Fact Checking COLAC Claims

There have been several assertions made by the Coalition to Oppose Lewiston-Auburn Consolidation (COLAC) that misrepresent key facts in regards to the proposed merger of Lewiston-Auburn. In an effort to provide additional information and resources, One LA has taken the time to address each statement and the opportunity to provide more context below. 

Alternative Facts and Fuzzy Math

1. COLAC Claim: The term “citizens” in a document means that businesses will not be obliged to pay down old debt. This will mean each young person will have to repay $17,000.

False. The actual term used in the Consolidation Agreement is “residents.” When the JCC proposed to change that term to “taxpayers” for absolute clarity, the Auburn City Council decided to not allow for a second hearing to consider it.

Per State law, property taxes are paid by property owners, both homeowners and businesses. It has always been so, and that will never change. Additionally, State law outlines that old debt must be repaid by those whose property is in the geography where it was created. There is no other way to deal with it.

By circulating an incorrect number, COLAC misrepresents a key issue that is on the minds of voters without providing the facts.  The debt is in place, and it will have to be repaid by taxpayers (property-owning businesses and homeowners) on each side of the river, regardless of whether or not a merger takes place.

2. COLAC Claim: A merger will trigger a revaluation that will cost a lot of money. (The implication is that revaluations don’t need to be done.)

False. It has been 30 years since the last revaluation in Lewiston, and city officials admit it is long overdue, merger or not. Property taxes are based on property values. If the values are not reasonably current, some taxpayers are inevitably subsidizing others. Fairness is why regular revaluations are necessary

COLAC claims that the cost to do this will be as much as $1 million. In fact, a revaluation system was put in place in 2008 but never acted upon. Updating the 2008 system will cost closer to $100,000.

There is no better time to cushion the blow some may feel than when a merger triggers significant cost savings.

3. COLAC Claim: Auburn is the largest city east of the Mississippi.

False. At 65 square miles, Auburn is not even the largest city in Maine. Ellsworth is nearly 50% larger.

4. COLAC Claim: Princeton’s consolidation was not successful and taxes have gone up.

False. People who live in Princeton, NJ there tell us that services have improved even as taxes have been held down.

The JCC has received official information directly from Princeton’s mayor. From 2010 to 2015 Princeton’s taxes were flat. From 2010 through 2017 Princeton’s taxes have gone up a total of 3.5%. That compares to as much as 30%+ increase in the surrounding communities.

How would we feel if over an 8-year period our taxes had gone up only 3.5%? Compare that to Auburn’s increase of 9.7% over the past 2 years.

One thing is certain, if we do not merge, $2+ million annually will not be saved, and taxes will absolutely go up faster than they would if we do merge.

COLAC says that we cannot compare ourselves to Princeton’s success because their average home has a higher value than an average home here. At the same time they say that if San Diego can fix its downtown, we can too. Making government more lean and efficient is the right formula anywhere, but what the third largest city in California can do to be rejuvenated does not relate to us.

5. COLAC Claim: There is a list of over 100 things that Lewiston-Auburn currently does to work together.

False. There are roughly 23 joint efforts still active, if you count mutual aid pacts, but there has been nothing in at least the last five years and recently we have ceased working together on economic development and LA Arts. We are, in fact, heading in the opposite direction. The merger movement is being driven precisely because voluntary collaboration has only gotten us only so far. We’ve seen its limits, and we need to find a new way.

Some think that quasi-governmental bodies are what is required for Lewiston and Auburn to work together, but consider that each require bylaws, Boards of Directors, lawyers, attendance away from work at public meetings, and other bureaucratic obstacles.

It is far more effective to have police coordination or transportation work done within a normal management structure than employing monthly meetings where vested interests slow or derail progress significantly.

6. COLAC Claim: The JCC study used estimated, not actual, property values despite having access to them.

False. Lewiston’s properties are valued well below market and as compared to Auburn’s property values which are close to market values. In order to understand how individual taxpayers on each side of the river would be impacted post-merger, the JCC study had to use Maine’s “equalization” process, which itself is a calculation and the best “estimate” one can use to forecast the future.

7. COLAC Claim: At a debate the JCC agreed with COLAC’s numbers.

False. The JCC has never agreed with any of COLAC’s fuzzy numbers. The JCC has never issued any statement changing any numbers.

COLAC has never issued a summary report assembling its numbers in one place. It keeps tossing out numbers, and those numbers keep changing. 

8. COLAC Claim: The construction of the new Edward Little High School will be delayed if there is a merger.

False. We’ve checked with the State Board of Education. Nothing has changed. The new school is on its own track, and the merger will not affect it one way or the other. This is scare tactic being used to create doubt. 

9. COLAC Claim: The merger has placed a “stranglehold” on LA. The focus has been on a merger, and because of that things have not gotten done.

False. There are no examples of initiatives that have not been done pending this decision. Any lack of progress is because the twin cities have been going their separate ways because of parochial interests.

We have not recently been fighting over businesses which might move here, but that is in part because outreach to sell our community has ceased. Now that city funding for the Lewiston Auburn Economic Growth Council (LAEGC) has ended, economic development means each city is waiting by the phones for businesses to call us. Any sales person knows one has to make a lot of calls to make a sale. We have stopped selling ourselves.

10. COLAC Claim: Let’s develop Lake Auburn to be something like Sebago Lake.

We disagree. Do we really want to risk polluting our drinking water supply? Developing Lake Auburn would require a water filtration plant be built, something that would cost tens of millions of dollars and add more debt for all residents.

11. COLAC Claim: If the merger passes, it will take 26 months to implement. We cannot wait that long.

There has been too little progress here for far too long. Groups have been trying unsuccessfully for 25 years to consolidate services and save money. If the cities don’t merge, exactly what is going trigger greater cooperation? Frankly, it will give ammunition to the go-it-alone crowd.

We know from studying other mergers, including Princeton and Cambridge, Ontario to name two, the key to success is developing and executing against a well-constructed implementation plan. The recommended 26-month period will enable a smooth and orderly transition with significant ongoing community input in decisions.

Keeping things as they have been means more of the same. As the saying goes, “If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.”

12. COLAC Claim: A merger is not going to change anything. It is not a smart strategy.

We disagree. COLAC has yet to share a vision for how we can create a prosperous future for our children and grandchildren if we do not merge. On the other hand, the Governor has told us directly that LA can be the economic powerhouse of Maine in 10 years if we merge. If fact, he feels a unified Lewiston-Auburn can lift the whole state with it.

13. COLAC Claim: The JCC study proposes cutting police.

False. The savings in police come from eliminating redundant administrative staff. The JCC study outlines how we can have more police on the street, and that section of the study had input from a police chief and a police officer.

14. COLAC Claim: A merger will not increase clout in Augusta.

False. The Governor himself has said that he totally disagrees with this COLAC on this point. He said that the Portland delegation, for example, “thinks as one” and consequently are dominant compared to our LA delegation.

15. COLAC Claim: A merger was voted on 50 years ago, and it lost.

False. The only vote ever taken was in the 1870s. There was never a merger vote taken in the 20th century.

16. COLAC Claim: There will be huge transition costs. The savings are not there. Taxes will go up.

False. This claim does not add up.

COLAC suggests they know how much “leveling up” union agreements will subtract from projected savings. The JCC study suggested a range of costs, but it did not include them because collective bargaining agreements are very complicated give and take negotiations that will take place over years.

COLAC’s numbers do not to include savings from purchasing supplies and making capital investment (economies of scale), having more Special Education students educated in district, lower school transport costs, etc.

COLAC has not provided the detail around their figures, but you can review in detail what we assembled from their claims and compare them to the JCC numbers. Click here, and go to “Follow The Numbers.”

Here is the short summary version of annual savings (JCC) or costs (COLAC) put together in August of 2017.

JCC_transition.jpg

A former mayor of Waterville, Governor LePage, has told us that a merger will result in huge “infrastructure” savings, and anyone who says there is not money to be saved is not telling the truth.

He also said that the arguments against merger are not real and are parochial, all the challenges can be dealt with, and he has not seen anything that is insurmountable. He’s right.

There are certainly some transition costs to a merger. COLAC places them at an absurd $5 million. The JCC places them in the $600k to $1.2 million range. (Go to the same Follow The Numbers story for detail.)

It should also be noted that the Governor has a Government Efficiency fund for things like this. While the process to obtain funding is a competitive one, the Governor has clearly stated that an LA merger would benefit the entire state. What could be more worthy of government efficiency support to help reduce the costs of transition?

Finally, compare any one-time cost to annual savings. We feel that the return on such an investment is a win for all Lewiston-Auburn residents.

17. COLAC Claim: Merging LA means creating an artificial homogenous community. Auburn is much more rural and has more in common with Poland than with Lewiston which is more urban.

False. We are known as and are seen by others as Lewiston-Auburn. Visitors from away generally cannot tell which city they are in.

People who live in downtown Auburn may have more in common with those who live in downtown Lewiston than those who live in West Auburn, but even so, how does that matter? We are one economic area. Auburn cannot be successful if Lewiston is not and vice versa. To prosper in the future we have to pool our assets and work as one for the future of our community.

 

Last updated on October 11, 2017

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  • published this page in Blog 2017-10-04 21:23:23 -0400