Lewiston-Auburn merger: For the record

Heading into the final days before Election Day, here are a few things that have come up during the merger campaign that the Sun Journal attempted to clear up:

Bates Mill included in the argument

For most of the campaign, the Coalition Opposed to Lewiston-Auburn Consolidation has used the Bates Mill redevelopment project in Lewiston as an example of new debt that might be saddled on taxpayers in Auburn, should the merger pass. 

Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte has said he’s worried about the existing contracts “that could tie new debt to a merged city.” The city’s contract for the Bates Mill project stipulates that the city must build additional parking based on new tenants.

Lewiston City Administrator Ed Barrett said this week that the parking agreement dates back to 2004. Under the agreement, he said, the city is responsible for providing the necessary parking to support the redevelopment of the mill, with the amount of parking phasing in as sections of the mill are renovated.

The agreement calls for about four spaces per 1,000 square feet. Barrett said given the number of spaces in effect at the time of the agreement, and the number added since then, the city would be potentially required to add about 600 spaces to support the mill redevelopment.

However, he said, that number may be high based on parking demand, “which can vary greatly depending on type of use.”

He said that since the agreement was made, the developer, Platz Associates, has been flexible. In talks with the developer on Bates Mill No. 5, Barrett said, “there has been discussion of developing a more flexible parking standard to replace the current four per 1,000 one.”

Barrett said the requirement that Lewiston meet the parking need is guaranteed in a number of ways: a number of city properties are mortgaged as collateral, including the Oak Street lot and garage and the Chestnut Street garage. In addition, he said, the City Council has authorized, but has not issued, bonds in the amount of roughly $4 million “to cover any liquidated damages should the city default on the agreement.” 

“It should be noted that the mill complex supports at least 1,000 jobs that would likely not be there if needed parking was not available,” Barrett said. “Without such public infrastructure investment, it is likely the complex would have remained largely unused to this day.” 

Something to gain?

As the campaigns rolled on, and the campaign finance reports were released, many people have pointed to the few large donors to One LA and asked questions. Why are people like Gene Geiger, chairman of the Joint Charter Commission, and Tom Platz of Platz Associates, so invested in the merger initiative? 
Social media has been alive with chatter, but the merger idea didn’t appear overnight. It’s followed a process mandated by state law, albeit a rarely used one. 
The Lewiston-Auburn Joint Charter Commission was created in 2014 following a successful citizen petition that people in both cities signed. Both cities elected three people, including Geiger, to sit on that board and to draft a charter and consolidation agreement. They’ve met every two weeks for three years. 
Asked recently why he’s put so much money into the campaign, Geiger said, “I believe in One LA. I believe we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in front of us. So, I am putting my money where my mouth is.”
Stone signed off

During one of the recent debates regarding the merger, Auburn City Councilor Bob Stone, a merger opponent, told the crowd that he never signed the petition that was originally circulated to create the Joint Charter Commission, but he in fact did sign it. (The Sun Journal reviewed a copy of the petition.) 

Asked this week, Stone said it was so long ago that he simply forgot.

“I tend to sign petitions for ballot referenda, because I like to see the issue voted on and the matter settled by the voters, hopefully once and for all,” he said.

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