One community, two communities or several communities?

Let’s find peace together, and walk across the Peace Bridge as the one community we are. We are stronger together.

One Community, Two Communities or Several Communities?

Lewiston and Auburn are considering the benefits of becoming one city. Many say that the communities are too different to merge. But there are differences as large within each city. New Auburn, working so hard to maintain its identity, is distinct from West Auburn, downtown Auburn, or Danville. (Danville was separate from Auburn, until it was absorbed in the 1850s and 1870s. So merger has happened before.) The Bates College region is different from Little Canada or Maple Ridge.

But there are many more specific communities within the towns, which spread comfortably across the Androscoggin. Religious groups such as the Baptist, Catholic, Unitarian, Jewish and Islamic communities form with no concern for the river’s separation, as does Kiwanis, the Chamber of Commerce, the running community, skiers, Democrats, Republicans and so many others.

My wife was from Auburn; I was from Lewiston. Kath stopped at Lamey-Wellehan on Lisbon Street; we talked, dated and married. We first lived in Lewiston, then in Auburn. I love both communities, and see little difference. However, the cost of running them as separate cities is between $2,7 million and $4,3 million. The duplication of management positions is a tax burden that should be eliminated. That can be done with harm to none as attrition, job changes and a slow and steady change will take care of the good people who work for each city.

Both municipalities have a moderately frugal budget, which is needed. Lewiston schools do some great things, teaching Arabic and Chinese, with a wonderful vocational tech program, and a public charter school. That should be available to young people on both sides of the river, as should arts, music, STEM and could be so easily shared. And yes, Edward Little High School would still be EL, and the Blue Devils would still play the Red Eddies.

Many highly paid people work here and commute from Yarmouth or Falmouth for better schools. Finding the proper economies in municipal and school operations would enable all of the schools to improve.

If the community makes the decision to be more efficiently structured as one, an increasing number of these highly paid people will choose to live here and avoid the time, cost and pollution of their commute. That will strongly benefit local economic activity, increasing Lewiston-Auburn’s ability to fund schools and government. To improve our communities, we must improve our schools. If your children are here, ask them. If they have grown and moved out of town, it is critical that you ask them. To keep our young people here, and attract new businesses, we must have a stronger education for all.

In 2011, I was chosen as Auburn’s Citizen of the Year. There was a recent reunion of all of Auburn’s Citizens of the Year and a majority strongly favored merger.

Let’s forget our high school grudges and use the Bernard Lown Peace Bridge that so many of my St. Dom’s classmates used to walk from New Auburn to Bartlett Street in Lewiston. Let’s move across the Androscoggin as a community.

Bernard Lown, whose family immigrated from Lithuania and founded the Lown Shoe company, saw the terrible shoe workers strike of the late 1930s and the violence with which workers were treated. He went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Let’s find peace together, and walk across the Peace Bridge as the one community we are. We are stronger together.

Do we have the courage to do this, or do we prefer to pay a bit more in taxes, have poorer schools, see too many of our children leave the community for their careers, and let the high-paid professional work force continue to commute?

The public will decide whether we stand strong together, or stumble along separately.

Jim Wellehan is president of Lamey-Wellehan. He lives in Auburn.
via Sun Journal’s Columns & Analysis | Sunday, October 22, 2017