The Androscoggin County seat, which has been in Auburn since 1854, could be moved to Lewiston by a majority of county commissioners under a bill proposed this week by state Sen. Jeff Timberlake, a Turner Republican.

Timberlake’s “private and special law” would allow commissioners to move the county seat to Lewiston at any regularly scheduled meeting if at least four of the seven members agreed. Three of the commission members live in Lewiston.

But it’s not clear whether Lewiston would even want to become the new county seat.

A Republican member of the Lewiston City Council, Bob McCarthy, said Thursday that his initial take on the idea, which he only heard about Wednesday, “is that I would not support this at this time.”

“I would need to see the justification for the need for this move,” McCarthy added.

City Councilor Scott Harriman, a Democrat, said, “I don’t have strong feelings about which city should be the county seat, but the county charter specifies that it’s Auburn.”


“In general, I feel that charter changes should only be made after a referendum vote. However, a county seat is somewhat of an arbitrary designation, anyway,” Harriman said.

“Some counties in other states — Hillsborough County, New Hampshire, for example — even have two county seats,” he said. “Given the proximity of Lewiston and Auburn, it makes sense that either or both cities could host the various county government functions.”

“I would have no problem with county departments being split between both sister cities if that works better for the county’s residents,” Harriman said.

Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline said he considers Androscoggin County “a partner in success for our region and would be open to any discussion” about its needs.

Sheline added, “Lewiston is the largest city in Androscoggin County and the second-largest city in Maine.”

The proposal, under consideration by the Committee on State and Local Government, is one of two related measures by Timberlake aimed at turning up the heat on Auburn to clear the way for Sheriff Eric Samson to move his department from the historic County Building downtown to the former Evergreen Subaru dealership at 774 Center St.


Prior to Timberlake’s new bill, there had been no public discussion in Augusta, Lewiston or Auburn about shifting the county seat.

Auburn City Manager Phil Crowell, who decried the secrecy involved in the legislation, said Thursday that “county and local government buildings are a once-in-a-generation decision. It is important for the community to get it right. “

“The voters made the decision in 1854 and they should be the ones who make the decision in the future,” Crowell said.

Auburn became the county seat after vigorous debate connected to the creation of Androscoggin County. Initially, the Legislature eyed Lewiston as the county seat for the new county it carved out of parts of four existing counties.

But when opposition arose, lawmakers agreed to put the county seat in Lewiston, Auburn or Danville, leaving the choice to be made by residents of the three towns.

“This led to a lively referendum campaign in all three,” according to a centennial history of Auburn, in which Danville voters made the difference by opting for Auburn ahead of Lewiston. Danville is now a part of Auburn.

The Bangor Whig and Courier noted in 1854 that there had been a spirited contest for the honor between the east and west sides of the Androscoggin River.

“Thus Auburn became the shire town of Androscoggin County,” according to the Auburn Centennial History Committee volume.

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