CAPE ELIZABETH — Officials from South Portland, Scarborough and Cape Elizabeth met Wednesday night in a first step to identifying areas for local collaboration and through their legislators at the state level.
About two dozen councilors, school board members, town and city managers and legislators discussed possible ways to cooperate in both the education and municipal arenas. In addition, they discussed ways the three municipalities could strengthen their legislators’ leverage at the state level by recognizing collective needs and improving communication.
“If we combine good intentions with intellect, we’ll come up with good ideas,” Cape Elizabeth Town Council Chairman Jim Rowe said.
Though Rowe acknowledged the existence of county government and many regional boards and committees, he said similarities in geography and features in the tri-town area generate common goals and concerns.
After Rowe’s opening remarks and updates by a half-dozen legislators, participants broke into four small groups before reuniting to share their ideas.
Many felt cooperation in education could lead to coordinated staff development, shared bus maintenance and collective bargaining. Some suggested the wage freezes some communities are requesting would be easier to swallow if employees saw it happening in neighboring towns, as well.
A big topic was federal economic stimulus money. One group called for restrictions on its use, yet wanted flexibility to invest in energy or technology. And another group hoped the school departments would not automatically return to former spending levels, but would learn from the efficiencies that were required by a state aid curtailment last fall.
Suggestions for municipal consolidation or cooperation included the possibility of sharing of library resources, combining fact-driven areas like assessing, and combining fire stations. One group questioned the role of county government and its local benefits. And many said they would like to share ideas for applying the stimulus money.
Much of the discussion on needs from and by legislators centered on communication. Legislators voiced a need to be kept aware of decisions and problems at the local level. Monthly meetings between legislators and officials would provide another way for everyone to maintain communication. It was also suggested that legislators hold a public forum in the fall to hear from the public.
Never during the hour-long breakout session was there a lag in conversation. As Rowe was wrapping up the evening, one lawmaker called the meeting “amazing.” Rowe said he hoped it would be the first of many.
“It’s going to be important as we get deeper and deeper in this recession that we work together,” hesaid.