safety, purchasing, recreation, public works, social services and education.

The recommendations were largely ignored.

In 2004, the cities authorized a Lewiston-Auburn Commission on Joint Services. A group of experienced community leaders concluded that not only did local citizens desire consolidation, but that there were significant savings to be had.

A final report was issued, a state grant obtained and a joint services coordinator hired.

From 2007 to 2009 another citizens commission met, eventually outlining steps that it determined would save more than $2 million per year within five years.

Eventually, however, new people were elected to councils on each side of the river who did not share the original vision that had created the push for joint services.

For all it merits, democracy has the occasional drawback of inconsistency. Eventually, the new councils and managers ended the official consolidation process.

While the projected savings from consolidation would not nearly have made up for the cuts in state support, the two cities would at least have been better positioned for this crisis.

Perhaps the current councils now will be forced by necessity to resurrect some of the old ideas.

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