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Op-Ed: Lewiston-Auburn unification will result in lower, not higher, taxes

By Gabrielle Russell


Unifying Lewiston and Auburn would make us a leader in this state and nationwide.

Prior to the Joint Charter Commission, there have been three previous commissions tasked with looking at consolidation of municipal functions. Each effort found efficiencies and savings, but city councils did not move forward with the change.

This time the process is more grassroots, collecting the signatures of over 2,000 residents from Auburn and Lewiston to form the Joint Charter Commission. The next step is to let the voters of our communities shape our future by casting their vote, which is expected to be on the ballot in November.

The opposition frequently cites city mergers where taxes and municipal staff have increased. Why might that be? Naturally, prices rise over time and cities with increasing population need increased city staff to serve them. The unification of Lewiston-Auburn will lower taxes in the near term and over time will certainly save millions of dollars over what we would have paid.

The claim there will be massive city layoffs defies logic. As the JCC researched through the staff and citizen work groups, most staff changes will be in upper management where duplication can be eliminated. Will we have less children to teach? Or less miles of road to plow? No.

Most other changes will likely occur through attrition and normal turnover during the 24-month transition period. Many city staffers retire each year within both communities, and a casual browsing of cities job posting reveals dozens of open positions.

During the recent Chamber of Commerce Merger Forum, I was happy that merger opponent Jim Howaniec recognized the downtown progress many local developers have made. I also value Mr. Howaniec and his downtown practice. He implied that investments in this area were forward-thinking and visionary; I agree wholeheartedly.

A visionary effort is what I and many others believe will improve Lewiston-Auburn government. There is no question in my mind that we would be much more successful with a joint economic development effort, along with the many other recommendations referenced in the report.

Cooperation between Lewiston and Auburn governments is dwindling or non-existent. Recent examples of this are the withdrawal of support for L/A Arts and the Economic Growth Council. We must leave behind the petty disagreements of the recent past and establish a new path where common goals, positive communication and a new robust community vision lead to great achievements.

As two cities, we have made lots of progress since the mills and economic decline, but much more can be done. In our current state, I believe we are severely underestimating our own potential to reach higher levels of efficiency, ease of access and sustainability.

I have heard from many people who have an outside perspective that the appearance of Auburn and Lewiston is that we do not work together cohesively or effectively; for example, as an architect, I often see there is a substantial difference between Lewiston and Auburn in the planning, development and building-permit application processes. This leads to confusion and deters investment and progress.

As citizens of Auburn and Lewiston, we have to bolster our past success, set the best vision we can conceive and work hard to achieve the tremendous success we are capable of.

With the right attitude, hard work, innovative thinking and collaboration, reestablishing Lewiston-Auburn as a robust, thriving community that attracts new business, jobs, people and activities is attainable and most achievable through unification.

Gabrielle Russell is the co-manager of the One LA Campaign. She is a Maine Licensed Architect, a Lewiston resident and property owner.

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