Air, bus and rail service have separate oversight boards with ties to both Lewiston and Auburn City Councils.

The slow and painful process to investigate shared local services in Lewiston and Auburn may make a public appearance early this year. Proposals are expected from the Citizen’s Commission on Lewiston-Auburn Cooperation for combining IT and assessing services.

It is a safe assumption that those recommendations will be so convoluted and carefully wordsmithed that the city councils will bury themselves in rhetoric about supporting these steps toward consolidation only if it saves money and that they are not yet convinced it will.

The debate around combining services between Lewiston and Auburn municipal governments has been stuck in a quagmire for several years now with limited signs of leadership to drag the communities out of it.

Searching for the elusive tax savings is typically the marching order from city councilors and members of the public that don’t have intimate knowledge of how public services are planned for and delivered.

Whether it is transportation, public works, public safety or information technology, you have to wonder if common sense approaches will ever overcome arbitrary metrics.

With all of the time spent championing the status of Lewiston-Auburn as state leaders in collaboration (though an entire column could be spent refuting that claim as myth more than fact), local residents would assume current joint ventures are models of the proverbial finely tuned machine.

The Citizen’s Commission is spending much of its time trying to seek out the next shared service to place in the trophy case. Perhaps the best place to start was never with new shared services, but rather making the existing shared services more efficient and effective.

Examples always make for the best stories, so let’s review the landscape of L-A shared services for a few of their inefficiencies.

It is an impressive feat to consider that, in the late 1800s, Lewiston and Auburn found an approach to delivering rail service to the downtown and industrial area by creating their own private railroad company. And, through an independent board of directors appointed by the city councils, still lease it for use by commercial shippers and possible future use for passengers.

When the military no longer needed the airport in Auburn, both cities again stepped up, this time creating the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport and putting its management into the hands of an independent board of directors appointed by the city councils.

Public transit, in this case our local bus service Citylink, is also an operation shared by Lewiston and Auburn managed by an independent board of directors appointed by the city councils. The operation of this service is contracted with a private business, but finances and planning for the service are managed by the board.

Three different modes of transportation (rail, air and bus) managed by three distinct boards of directors with two common threads between them. All three are controlled by Lewiston and Auburn city councils to some degree and all three are in the policy arena of transportation.

Would it be more efficient for the federal Department of Transportation to be split into separate agencies with separate oversight boards and separate budgets based on the mode of transportation? Is there any value in studying such a proposition, or is it a given that managing a transportation system is much more efficient if done under one umbrella?

What purpose could exist for so many levels of bureaucracy, all in the name of delivering transportation services to Lewiston-Auburn residents, visitors and businesses?

In multiple attempts to comb through past studies of consolidation of services in Lewiston and Auburn, not one reference to restructuring the current shared services has been found. Is there any good reason to not revisit how to get more out of services that the communities already agreed to share?

At the end of the day, the dollar value on the tax bills of property owners is what will surely drive decisions at the municipal voting booth.

But once those city councilors are in place, they should be worrying less about the next election and their rhetoric and more about setting sensible policies to deliver services in their communities that eliminate bureaucracies, not create more.

Jonathan LaBonte, of New Auburn, is a columnist for the Sun Journal. E-mail: [email protected]

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