A critical look at the advantages to merging, as presented by the Joint Charter Commission.
"Promises, promises, this is where those promises end " - from the song by Burt Bachrach and Hal David
For months now, the Joint Charter Commission has been promising wonderful results for all Lewiston and Auburn residents if we can just vote to approve the Consolidation Agreement, and embedded Charter, on November 7th.
COLAC decided to take a look at all the promises, and introduce some reality to discussion. Here is our review.
Apparently, “more jobs” will materialize because we will go back, according to the JCC, to the failed “joint economic development” model formerly called “LAEGC.” The Auburn City Council gave up on LAEGC after spending hundreds of thousands of Auburn taxpayer dollars for little, if any, increase in our taxable valuation. It was hotly disputed by the “in-crowd”, but the numbers are all readily available in both cities financial reports over the 10-year period.
“Big is better” is apparently popular with the pro-merger crowd. Looking at their educational recommendations, it makes one wonder why most of the strategies and tactics that will be attempted after the merger aren’t being tried now, or in the past. Lewiston uses the big box elementary school model. Auburn uses the neighborhood school model. If the merger is approved, we think Auburn can kiss some of their elementary schools “good-bye”, such as East Auburn and Walton. Say “hello” to the big yellow school bus!
Who could argue with safer streets? The problem is the knuckleheads and petty criminals are not going to “honor the merger” and retire from criminal activities. According to JCC documentation, staffing will be essentially unchanged with the exception of one less Police Chief. The Police Chief will be looking for more compensation, and maybe another, added, deputy police chief. Great sounding promise, little substance to it.
When is the last time you saw government shrink in size? There will always be “more needs” with not enough “resources.” Save a buck here, spend it there. This promise, loudly proclaimed, is probably the most egregious and misleading of all of the “cake” that the JCC is promising the locals.
Smart People Working to Re-invent
Looking at the JCC documents, there will be a lot of “re-inventing” going on after the merger. Again, why hasn’t this re-inventing gone on over the past 25 years in Lewiston and Auburn. Will the merger bring a massive injection of “smarts” to the craniums of elected officials and city staffs? Why do we have to wait for merger to re-invent? Maybe the cake will have some smart flour mixed in.
Headwinds are a fact of life. We don’t always get to sail downwind. The headwinds that face Lewiston and Auburn also blow in the face of every one of the 493 municipalities in Maine. We live in a high tax state, a very poor environment for economic growth. Our legislature loves to add tax upon tax to our burden. High income taxes are especially toxic to private sector employment. The JCC is barking up the wrong tree when thinking that a merger will have any substantive impact on job growth. The headwinds have to be dealt with in Augusta.
Lewiston and Auburn are Competing Against Each Other
This is pure poppycock. A fairy tale. It was concocted to help sell “joint economic development” and is ancient history. What is good for Lewiston is indirectly good for Auburn, and vice versa. When was the last time “How can we screw (the other city) today?” Just doesn’t happen. There is much cooperation going on.
Attracting Employers that will generate jobs
There are no impediments presented by the existing communities that would be removed by a merger event. Site selection is done based upon SMSA (regional) demographics by retailers because people do travel into Auburn and Lewiston to work, shop and enjoy entertainment. We doubt site selection people would say “Oh, look, they’ve merged!” The numbers are the same. The proximity to Portland and Augusta won’t change due to a merger. The workforce wont change. 40% of our working age population still won’t want to work and won’t be looking for work.
“Only a merged, large school system would allow a re-invented educational system”
Again, to the JCC, “big is best.” If one looks at academic performance, most of the leaders in the state are smaller communities, such as Yarmouth, Falmouth, Cape Elizabeth, Camden, etc. Excellent education systems have little to do with being “big.” Their demographics are different from Lewiston and Auburn. The merger will not change the demographics.
There will be a new emphasis on student needs
Is there not such an emphasis on student needs currently? How will a merger heighten this emphasis? There may be, in fact less state revenue sharing coming into the merged city than to the independent cities of Lewiston and Auburn.
There will be strengthened school leadership due to the merger
Are we suddenly going to have more effective people serving on the merged school board? Will our School management going to be stronger than our existing Superintendents? We wonder how our existing school boards and staff think of this bold statement.
We’ll have a stronger voice in Augusta
How they are going to pull this one off is a mystery. There will be the same number of state senators and state representatives as there are now. Our voice in Augusta is entirely determined by the effectiveness and political skills of our elected legislators. The rest of Maine is not going to shout “Make way, here come the bold reps from Lewiston-Auburn!”