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This week’s edition!

Enough is Enough: Well-heeled Southern Maine towns have no pity for Lewiston

By Robert E. Macdonald

Mayor of Lewiston

Several years ago a coalition of service city mayors was formed to ensure that their cities would have an outlet to the legislature. Being a “service city” was the progressive code to indicate welfare was abound.

Collectively, the coalition strove to ensure that our cities were not left by the wayside and our many needs would be met.

School funding remains a constant problem, especially if you live in a small school district. One problem that could easily arise and place severe fiscal distress on a small school system is special education. Special education students range from a student needing a little bit of help in their schoolwork to the school system being forced to send a child out of state, often costing a healthy six-figure tuition in order to meet the child’s needs.

A while ago I was in Augusta attending a coalition meeting. I overheard the city manager of Gardiner lamenting to several of those present that a special ed student was about to enter their school system. Because of the child’s needs, it stood to place a tremendous fiscal burden on the town. This left them in a quandary of how to come up with the additional money needed to educate this child.

Then we have Scarborough. Currently, they are having a problem passing a school budget for the upcoming school year. Their student enrollment has decreased while the teaching staff has increased. The school budget has been before the voters, twice, and been rejected. The last vote, a few weeks ago, narrowly defeated the proposed budget.

I would point out that Scarborough has a minority school population of five percent. Ten percent of their school population is eligible under federal guidelines for either a reduced or free lunch.

Prior to coming to the point of this week’s column, it is necessary to mention the mil rates of Scarborough, $15.49, Gardiner, $20.48, and Lewiston, $27.54.

For far too long the taxpayers of Lewiston have borne a tremendous fiscal burden to save the progressive communities of the First District (Southern Maine) to somewhat quell their guilt over their white privilege. These towns pass ordinances that make it almost impossible for lower-income people to take up residence in their “always welcoming” town.

In Westbrook, a developer has presented a grand plan to create several hundred housing units. This plan has been met with resistance from the town and its residents. Their reasons for concern are well-founded. This project would force the town taxpayers to spend a fortune for needed infrastructure, added police and fire personnel, a minimum of two schools and additional hiring of more teachers.

In order to meet these expenses, Westbrook would have to substantially raise their current $17.96 mil rate.

But while well-heeled Southern Maine towns, like Scarborough and Westbrook, look to the people of Maine for pity, none of our southern Maine neighbors have pity for Lewiston.

Over the last 15-plus years, Lewiston was overwhelmed with a large number of refugees. Many of their children did not speak English. Upon their entering our school system, the government expected our dedicated teachers, who did not speak their language, to make scholars out of them. Failing, they were ostracized by the general public.

When former mayor Laurier Raymond simply asked that the rapid pace of this diaspora slow down so Lewiston could catch its breath, he was branded a racist by many southern Maine communities.

Isn’t it strange how people’s attitudes change when they are subject to what they have previously criticized?

I want to publically apologize for my error in believing that as mayor, part of my job description was to grow and attract businesses—businesses that in turn would create much-needed jobs. I apologize that I failed to require a litmus test to both current and incoming businesses. I thank Ward 7 Councilor Mike Lachance for taking a page out of Ben Chin and the Maine Peoples’ Alliance Handbook and publically chiding me for my failures.

Getting along in age and not as sharp as I once was, perhaps Councilor Lachance, unlike Chin, could enlighten me, defining and naming these “good old boys.”

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