Matthew Shaw, center, moderates Tuesday night’s debate at the Gendron Franco Center in Lewiston. Matt Leonard, left, representing the Coalition to Oppose Lewiston-Auburn Consolidation makes a point while Kristy Phinney, right, representing One LA, waits her turn.

LEWISTON — One thing both sides of the merger debate have in common is wanting to see the Twin Cities grow and become as successful as possible.

Matt Leonard represented the Coalition Opposed to Lewiston-Auburn Consolidation at a forum hosted Tuesday by Uplift LA at the Gendron Franco Center, while Kristy Phinney represented One LA, the pro-merger campaign.

“We can all agree on wanting a better Lewiston-Auburn,” Leonard said. “We just disagree on the means.” 

One LA believes merging the two cities will be a catalyst for economic and population growth, but opponents say the best way to grow is to use the assets each city already has.

The forum, moderated by Matthew Shaw, was the last public debate on the merger before the vote Nov. 7. 

“A merger would bring jobs and businesses here,” Phinney said. “We have so much to offer in this combined community.”

Phinney and One LA put a lot of focus on what would bring in more young people and keep them here.

“We live in the oldest state in the nation and we’re aging out,” she said. “But we have the assets to build a sustainable community. What we need is a catalyst to bring more families and young people to our community; we need something to propel us and the merger is the answer. Things can be better here.”

Leonard argued that separate cities with different ideas promote friendly competition, which will spur success on its own.

“Diversity is a strength. Why create an artificial homogeneous community that really isn’t real,” Leonard said.

He said recognizing the strength in each city is the key to growing.

One of Shaw’s questions was what each side’s response was to “taking on the other city’s problems,” a concern that has been raised from people in both Lewiston and Auburn.

Phinney said there is “a lot of fear on each side for no reason,” and argued that the perceived problems are not as bad as people think.

She clarified that each city will be responsible for paying off its existing debt. 

Leonard repeated the recent COLAC argument that the current language included in the consolidation agreement, the document residents will vote on, could be misinterpreted. 

Leonard said it should instead say “taxpayers,” so that businesses aren’t off the hook for their share of the cities’ debts. 

Phinney responded that the intention is for taxpayers to pay the debt, and the wording could be changed. Lewiston will hold a second public hearing Oct. 17, but the Auburn City Council declined Monday to host another public hearing. 

There was also the familiar back-and-forth between the campaigns over the possible savings reported in the Joint Charter Commission’s merger study, which states between $2.3 million and $4.2 million could be saved, depending on which positions are cut. 

Leonard said the savings would not happen, while Phinney responded that those numbers are on the conservative side and that the savings could actually be higher. 

Leonard hopes that if the merger fails it doesn’t come up again. He said it’s a poor use of resources and time that should be used to improve the cities as they are.

“I believe in Lewiston-Auburn’s future, too,” Leonard said. “You don’t need a merger to promote economic development.”

Staff Writer Andrew Rice contributed to this report. 

Matthew Shaw, center, moderates Tuesday night’s debate at the Gendron Franco Center in Lewiston. Matt Leonard, left, representing the Coalition to Oppose Lewiston-Auburn Consolidation makes a point while Kristy Phinney, right, representing One LA, waits her turn.

During the forum Tuesday night, Uplift LA conducted live polls through text messaging. 

1. Do you feel either side, COLAC or One LA, has provided adequate information for you to make a decision on the proposed merger?

• Results: 65 percent, yes; 25 percent, no; 10 percent, undecided.

2. I live in —

• Results: 46 percent, Lewiston; 46 percent Auburn; 8 percent, neither.

3. What best describes your relationship to the cities of Lewiston and/or Auburn?

• Results: 15 percent, I live in; 5 percent, I work in; zero, I play in; 80 percent, multiple apply.

4. Do you feel either Lewiston or Auburn are enticing to individuals outside the area? 

• Results: 33 percent, yes; 53 percent, no; 14 percent, undecided.

5. Has today’s forum helped you have a better understanding of the proposed merger?

• Results: 70 percent, yes; 20 percent, no; 10 percent, undecided. 

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