AUBURN — The City Council on Monday set the ballot language for November’s merger referendum, but only after a last-minute attempt to alter it ultimately failed. 

The amendment, offered by Councilor Robert Stone, would have resulted in Auburn’s ballot featuring different language for the merger question than Lewiston’s, which was approved by the Lewiston City Council last week. 

The language that will appear on both ballots on Nov. 7 will read: “Do you approve the charter and consolidation agreement as recommended by the Lewiston Auburn Joint Charter Commission?”

Stone’s amendment would have added, “which would result in a merger of the cities of Auburn and Lewiston” to the question. He argued that including the word merger would “make it as clear as possible to the voters” about the impact of their vote. 

Councilor Leroy Walker agreed that the added language would make the question more clear. 

“I think merger should be part of the question, it’s very simple,” he said. “It doesn’t screw up their fancy language that may confuse some people.” 

But other councilors and city staff were concerned with passing language that differed from what would appear on the Lewiston ballot. 

Councilor Andrew Titus said he believes the merger question is “clear to everyone” he’s talked to. He also said that changing the language would be making a political statement that’s “not fair to either side.”

“I don’t think it’s fair to the overall process,” he said. 

Councilor Adam Lee said he wants Nov. 7 to decide the merger question, and was concerned that separate language would cast doubt on the end result.

City Clerk Sue Clements-Dallaire and City Manager Peter Crichton also supported approving the same language as Lewiston. 

Walker posed the question that if Auburn was first to adopt its own ballot language, if Lewiston would have followed suit. 

“I don’t think so,” he said. “I don’t think we have to agree with them.”

Stone and Walker are members of the Coalition to Oppose Lewiston-Auburn Consolidation. 

“I think we have the right to do what we want to do,” Stone said. “This is not political. It’s to be as clear as possible.”

Ultimately, the council voted 4-2 against Stone’s amendment and 4-2 to approve the original ballot language.

The city held its public hearing on the merger in July, while Lewiston’s is set for 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 21, at the Lewiston Middle School auditorium.

Food sovereignty

Also on Monday, the council gave final approval to an ordinance that will allow Auburn farmers to sell locally grown food directly to consumers without being subject to government oversight or inspections. 

The ordinance, known as food sovereignty, was supported by councilors during first reading and was backed by members of Auburn’s farming community Monday. 

Kathy Shaw, a farmer who also runs a four-season market locally, said she “highly supports” the ordinance and believes it will do the job it’s intended to do. She said farmers in Auburn work hard to make a living. 

City staff has said that for local farmers, accessing U.S. Department of Agriculture-inspected slaughter or processing facilities can be a major hurdle for smaller local producers bringing their products to the local market. 

Now, local farmers can sell products to family, friends and neighbors who are willing to buy uninspected foods like raw milk, cheese and meat. 

“This will give us an additional leg up to produce our products,” Shaw said.

A state law passed this year allows cities and towns to regulate local food production if the municipality chooses, part of a growing food sovereignty movement that looks to give consumers more freedom about what food they buy.

Dan Herrick, also a farmer, said the ordinance “will allow me to expand my horizon” with another income source. He said he waits between three to six weeks before food is processed, licensed to sell and ready for the market. 

Wholesale transactions, and transactions made outside the municipality where the food is produced, would continue to require all inspections that are currently required, even with the local ordinance in place.

Recreational development 

An ordinance that would make it easier for new development near the city’s major recreational areas also passed its first test Monday, but there were questions from residents. 

The ordinance would amend zoning language in order to open up the possibility for commercial or residential development next to “major recreational uses.” In Auburn, those are defined as Lost Valley, Prospect Hill Golf Course, Fox Ridge Golf Club and Martindale Country Club.  

The city would like to allow owners to pursue hotel or condominium developments. 

Auburn resident Robert Shaw said that while he “wholeheartedly approves” of seeing hotel or condo development in the area near Lost Valley, he also has concerns for the planned industrial use near the ski area. 

The ski resort announced plans in March for Kassbohrer ATV to build a regional assembly and test site for snow groomers at Lost Valley.

“I’m concerned with the other uses,” Shaw said. 

Another resident said she’s concerned for any environmental or traffic impacts associated with the added development near recreational land.

“It seems to me that the location between two watersheds is not the best place for development,” she said, referring to the Lost Valley area.

She also said she doesn’t see Lost Valley as a place that will benefit from hotels.

“It’s not Sunday River or Sugarloaf,” she said. 

Councilors continued to support the ordinance. Councilor Grady Burns said he’s confident that any development would conform to existing environmental standards, while at the same time “increase business tourism, and maintain the viability of our recreational assets.” 

The council voted 5-1 with Titus opposed. A second reading and public hearing will most likely be scheduled for Sept. 11. Notices will be sent to abutters of all four recreational areas. 

[email protected] 

Comments are not available on this story.