On Tuesday, November 7, the citizens of Lewiston and Auburn will file into their respective polling stations and vote on this year’s ballot initiative on a merger of the Lewiston and Auburn municipal governments. The proposed consolidation has caused much heated debate and discussion in the area. Supporters of the merger argue that the merge will save money and that LA, by becoming one of the largest cities in Maine, will receive additional government funding.
Those who oppose the merger argue that it will erase centuries of individual histories and force citizens of each city to deal with problems that they are not responsible for creating.
Though many adults have engaged in many passionate debates, it appears that the opinions of Lewiston and Auburn youth have been overlooked. Even though those under 18 will not be voting on this matter, it is they who will face the long term effects of the decision.
Elena Ray Clothier, a student at Lewiston Middle School, said that because she cannot vote, she does not think her opinion and the opinions of others her age will be considered in the decision. Elena and her friends claimed that many students at her school were not even aware this vote was occurring. The middle school students had many questions about the proposed merger, but did not feel that they had a platform from which to ask them. Elena said that if there was more money coming into their economy, she would like to see it go towards more livable, affordable housing. “If it would help people financially, sure, let’s merge,” Elena said, “but I also like Lewiston the way it is.”
At Lewiston High School, many students opposed the merger of Lewiston and Auburn. Out of the seventeen students in a mock trial class, only two students were in favor of the merger, while the other fifteen remained unconvinced. These students were concerned that few local political leaders supported the merger and some citizens could lose their jobs. Students also feared that if the cities were to combine, representatives would maintain loyalty to their original cities, thus creating inequality. Their largest worry, however, was the unpredictability of the shift from two cities to one. If the cities merged, the decision would be quite permanent and there would be no guarantee that the community would expand economically.
The high school students saw many areas for improvement in Lewiston, but they did not believe that a merger would be the solution. “When I worked at Forage over the summer, people would come in after touring Bates and they would ask what there is to do in Lewiston,” said Lennon LaBelle of Lewiston High School. “I never knew what to tell them. We need to focus on making Lewiston an exciting place to live and getting Bates students to stay here. The One LA movement is just distracting.” Instead of combining with Auburn, the high school students preferred to focus on Lewiston individually.
Michal Cwik, a Bates student and resident of Auburn, argued that this goal could be achieved through the merger of the communities. As the largest city in Maine, LA could receive additional government funding and more businesses would flock to the area. According to One LA’s website, the merger is predicted to save at least twenty-three million dollars within the next ten years. This money could then flow through the economy and help the financial situations of Lewiston and Auburn residents. When asked what he thought would improve the Lewiston-Auburn community, Michal answered that “we need an injection of high-tech industry and start-ups to reinvigorate our economy. Also, education reform. We need low cost and free higher education for low-income residents. This would also motivate businesses to branch out to our area.”
Since many of the community’s younger members are unable to vote, it is important to consider their perspectives when heading to the polls this November 7.