COLAC (the Coalition Opposed to Lewiston-Auburn Consolidation), the organization which led a successful grass-roots campaign against November’s referendum to merge the cities of Lewiston and Auburn, and Auburn’s new mayor, Jason Levesque, who vowed during his candidacy not to serve if the referendum passed, are now hoping to use social media and public relations to solve the problems they argued merger could not.

If only it were that easy!

What are the problems? They include an inadequate tax base, thinly stretched municipal services, struggling schools and a static population.

Mayor Levesque is pitching public relations as a way to enhance Auburn’s image as a desirable and affordable place to live, work and play, thereby drawing new residents to the city. He intends to create an advisory committee to launch a branding campaign to raise Auburn’s regional profile. “Auburn should be the northernmost suburb of Portland, and there’s nothing wrong with being that,” Levesque said in a Sun Journal interview shortly after taking office. “It’s about shrinking the psychological space between Portland and Auburn.”

Among Auburn’s unique assets, he cites a ski mountain, three golf courses, an indoor turf facility, a dual-rink ice arena, shopping, restaurants, a downtown and “more land and agricultural conservation than the entire city of Portland has land.”

While COLAC’s future plans are less crystalized, Robert Reed, chair of Lewiston’s Finance Committee and a COLAC leader, said the organization intends to remain in existence to support community efforts and programs “to raise the image of both cities and its citizens.”


Positive messaging may prove helpful in improving L-A’s undeservedly poor state and regional public image, but it’s far from a decisive solution.

The problems that Lewiston and Auburn face – the same problems that the merger proposal was intended to address – are structural and can’t be solved solely by feel-good social media or public relations campaigns.

To be sure, everyone, including organizers of the merger movement, accepts that there’s not going to be municipal consolidation at any time in the foreseeable future, if ever. The voters made that clear at the polls in November, defeating the proposal by a margin of about 2 to 1 in Lewiston and nearly 5 to 1 in Auburn. However, the need for the two communities to work closely together across a broad array of issues remains as urgent as ever, even in the absence of a formal political and administrative merger.

A hopeful sign in that regard can be found in newly elected Lewiston Mayor Shane Bouchard’s inaugural speech when he predicted that, with himself and Levesque in office, the two cities would have the “highest level of cooperation seen in many years.”

How can the two communities effectively cooperate?

First, the Twin Cities need to resume joint economic development efforts. The outgoing Auburn City Council knee-capped the Lewiston Auburn Economic Growth Council (LAEGC) by refusing to continue funding it. The Growth Council offered a bundle of development services, such as assisting with site selection for businesses seeking to set up shop in either city, providing supplemental lending for new business development and expansion projects, and conducting public relations campaigns to promote the Twin Cities as a “cool” place to live and work. (Remember the slogan, “It’s Happening Here”.) A re-commitment to the Growth Council or creation of a suitable replacement for LAEGC should be a high priority of both city councils.


Second, Lewiston and Auburn should be looking for opportunities to provide or expand specialized educational programs involving both school systems that neither city’s system can fully support alone. These might include higher-level STEM courses, vocational training, music and art, and athletics. With state funding authorized for a new Edward Little High School in Auburn and the Franklin Pasture Athletic Complex at Lewiston High School undergoing major improvements, the time is opportune for planning joint programs.

Third, the Twin Cities should create an umbrella agency to help promote and finance cultural amenities, such as museums, musical performance venues and theater. Many cultural organizations have sprouted through their own bootstrap efforts and stage an excellent array of events, but they receive only minimal financial assistance and promotion from either city, let alone from both acting in tandem.

Finally, there are opportunities for collaboration to save money on a broad range of nuts-and-bolts municipal needs – from computer tech support to materials purchasing to vehicle and equipment repair.

Lewiston and Auburn have been and still remain the most compatible municipalities to partner in these kind of efforts. That’s not to say that each can’t have bilateral or multilateral arrangements with other towns and cities. But face it! We’re probably not going to do any deals with communities like Dover-Foxcroft. And if Portland looks to us at all, it will likely just be to house its spillover population due to home prices being about 30 percent cheaper here.

I doubt that becoming a bedroom community to Portland is the way to significantly enhance the fiscal health of L-A. A new higher-end house might generate $6,000 to $8,000 or more in taxes, but if the residents who purchased that house had two school-age children, it would cost about $16,000 to educate them, not to mention the tab for maintaining roads, water and sewer lines to the house. By itself, new residential development doesn’t usually yield a net fiscal gain (unless in a very affluent community, where high real estate values and assessments substantially boost tax revenues).

The more desirable additions to the tax base are industrial and commercial users. They not only bring higher tax revenues but ultimately increase population by enlarging the workforce. By collaborating to restore or replace a one-stop L-A economic development agency, create quality educational programs and support the cultural amenities that are attractive to an educated workforce, we can increase the odds of bringing those sorts of users our way.

Such endeavors are the kind that two can do better than one.

Elliott Epstein is a trial lawyer with Andrucki & King in Lewiston. His Rearview Mirror column, which has appeared in the Sun Journal for 10 years, analyzes current events in an historical context. He is also the author of “Lucifer’s Child,” a book about the notorious 1984 child murder of Angela Palmer.

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