Election Day in Maine could mean the creation of an entirely new city. Voters in Lewiston and Auburn are deciding if the two communities should merge into one city.
Together, the twin cities make up the state’s second-largest metropolitan area. If they combined, the new city, called “Lewiston-Auburn,” would become close to the largest city in Maine.
“Bigger communities are more vibrant communities,” said Chip Morrison, a spokesperson for the One LA campaign. Morrison has been serving on a charter committee, exploring the possibility of a merger. The committee found a merger could save the twin cities between $2 and $4 million a year by consolidating services.
“You don’t need two police chiefs, two fire chiefs, two city managers,” said Morrison. “It will save money, there’s no doubt.”
While the two cities are divided by the Androscoggin River, Morrison said they have always felt like one community.
“But we’ve been two city governments, and two institutions that are not always on the same page,” he said.
Opponents of the merger think that’s a good thing.
“Auburn is Auburn and Lewiston is Lewiston,” said Lewiston City Councilor Mike Lachance. “That’s a good thing. Friendly competition.”
An organized opposition group called the Coalition Opposed to Lewiston Auburn Consolidation has disputed the One LA’s cost-savings claims.
“We just don’t see any savings from a merger,” said spokesman Jim Howaniec. He said if the two cities had to consolidate staff and union contracts, costs could rise. “In fact, we think there’s going to be a cost increase.”
Voters at Lewiston and Auburn polls Tuesday were divided, and strongly opinionated on the issue.
“Why should we change?” said Lewiston resident Francois Bussiere, driving a car decorated with home-made “No Merger” signs, wearing a “No Merger” hat.
“You can operate more efficiently as one than you can as two,” said Auburn resident Joe Whitlow. “Why double your expenses?”
According to election officials at multiple polling places, voter turnout, especially early-absentee voting, appeared to be higher than normal for an off-year election. They attributed the voter turnout to the merger question.