Some city councilors in Lewiston and Auburn have removed their executioner’s hoods and given joint services a reprieve. It’s taken deal-making and mind-changing among its proponents, though, so the issue remains troubled.

But, at least, not doomed. That’s a start.

In recent months, exasperation over the pace and potential for joint services has amplified into public questioning of its outcomes. Some arguments against this effort have been quizzical, our personal favorite being that it won’t save as much money as promised. Yet it would save money.

In these trying times, it seems even a modicum of taxpayer savings should be welcome. Quibbling over the actual amount is akin to fiddling by the fire, a la Emperor Nero and his burning Rome.

This debate has highlighted the longstanding problem with joint services: It’s too easy to find reasons to kill it, and too hard to find the will to continue it. This formula has been the fatal poison to previous iterations of this cause and what still threatens it today.

It must be resisted. The potential savings from consolidation are too significant to be scrapped at this, its eleventh hour of discussion. City councilors, in our view, owe it to taxpayers and the citizens who have volunteered their time toward joint services to see it through the planning process.

Few communities have tried what Lewiston and Auburn are attempting. In recent efforts, success has eluded broad consolidation efforts, while victory has smiled upon more targeted campaigns, such as wastewater districts, dispatch services and code enforcement.

There isn’t a model to emulate, in other words. At least not in government. The business world, as Jim Wellehan of Auburn wrote in Sunday’s edition, is littered with examples, including his chain of shoe stores, Lamey-Wellehan.

“Economic necessity has compelled consolidation,” Wellehan wrote. This simple principle should be the guiding light for city councilors going forward.

The bottom line matters. There are – by whatever estimate one believes – between $1.7 and $2.7 million annually to be saved by taxpayers, which they should support if it means more efficient, not reduced, municipal services.

No co-governmental relationship will erode the individual identity of Lewiston or Auburn. Each community is much more than the software of its town offices or the placement of the office of the tax assessor.

What these could do, however, is accentuate the cities’ reputation as collaborative partners, which has been built over the decades through myriad projects – an airport, busing, water treatment, etc.

But it needs a chance, first off. After some troubling talk, joint services seems to have regained some needed traction. The councils should now give it what it needs to take off.


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