AUGUSTA — A measure that would likely make it harder to merge municipalities in Maine will face legislative scrutiny this session at the request of the mayors of Lewiston and Auburn.

Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, said he introduced a proposal to require a majority vote by each town or city eyeing a possible merger before they go through the trouble and expense of creating a joint charter commission.

The Legislative Council unanimously agreed to let Brakey’s request come before the Legislature during the short session that’s underway, a move the senator called “a good sign” that it might secure enough support to become law.

Brakey said that after voters in Lewiston and Auburn shot down a merger proposal in November by a wide margin, the two new mayors in each municipality asked him to sponsor legislation to change the merger process.

Mayor Jason Levesque of Auburn and Lewiston Mayor Shane Bouchard sought to insert a new requirement that voters in each municipality back the idea of a merger before a charter commission begins doing anything.

Brakey said that would prevent situations from occurring where a small minority of voters could gather enough signatures to propose a merger that doesn’t actually have much support in both communities.

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He said the bill is “not very intrusive, not very complicated,” it merely ensures that citizens are interested in a merger before a bureaucratic process begins grinding forward to produce a new charter.

Even if voters endorsed a charter commission, they wouldn’t have to accept the merger in the end. There would still be a public vote at the end of the process that would require the backing of each community involved in the merger before a merger could occur.

The way things are now, Brakey said, a charter panel is created merely by gathering signatures, with no indication there is widespread support for a merger.

Adding a step for an initial referendum, the senator said, would prevent “the kinds of questions raised” in Auburn and Lewiston last year about why so much money and time had been spent on something that proved so unpopular.

The bill has yet to be drafted. No public hearing on it has been scheduled.

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Signs for and against the proposed merger of Lewiston and Auburn last year. (Sun Journal file photo)


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