LEWISTON – Tying Lewiston and Auburn’s city hall phone systems together will save Lewiston as much as $100,000, Lewiston officials say.

It will also link the two cities, making it easier for Lewiston departments to contact their Auburn counterparts.

“It’s a small thing, but we’ll be extensions off of each other’s systems,” City Administrator Jim Bennett said.

The City Council approved upgrades to the city’s phone system in the 2007-08 capital improvements plan. Bennett said he’s wanted to upgrade the system for a while.

“I think we’ve gone a year or two longer than we should have with the current technology,” he said. “It seems like we’re having down time at least once or twice a month.”

Bennett said the system has crashed so completely at least twice that it’s reset all of the city’s voice mail messages.

The new digital system relies on Voice over IP, a computer protocol that uses fewer lines to connect more telephones more quickly. It will also let the city create direct dialing extensions, letting people dial city departments directly instead of going through a central switchboard.

The conversion is costing the city roughly $270,000. That would include all new handsets and the computers and software to run the system.

Beauparlant said he’s waiting on final bids from Central Maine Communications. The city’s Finance Committee is scheduled to meet on July 9 to discuss Central Maine Communication’s proposal.

“If they agree, we’ll start purchasing the equipment the next day,” said Norm Beauparlant, director of purchasing. “We should be up and running by mid-September.”

The system would cost an additional $70,000 to $100,000 if it included a backup system. Instead, the Lewiston system will rely on the Auburn system if there is a computer failure – and vice versa.

Auburn switched to a Voice over IP system when municipal offices moved to Auburn Hall. That included adding a backup phone system in the Auburn Public Library.

“Now we’ll have a triple backup,” said Eric Labell, Auburn’s community services director. “But other than having an additional backup, there is no other savings for Auburn.”