In response to the unnamed “point by point” comparison. I stand by my numbers and hope more people will ask the very questions I did. My response may be lengthy but required given the way I must explain.
First, we were told $2.4 Million based on the work groups, but that number is now shrunk to $1.9M…why? Let’s be honest, these are a small group of people’s pipe dreams meant to excite citizens for tax savings, when in fact they have zero ability to control what a newly elected or appointed body might do in 2020. But assuming that’s the new number as anything north of that would require further cuts to staffing or significant benefit reductions (just like what occurred in Princeton).
Leveling Up – there are TWO forms of leveling up – the first is simply paying managers MORE because they work for a larger organization, have more authority or because you simply want to look like Portland. The JCC report in fact tells us $1.1M to $1.6M in these levelling up costs but does not seem to reduce the “savings” to account for it. I personally believe based on salaries of Portland and other larger municipalities that $1.6M is at the low end of costs, not the high end.
But there is a second “leveling up” – 560 employees in unions find themselves not having matching pay or benefits, referred to as “equalization of pay”. Raise your hand if you believe the unions will simply bow down and say, “managers get more money and benefits, but we’re ok as is, just change our pay and/or benefits to meet the other city”. To ignore this substantial cost and the costs do get through negotiations is either working with blinders or simply trying to hide the truth from the eventual taxpayer. Just a change upwards of $1.00 per hour in pay or benefits will result in $1.5M in new costs each year…I revise that from the $1.622 M which was based on an estimate of 600 employees. This does not include the real possibility that senior members of staff will be asked to step backwards due to downsizing but will still expect to be at the maximum pay for their new grade. – they have earned that right.
LAEGC – The unknown letter writer would like you to believe that there is no intention to fund LAEGC, however not only do they indicate they will, they go so far as to hide it with “Boards and Committees” on Page 19 of their own report. Their own words “would still be needed” …so given we do not fund now it is critical that this be considered a new cost only required by merger. More importantly – why did they chose to hide a private organization under a city heading, tucked in with audit, cable and other city run programs? If they truly have no intention to bring back LAEGC they must correct their own report as actions speak louder than words.
School Funding – I too spoke with people who understand it and quite simply, if our costs are reduced there is no need to match costs that do not exist – this was made clear as a former city councilor when we were often told “if you cut here, the state will reduce”. Perhaps the JCC could tell us who their experts they consulted with are on this item as it does not meet a straight face test.
New School Costs – at the meeting with a task force on schools the participants were told by the JCC – what would it look like in an ideal world. Many of the new costs were brought up but dismissed – do you see a pattern with dismissing real costs? Secondly, special ed funding lags two years currently, and nothing via a merger alone changes that formula – while it would be great to expand special ed programs we do so knowing the cost will be completely borne by taxpayers as we expand due to this lag. The JCC ignores this phenomena of Maine state funding.
Revaluation – there is NOTHING requiring revaluation of property except a merger. Period! A merger requires reassessment which will shift more cost to homeowners. Lewiston is nowhere near a point where revaluation is otherwise required and thus has no plans for revaluation in the near future other than should a merger pass. How did I come up with costs for reval? Well the small town of Wiscasset in 2004 required a re-val due to closure of Maine Yankee and its cost was over $250,000 to an outside group. That’s 13 years ago, and 16 years by the time it is required due to a merger. Ask Auburn residents about a failed private contractor reval about 8 years ago, and what it then cost for city staff to clean the mess created and do their own revals. If anything, my figures are incredibly conservative as given our city size its more likely to be $500,000 between consultants and staff work.
Attorneys – In a perfect world a charter is voted, approved and done, but most of us don’t live in a perfect world. We anticipate challenges to many items, including staffing changes, the charter itself and which former city is responsible for which costs. One simple example is Lewiston’s Parking Garage requirements under contract – a contract that we currently are at least 2 full garages behind on building and 3 would cost roughly $40 million in new bonding. Its highly likely Auburn residents would go to court seeking to force this to only be paid by Lewiston residents either prior to or after a merger.
Consultants – my numbers stand but simply put the JCC report never identified costs and I only use estimates based on my work as a former city councilor and current Chair of the Lewiston Finance Committee. We can quibble over the final amount, but I’m satisfied that the JCC finally admits there are costs to merge – even though they don’t show them as an offset to savings predicted.
Severance – need I remind the citizens of the severance cost when a city administrator was let go while I was a councilor? Auburn has the same issues in its past – to assume anyone knowing their position would be eliminated would not stay on for a bit extra is ignoring reality and peoples financial decision making processes.
In summary, the JCC indicated a lists of costs in their report but refused to assign a dollar figure to them and only does so now to reduce what I feel the costs could be. I encourage the JCC to give us one set of numbers starting with “savings” and then reducing those savings by these one time or permanent costs only added due to a merger. The citizens will then easily see that this promise of reduced taxes is simply wrong. I thank them for their rebuttal but the casual reader should note that each time we ask these questions the savings is reduced, even by smaller amounts they agree to, it’s still less savings than what they promised.