AUGUSTA — In response to requests from the mayors of Lewiston and Auburn, legislators adopted a measure Tuesday that will make it tougher for Maine municipalities to merge.

“Hopefully, with this new step, other communities can avoid unnecessary heartache and expense on merger proposals that lack community support,” Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, said Tuesday.

The most important change sought in the bill is to require a referendum in each town considering a merger before much work is done to implement the idea.

“The initial referendum will provide an assessment of the public’s willingness to consider consolidation. If there is no public support, the effort won’t go forward,” Rick McCarthy of the Mayors Coalition on Jobs and Economic Development told legislators.

If Gov. Paul LePage signs the bill, the measure would make it nearly impossible to resurrect the effort to merge Lewiston and Auburn anytime soon. Voters overwhelmingly killed a plan to combine the two municipalities last fall.

The leaders of Lewiston and Auburn sought the legislation to make sure they would not have to go through the expense and effort of considering a merger again unless residents backed the idea. Brakey introduced the bill.

Under existing law, the only time residents get to vote on a merger is after the details of one have been worked out by a joint charter commission, a complex and costly process that begins with gathering 1,000 signatures.

McCarthy, whose group represents 10 cities and towns, said the signatures represented “a decent measure of interest” in a merger among residents, but a far cry from majority support in both cities.

The bill would change the number of signatures needed to 10 percent of the number of votes cast in each town in the last gubernatorial election, or 1,000 in larger communities unless there is a charter requirement for more.

The bill would also require proponents of a merger to wait at least six years before they try again, except for a narrowly crafted exception. Current law allows them to pursue the proposal every three years.

Even if voters agreed to pursue a merger, they would not be bound to follow through with it. Another referendum would be required after drawing up a consolidation plan before it would take effect.

The last successful merger effort in Maine created create Dover-Foxcroft in 1922.

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