In the January 1999 issue of Down East Magazine, something extraordinary happened. Our state’s premier home-grown monthly dedicated to Maine lifestyles and people filled its entire magazine with articles about what Lewiston and Auburn were doing together to make this community different from all the other towns and cities in Maine.

Eighteen years later, another milestone moment awaits two of the most collaborative municipalities in Maine and possibly in New England (perhaps the country). Residents and officials are being presented with an opportunity to decide whether the cities’ futures will be better served as individual municipalities or as a single city.

I was honored to have been invited to join a stellar group of L-A’s finest who volunteered to serve on the Public Works sub-committee which submitted its findings as part of the “Consolidation Options and Impacts” report published by the L-A Joint Charter Commission. I have also had the pleasure of participating on numerous local joint committees and work groups and served as chair or president of several Lewiston-Auburn committees. Those committees gave me the opportunity to witness how much time, effort and commitment is required by employees, elected officials and residents to manage and serve on those great committees, and to experience the very diverse legislative requirements and political preferences of both communities.

Lewiston and Auburn have worked hard to develop agreements that not only require the financial commitment of both cities, but also require each city’s long-term support through biannual changes in political leadership. Such long-term jointly operated enterprises as the Lewiston-Auburn Water Pollution Control Authority (since 1973), the Lewiston-Auburn Transit Authority (since 1976) and the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport (since 1935) continue to provide critical services to this day — a truly remarkable accomplishment.

One can only imagine how much more beneficial and efficient all the joint operations would have been with one mayor, city council and city government.

Though I take great pride in having worked side-by-side with Auburn’s talented and creative people on those committees, all of it required much time and effort to get “the job done.” I cannot help to think how different it would have been if all the collective energy invested in those partnerships could have been redirected more efficiently. How many more imaginative and creative things could have been accomplished through these many years under one unified system?

People who work in in the public sector often hear that city government should be “run like a business.” I couldn’t agree more. Very often in business, companies are doing all they can to anticipate how to respond to changes in the market — customer preferences and demand, technology, etc. That involves investing in people and plant assets in anticipation of future markets (e.g Amazon’s announcement to hire 50,000 employees for its new food business). For cities, such planning and investment is often met with resistance, given the economy’s historic volatility and ongoing federal and state funding cuts during the past 18 fiscal years (2008 recession was the largest since the Great Depression).

Consequently, both cities have responded to the economic and funding volatility by doing what they can to manage debt, capital, operational and labor costs (in Lewiston, 66 city positions eliminated or 16 percent of the workforce since 2002). Though Lewiston-Auburn have also seen major reductions in both federal and state funding (e.g. Lewiston losing $4 million per year during the past four fiscal years — Auburn losses were proportionately similar), the ability for municipalities to backfill the deficit with its own revenue is limited by a reluctance to increase property taxes and access to few options for new revenue alternatives.

The merger vote is the rare opportunity to consider another alternative to address the municipalities’ financial, strategic, capital and operational future needs. The talent exists on both sides of the river, and I believe they would all make one formidable team. For instance, how much better could it be if the two cities were operating on one unified technology design and planning approach, directed by one technology department? The current highly integrated system requires staff to constantly address architecture and firewall issues that are inherent in a system that depends on interoperability functioning at a very high level.

Working as a single municipality would reduce the system’s complexity and improve security for something that literally touches every L-A city department (and outside agencies). I simply cannot envision that doing that for every department would not produce similar results.

I believe that the history and performance as partners has no equal in the country. We already know what we are capable of together and that no challenge is too great or too complicated for the two cities.

On Nov. 7, Twin Cities’ residents can all make it happen by voting “yes” to chart a new and exciting course for Lewiston-Auburn, Maine.

Phil Nadeau is the former deputy city administrator for Lewiston. He resides in Lewiston.

Phil Nadeau

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