AUBURN – Efforts to combine Twin Cities government services got a $10,000 boost from Gov. John Baldacci on Monday – with a hint that more would become available next month.

Baldacci presented a $10,000 check to Robert Clifford and Donna Steckino, the co-chairmen of the Mayors’ Commission on Joint Services, at a special joint meeting of the Lewiston and Auburn city councils.

The governor also pledged his support for future Lewiston-Auburn consolidation work, saying he would write a recommendation urging two years worth of funding.

“I recognize that Lewiston-Auburn has been leader in cooperative services, but we need to do more of it across the state,” Baldacci said. “I hope the work you do here will help bring recognition, and it will ripple out and impact other communities and help them do the same.”

Baldacci said the state was putting $500,000 in the Fund for Local and Regional Efficiency. That fund paid for 121 regionalization efforts across Maine in 2005, including the Lewiston-Auburn effort. Martha Freeman, director of the State Planning Office, said the state would begin accepting grant applications from that fund in September.

That left local officials scrambling to take advantage of the gift.

The $10,000 check from the State Planning Office’s Regional Challenge Grant was made out to the Lewiston Auburn Regional Growth Council. Lucien Gosselin, the council’s executive director, said he would hold onto the money until the cities figured out what to do next.

“I am just the financial agent at this point,” Gosselin said. “I don’t know if I’ll have a role beyond that.”

Clifford said his group would try to meet in the next few weeks.

“I’m not sure about the exact procedure at this point, but I’m sure the commission will be involved in some capacity.” Clifford said. “It’s all kind of up in the air at this point.”

Clifford, Steckino and the other members of the commission were drafted by Lewiston Mayor Lionel Guay and Auburn Mayor Normand Guay in 2004 and tasked with finding ways to save money and improve municipal service by combining operations.

Back office services, such as building codes and computer systems, should be the first things to be consolidated, according to a February report. That report also called for consolidating the bread-and-butter services – police and public works – over the next five years and urged the cities to create a new commission to lead future efforts and hire a staff person.

Local officials need to appoint the new commission quickly, Steckino said, so that they can write the grant application.

“We want to be sure that we’re ready to apply as soon as that grant becomes available,” Steckino said.

Lewiston Councilor Stavros Mendros said he was pleased with Baldacci’s gift.

“I think he really stepped up to the plate,” Mendros said.

Auburn Councilor Belinda Gerry said she was frustrated the cities were not better prepared.

“The Auburn council has not discussed the commission’s report since we first got it,” Gerry said. “We haven’t talked about it amongst ourselves, not to mention with the council from Lewiston. We don’t know where we’re going. I don’t think we’re ready to take this money.”

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