LEWISTON — Efforts to combine the Twin Cities are moving forward, despite lacking all the money needed for consulting and legal services.

With a $50,000 state grant in the bank, the group working to help combine Lewiston and Auburn said Wednesday it planned to release its first draft of a new charter near the end of the month.

Members of the Lewiston-Auburn Charter Commission voted to sign a $110,000 contract with Rochester, N.Y.-based government efficiency consultants CGR. The Charter Commission met Wednesday night in Lewiston City Hall.

Wednesday’s agreement is a partial contract that hires the consultants to review existing Lewiston and Auburn operations and analyze the impacts of combining the two cities.

It stops short, however, of a full-cost savings and tax impact report.

Commission member Lucien Gosselin said the full study will cost $148,700. With a state grant, the Charter Commission has about $103,000 to spend, including $40,000 in fundraising pledges and another $13,000 in the bank.

Commission Chairman Gene Geiger said he favors letting the group get started, even if the charter effort runs out of money before it can go to a vote.

“The worst thing that would happen is that we’d just end up with a good baseline study of our options,” Geiger said. “If we have to pull the plug on this process, at least we’d have something concrete and of value that can be used by another group down the line.”

Geiger said he also favors applying for more state government efficiency grants to pay for the rest of the work.

Member Chip Morrison said he is confident the group can raise the money it needs to fulfill the complete CGR contract.

“We’ll probably need between $170,000, $180,000 to get this to the point to put it on the ballot,” Morrison said. “This has nothing to do with campaigning or putting it on the ballot. This is all just technical stuff. The consultants contract is to look at operations to see what is possible. Then we’ll ask people what they think.”

Lewiston and Auburn voters elected the six commissioners — three from each city — in June 2014 to study and draft a new charter combining the two cities. The group has met twice each month discussing government options, meeting with local government representatives and writing a draft charter, combining language from the Lewiston and Auburn charters and a national model charter.

Members said Wednesday the group has spent hours of effort — but only $24 — to establish a checking account. The group has pledged not to ask either city for financial help, but applied for state aid last year.

The group was offered $50,000 in matching cash from Gov. Paul LePage last year. That money would be paid over the next two years for professional, legal and financial reviews. The governor’s caveat was the group needed both Lewiston and Auburn city councils to pass a resolution saying they support the Charter Commission — not its conclusions, but the study process.

Both councils gave that support and Geiger said they received word that they would get state help at the end of the year.

Geiger said he planned to release the first draft of that charter on Jan. 25, letting the public and local officials start reviewing and debating it.

Consultants CGR would write a report that shows what combining the cities would mean for services and taxes.

CGR has written reports for as many as 30 communities in New York state and the rest of the Northeast, Geiger said. The work consists of a baseline review of both governments today — the number of employees, assets, taxes and other data. Next, they develop scenarios that combine operations, outlining benefits and drawbacks for each.

“The idea is to do a high-quality study to get credible, clear, fully fleshed-out information about how a combined Lewiston-Auburn would function, what savings there would be, what the services would be and so on,” Geiger said.

The plan is to bring the proposed charter to a vote in November, but Geiger said he does not want to rush things. He’s willing to delay a vote until 2017 or later if the report or the charter is not ready.

“My position is I’d rather we do something really well,” Geiger said. “That’s more important than speed. We might be able to get something on the ballot in November, but we want to make sure it’s done as well as can be done. If that means pushing it into the next year, so be it.”

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