More than one hundred people turned out in June for the first public forum on the proposed merger of Lewiston and Auburn. The same venue at Central Maine Community College will host a hearing Monday. As part of the consolidation process, each city must host a public hearing prior to the planned November vote. 

AUBURN — Residents in Auburn will get their first chance to grab the microphone and say what they think of a proposal to merge the Twin Cities during a public hearing Monday.

As part of the consolidation process outlined by state law, each municipality must host a public hearing prior to the planned November vote. Due to the expected large turnout, city officials opted to host the hearing at Central Maine Community College’s Kirk Hall auditorium, starting at 6:30 p.m.

The same venue was used in June when the Lewiston-Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce hosted a well-attended forum on the merger. That event, however, was formatted more as a debate.

Gene Geiger, chairman of the Lewiston-Auburn Joint Charter Commission, which has been working on its consolidation documents for the past three years, and Jim Howaniec, leader of the Coalition Opposed to Lewiston-Auburn Consolidation, traded arguments for and against the merger.

Members of the two campaigns have also traded letters with the Sun Journal lately, hoping to bolster their arguments as November inches closer. The debate centers on the pro-merger side believing that a merger is the best way for the region to combat demographic projections that could cripple the economy, while the anti-merger group believes it’s a risky move, and that the financial costs, as well as identity loss, will outweigh any benefit. 

The Charter Commission’s consolidation agreement documents were submitted to both cities last month. The document includes eight items required by state law. Among them are the proposed name for the consolidated city (Lewiston-Auburn) and financial considerations, such as each city’s property, debt and terms for apportioning tax rates to pay off the remaining bonded debt in each city.

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A copy of the proposed agreement can be found at the Auburn Public Library, or online. Residents will most likely take up specific items included in the documents. 

According to the city’s public notice on the hearing, “all interested parties are invited to attend the public hearing and will be given an opportunity to be heard at that time. In order to accommodate all of those who would like to speak, comments may be limited to 3-5 minutes each.” 

While discussing the hearing at previous City Council meetings, Councilor Bob Stone pitched an idea that public comment be limited to Auburn residents and business owners only. However, the majority disagreed. Councilor Jim Pross was also unsuccessful in convincing his fellow councilors to wait to set the hearing until sometime in 2018, which would delay Auburn’s vote.

A majority of voters in both Lewiston and Auburn must vote in favor of the merger on Tuesday, Nov. 7, in order for it to be enacted. 

In Lewiston, City Administrator Ed Barrett said officials have discussed possible dates for its public hearing, but have not formally settled on one yet. He estimated that it’ll take place sometime within the second or third weeks of September. 

He said he’s interested to hear how many people show up for Auburn’s hearing, which will “help us judge how much room we need.” He said there are a few venue options for the council to consider. 

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To view the Joint Charter Commission’s documents on the proposed merger, click here

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