Will survival motivate the merger of ECC-Sunnyside?
For the second time in less than a decade, East Carbon and Sunnyside residents will probably have the opportunity to consolidate their cities. Since the last vote kept them apart in 2004, the need to maintain basic public safety standards has become even more urgent.
"We are looking to do this for the survival of our communities," said Council Member Barbara Robinett. "This is something that simply has to happen."
According to Robinett, East Carbon officials have been discussing the ongoing issue for some time and have decided to approach the Sunnyside Council at their next session on Feb. 5.
"We would like to go up there and talk about a resolution which would allow both cities to begin discussing just how we are going to do this," she said. "We would then be able to develop an initiative which could be voted on during this November's elections."
If this sounds like deja vu to those who were around for the 2004 vote, you're not alone. The area's last attempt at consolidation began in exactly the same manner, with East Carbon officials approaching the Sunnyside council about bringing the towns together.
Following the proposal, however, Sunnyside officials decided that they would not make such a decision for their residents and forced those in support of consolidation to obtain 10 percent of the city's population on a petition approving the merger.
After gaining the needed signatures and working for nearly a year, those favoring a single community in eastern Carbon County were dealt a fatal blow. The November 2004 initiative was voted down by Sunnyside residents via a vote of 105 to 65.
"The measure failed in 2004 because of outright lies that were passed from door to door in Sunnyside," said current East Carbon Council Member David Maggio. "They were told they would lose their identity and take on a great amount of debt from East Carbon City. It was a mess."
The total vote approved the measure by a total of 356 to 323. However, Utah law states that municipalities who wish to consolidate must obtain majority favor from both cities.
Nearly ten years later, the conversation concerning a merger is less volatile.
"We know it's coming," said Sunnyside Council Member Nola Porter. "We know it's going to happen. But a great deal of work needs to be done by both cities if we are going to make this work in November."
The work needed to bring the bordering communities together has been crawling forward for several years. One brick at a time.
The town's agreed to build a single public safety building in 2008 before officially joining the community's fire department's in spring 2010. East Carbon and Sunnyside are also serviced by one ambulance service and one police force.
"Look, our population is down, their population is down and we simply need to come together," said Council member Maggio. "We are not going to see any assistance from any board where we are looking for the duplication of services. That is over. Additionally, Sunnyside's population has reached a point where issues like the Sunnyside Co-Generation tax re-evaluation are devastating."
Sunnyside Co-Generation asked the state to re-examine the value of their property in relationship to their tax bill in 2012. The state's decision to significantly drop the plant's tax burden eliminated a great deal of Sunnyside's operating budget.
The last option for a city in need of revenue is to increase taxes on their residents. However as Sunnyside's population rests at 377, according to the 2010 census, reasonable tax increases simply don't produce enough money.
"I understand that there is going to be some tension between our cities over certain matters," said Robinett. "But this is something that has to happen for us all. This will make our community as a whole a great deal stronger."
Should the cities decide to move forward with joint resolutions to consolidate the town's on Feb. 5, multiple public hearings would then provide residents the opportunity to voice their opinion concerning the merger.