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Politics

Backers of Plan to Merge Lewiston and Auburn Kick Off Campaign

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Patty Wight
/
Maine Public
Gabrielle Russell, co-manager of the "One LA" campaign, speaks at a news conference in Auburn Thursday.

Lewiston and Auburn residents who support a proposed merger of the two cities officially kicked off their campaign Thursday.

The group One LA says the two communities would save money and be stronger with one identity. But opponents say a merger is unnecessary and would actually cost money.

Gabrielle Russell grew up in Auburn, as did her mom, who would tell Russell the stories of her childhood and the bustling, vibrant community of the twin cities — Lewiston and Auburn. It was a far cry from what Russell experienced as a young girl, she says, when the downtowns were largely vacant.

But now, the cities are being revived, and to continue that progress, Russell thinks Lewiston and Auburn should become one municipality.

“We have a chance right now,” she says. “We must be bold and embrace the next steps for Auburn and Lewiston. It takes courage to be able to take a risk and stand up for something new.”

Russell is co-manager of the One LA campaign, along with Carl Sheline, who says a single, unified voice would make the communities stronger.

“We need to view the mighty Androscoggin as a river that unites, not a moat that divides. The reality is that we are in the same kayak — it’s a very big kayak — and both cities need to be paddling in the same direction,” he says.

Combining the two municipalities, Sheline says, would translate to about $20 millin-$40 million in savings over the next decade. That’s according to a consultant’s report.

But when Jim Howaniec, the chair of the Coalition Opposing Lewiston and Auburn Consolidation runs the numbers, he sees a different result.

“We not only think there will not be savings, we think there’s going to be tax increases resulting from a merger,” he says.

Howaniec says some of those increases result from merging union contracts for municipal employees, as well as the expense of renaming the cities for both businesses and residents. An attorney and former mayor of Lewiston, Howaniec says the two cities already collaborate and don’t need a formal merger to improve their circumstances.

Residents will cast their vote on the matter in a referendum this November.