Snowbanks and Christmas trees…seems odd but these two factors started a conversation between my wife and me about moving out of Auburn. If you live in Auburn you know that this year the city decided not to pick up Christmas trees for recycling. I understand that we are in a budget crunch and the city is working hard to save tax dollars where ever possible. I am OK with that, and applaud their proactive approaches to saving tax dollars and becoming more efficient overall.

We have been hit with several snow storms this year, all of which have clogged the major arteries coming into Lewiston and Auburn and made secondary streets all but impassable at times. Then on statewide news I hear that “due to budget cuts, snow removal has been curtailed in Lewiston and Auburn.” All I can think about is the translation that folks around the state (some of whom might even want to move here, or do business here) do in their heads, “Due to being broke, Lewiston and Auburn can’t plow their own streets.”

So why would I consider a move? Simply put, we pay a lot in taxes…I mean a lot, not for a mansion, but a very standard three-bedroom cape, with an acre of land. Meanwhile, the services we receive are becoming less and less. I started doing some research and found that people in rural towns actually live in nice homes, with indoor plumbing, great schools, adequate services, and inviting neighborhoods. They even have three-bedroom Cape Cods, with an acre of land, just like the one I am living in now. Here is the great thing: for a comparable home the property taxes are half of what I pay now! Who would have guessed?

Of course, my commute would be a little bit longer to the office, to shop, go out to eat etc., but when you do the math, I would still come out on top, year after year. Some people prefer to live “in town” and are willing to pay higher taxes to enjoy some of the benefits of urban living and that is completely understandable. However, in business we have a term called “a point of diminishing returns.” I am wondering if we have not crossed that point in the twin cities already and the pros of moving outweigh the cons.

Do people move because of taxes? Yes. It’s no secret that tax policies affect behavior, and if more folks realize what I have, they probably will start moving in droves. By the looks of traffic on the major arteries coming into L-A, I think a lot of them already have.

 So what will happen if our tax base in L-A continues to shrink and more people start commuting to work from rural towns? Will we cut infrastructure such as police or fire services? Will we plow even less during the winter? Will we turn the street lights off at 7 p.m.?

I do not see how we could do any of this, let alone pay for the increase in the cost of maintenance on the now more heavily used gateway roads. After all, the commuters to L-A need and rely on these vital infrastructure services. When you get in an accident in Auburn, the Turner fire department probably will not respond. The Auburn fire department, however, will be there in short order and provide a vital life saving service, at no cost to the town of Turner or the individual.

We constantly talk about consolidating services between Lewiston and Auburn, in order to save money. Maybe it’s time to think outside the box? Is it time to take a much bolder approach and start discussing consolidating all of the towns in Androscoggin County, and utilizing a county form of government? Would we all be better off with a unified mil rate and a consistent tax structure? Should we level the playing field throughout the county in order to ensure that funds are available to support infrastructure and service programs for the town in which you live, and the town in which you shop and work?

Obviously, people in the outlying towns won’t be interested in any plan which would raise their taxes. In order to secure their cooperation, any consolidation plan would have to realize major savings in order to decrease Lewiston-Auburn’s taxes – not raise Poland’s or Greene’s. Can we do that and still plow the roads and pick up the trash?

It might be time to look at restructuring town government. I know my fellow Mainers are a resourceful bunch and I’m sure we can come up with something that accomplishes savings, but still works for us. And I am looking forward to the phone call from Mayor Gleason from Auburn, that this column will surely generate. He already has my number, and for now, I am still a constituent.

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