A question about the notion of having Androscoggin County take on property assessment for all its municipalities, as proposed by some city councilors from Lewiston and Auburn: What does the county have to do with it?

The goal of joint services, we thought, is winnowing two large municipal bureaucracies into a more responsive, efficient deliverer of services to taxpayers. There are a thousand stories of government duplicity in the Twin Cities, and assessing is just one of them.

Inviting the county, and therefore 13 other towns, into the process, seems to run counter to the simpler goals of joint services. If property assessing in Lewiston and Auburn is deemed ripe for efficiency, the machinery is oiled and ready for manufacturing a better system.

The joint services commission, and a new joint services coordinator, are there to pursue any avenue for efficiency, especially those pushed by strong political winds. If the councilors really want to support the joint services effort, they should let these smart people do their work.

The task of streamlining the municipal governments of Lewiston and Auburn is a sizable enough undertaking, after all, without getting the county involved.

True, other states do have county assessing offices, but those states have a much different county government system than exists in Maine. States with potent county governments usually have them at the expense of weaker, smaller local governments.

Maine cannot support a strong local government and strong county government. The reality, as is understood in most New England states, is that it’s one or the other, which is why we’ve supported the gradual reduction of counties into mere boundary markers.

And the credibility of a property assessment is proportional to the local knowledge of the assessor. An assessor should know the community, understand the nuances of its neighborhoods, and arrive at a fair property valuation based on solid, defendable data.

Moving assessors into a county office might save money, but produce an inferior product. Anything that could harm the accuracy of an assessment is a powder keg, and should be defused.

That said, this county assessing idea has merit for every county town – except for Lewiston and Auburn, which have the most to lose by losing their assessors.

Towns with part-time assessors should push the county to adopt this service for them alone, without L-A’s participation. It would lead to measurable cost savings, as well as create an economy of scale for assessing that should keep the service affordable in the future.

So even though it’s a bad deal for L-A, the councilors who dreamt this idea deserve some credit.

Now, if they can only figure out some way for the cities to avoid paying for sheriff’s patrols, since both Lewiston and Auburn maintain police departments. Talk about potential for cost-savings.

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