East side cities moving ahead with plan for consolidation
After years of discussion and debate, a vote to bring the towns of East Carbon and Sunnyside together is now less than five months away. East Carbon Attorney Jeremy Humes joined city authorities during their last joint session to review merger issues and answer questions before a consolidation plan is sent to the county and posted for the public.
Merger talks began on tense ground, as Sunnyside officials voiced displeasure at being "bullied" into passing a resolution quickly and then waiting months for East Carbon to do the same. Humes addressed the issue by explaining that the merger process can be started either by citizen petition or by a council motion for a resolution. In East Carbon, the council was advised by Humes to make their motion, finalize a consolidation plan and then complete their resolution.
Council ire in Sunnyside has continued because of their contention that threats from East Carbon officials to "pass a resolution or risk a petition," kept them from enjoying the same course of action. A signed petition would have forced Sunnyside to formulate a merger plan in 45 days, something neither city was interested in. Current plans are more than 90 days in the making.
While early pushing was attributed to a misunderstanding, conciliatory words calmed the remainder of the session.
"I would like to apologize to Sunnyside," said East Carbon Council Member David Maggio. "My understanding was that we had to have these resolutions done. Me and Barbara (Robinett) went there, not to try and bully you but to move this plan forward."
Hurt feelings aside, both cities reported that they had nearly completed a full list of their assets and debts and were directed by Humes to try and finish by mid-July.
"What a plan does, is to let the citizens know that the cities are moving forward, and that once the plan is done, that they will have input on what it means to them," explained Humes.
The merger document will reportedly contain maps showing the borders of the two towns and what the area will look like following consolidation, a full list of city assets and a record of town debts.
Since talk about joining the two cities was raised, repayment of outstanding bonds and the rumor of special levies have been a chief concern to residents. According to Humes, outstanding debt that only benefits one group of people would be the only reason for a special levy or tax.
"If everybody benefits from the services provided, such as the new city's total water and sewer works, then it's just part of the consolidation and the new organization takes care of those things," said Humes. "The new city entity."
Humes reported that the code is vague and there is no precedent he could find specifically dealing with water and sewer. He did state, that the bond issue may come down to city officials proclaiming that the whole of the water and sewer system are beneficial to everyone, therefore consolidating the liability and the bonds.
Both cities reported that their plans are close to 90 percent complete and agreed to have language ready by July 19 so that the plan can be submitted to the county in order to make the November ballot. Following submission to the county, separate and joint public hearings will be planned, allowing residents a public forum in which to discuss the merger.