Presque Isle cements sister city relationship with Epping, New Hampshire

4 years ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — They are more than 350 miles away, near-opposite ends of the same New England region. But now Presque Isle and Epping, New Hampshire, are sister cities. And this partnership will go far beyond cultural pleasantries.

A partnership between the two communities with their similar budgets and institutions would provide numerous opportunities for both, as they confront common issues like outmigration and zoning, Presque Isle City Council Chair Kevin Freeman said. 

The Presque Isle-Epping relationship appears to be the first sister city partnership with another American municipality in Maine. Sister cities are conventionally cultural partnerships between locations in different countries, though domestic partnerships are not unheard of. 

Cheyenne, Wyoming, and Bismarck, North Dakota, became sister cities in 1988. At that time, city officials cited their similar population numbers and economic issues, echoing Freeman’s advocacy 32 years later. 

The project had long been a dream of Freeman, who described Epping Board of Selectmen Vice Chairman Robert Jordan — who owns property in The County — as one of his closest friends. The two had often informally compared the policies of their medium-sized communities. Soon, the idea of a formal partnership emerged.

When Freeman became council chairman in January, he told his fellow councilors he was dedicated to making his sister city dream a reality. While he said some in the city initially questioned the project, they switched to support after discovering how it could improve governance in the Star City. 

With similar populations and institutions — including their own police and fire departments — Epping Town Administrator Greg Dodge said the partnership between the cities would ideally help them address common problems.

Presque Isle councilors and staff have suggested numerous avenues, including examining per capita costs on ambulances, digging into what Epping does to maintain a steady tax rate and looking at the town’s spending habits on public works, public safety and education. 

The project’s goal is a best practices approach: to ensure that each location is spending taxpayer funding in the most effective way possible. Each department head in Presque Isle has been provided with contact information for their counterparts In Epping and was beginning to reach out to one another. 

Such “benchmarking” could help create a more efficient city government in Presque Isle, especially at the department level, Presque Isle City Manager Martin Puckett said.  He said it would keep staff aware of innovative and varied ways to address the many difficulties that arise in governing a municipality.

Puckett cited Epping’s success in population increases — growth every year since 2000 — as a potential area Presque Isle could examine as it faces consistent population decline. Both Puckett and Freeman said it is vital to take note of how a similarly built town is bringing new people in. 

“We’ll get a lot of information about how each one is similar, and therefore how each one operates a little differently,” Puckett said. “Picking up on those differences will be extremely helpful.”

Dodge and several Epping selectmen attended a Presque Isle City Council meeting on May 6. Puckett said there were talks about in-person meetings between officials in the future, though such discussions had been partially put on hold by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Though they are not at the forefront of the project, both communities also envision cultural and economic exchanges as well. Presque Isle officials hope to take a look at some of Epping’s winter events and see if they could bring iterations of them to the Star City, Puckett said.  

Dodge described Epping as a “small quiet town” that gets a lot of transit traffic. Like Presque Isle, many are drawn into town because of its large commercial center. Many New Englanders may be familiar with the location because of the New England Dragway and Motorsports Park and its closeness to Manchester. 

Freeman said the next step is for department heads in each community to get acquainted with each other and begin developing relations imperative to the partnership. 

“We’re really looking forward to seeing this continue,” Freeman said.