Creative governance in Lewiston and Auburn
When it comes to innovative thinking in local government, we’re big fans of what the cities of Lewiston and Auburn have already accomplished – and the two City Halls on either side of the Androscoggin River are still pushing the envelope on new and creative ways to provide city services. As GrowSmart Maine moves forward with our “Governing Maine in the 21st Century” project, we expect to look to these cities for examples of creative, entrepreneurial government.
For instance, the two cities collaborate on economic development with the Lewiston Auburn Economic Growth Council. All too often, neighboring towns compete with each other with loans and tax breaks as they try to locate new businesses inside their boundaries. But Lewiston and Auburn work together as a region to bring new businesses and jobs to the area: even if a business decides to locate on Auburn’s side of the river, Lewiston’s residents and taxpayers still benefit from increased employment and spending power, and vice versa.
The Greater Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce is now pushing a similar concept for Cumberland County. Maine’s largest city has left its chief economic development position vacant in the wake of city budget cuts, but a regional approach could make economic development more successful and more affordable to its constituent municipalities.
In L/A, merging other public offices in order to save taxpayer money is the focus of an ongoing “Citizens Commission on Lewiston-Auburn Cooperation.” The Commission is working with the two cities to share more city services and save millions of dollars annually. Already, the cities are sharing some public works equipment and staff, and looking into coordinating their code enforcement, tax assessment, and technology offices, among others.
A report that the Commission produced in early 2006 even suggested that the two cities might merge completely to create a single municipality, whose population would rival Portland’s.
So there’s no shortage of big, bold ideas for government in L/A. And the cities are reaping the benefits of these creative ideas: new businesses are creating jobs, downtown storefronts are being renovated, existing businesses are growing, tax rates are declining, and the cities’ populations are growing for the first time in decades.