Consolidation is dead. Politicians did not kill it, administrative staff did not terminate it, but in truth it died of loneliness, with only a small portion of the population ever caring about what might or might not happen. The Auburn City Council may have voted to end the commission on joint services, but in fact only a vocal few ever gave their opinion or sought out a councilor with ideas during its years in existence.
But from the ashes of those failed ideas and concepts might come a new way to look at this, a different way of doing business. All you have to do is clear your mind of the idea that Lewiston would stop being Lewiston and Auburn would stop being Auburn. Instead, open your eyes to a new administrative program that would simply run all operations for both cities but with one management structure and one administrator. It can be done. In fact, it happens all the time.
I work for a large long term care provider — we have several facilities we own and we manage several others for various people and partnerships in Maine. Each of those businesses is seen by the employees, patients and visitors as a singular entity, but working in the background is a cost-effective, efficient team of dedicated professionals.
This same approach can be used here in Lewiston-Auburn for municipal government services. There are so many services that we never see or hear of within city government that could be done in one location by one dedicated team. We do not need two IT departments, for example — one group can ensure everything functions, and with a small investment, we can ensure everything works well together from a computing standpoint.
Do we really need two parks and recreation departments? Two recycling programs? Clearly, we can still offer all the programs while having some smaller programs combined and offered in one location — the majority of program participants are mobile, thus we're really just talking about where we locate a service. There is no reason why fire, police and public works couldn't be run as one department for both cities. The local ordinances are the only differences.
If the police in Boston can figure out what part of the city they're in to determine which ordinances apply, then I think our local officers can also handle these logistics.
So, let's move to the bigger stumbling block in many eyes — tax assessing and tax collecting. Assessing is the same regardless of what part of Maine you live in; the state requires all assessing to be uniform in nature. An assessor in Auburn could easily assist an assessor in Madawaska, so looking across the river should not impose that much of a challenge.
As for tax collecting, each city would set its own tax (mill) rate based on assessed value and how much is required from taxpayers to meet its financial obligations. That minor difference between the two cities does not mean one combined office could not do the work; it only means one needs to recognize where the property is located when determining the property tax.
So that leaves only one major hurdle remaining: how do you staff this new organization? I would recommend one administrator to oversee all operations for both cities, and reporting to both municipal governments, but I would also recommend one deputy administrator whose primary function would be creating and managing the budget.
While this person would have other duties, they would be the single source of contact for creating and managing the budget on a day-to-day basis. It is that person who would bring to the city council the draft budget and then work with the council to make changes and finalize it. A team of one administrator and two deputies to run the entire affairs of both cities could become a model by which all others are developed.
I've been challenged by some in this community to prove I would support consolidation and that I have a plan to be put in place. Well, for better or worse, here it is. It would reduce the cost of managing these two cities, and in tough times we need to take drastic action. I believe we can do so without either city losing its identity or its soul.
There's just one thing missing — the citizens of this community must get behind a plan and show their support, whether it be this concept or another. To do nothing only allows a slow death from boredom. It's time to get involved.
Robert Reed is a Lewiston city councilor, representing Ward 7. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.