Cheers and fears surround talks about east side cities' merger idea
Strong comments were made Tuesday night as the residents of East Carbon and Sunnyside questioned officials about water, taxes, infrastructure and consolidation. During the joint public hearing a multitude of disagreements continued between the councils of both cities. However, every public declaration favoring the merger was met with cheers from the 60-plus group of citizens attending at Bruin Point Elementary.
Debt, finances and possible tax changes came forward as the main points of contention as East Carbon Attorney Jeremy Humes explained that any service which benefited the residents of both cities could be paid for by the residents of both communities. Sunnyside representatives noted that changes would have to be made in Utah Permanent Community Impact Board contracts before certain infrastructure payments could be considered and changed. These contract changes left the possibility of a special tax levy for Sunnyside residents without a clear answer.
"The city's debts will have to be considered by the new council should the towns consolidate," explained Humes. "That council will then discuss their issues with the bodies that hold the debts. The argument could be made that even though certain structures are separately owned they benefit both communities and may be paid for by community funds."
According to Humes, the bodies which hold debt over East Carbon and Sunnyside have been willing to work with the cities in the past and most likely would continue to work toward helping the towns in the future.
For Sunnyside Mayor Doug Parsons, the possibility of a tax levy remains
"I'm trying to play the devil's advocate here," he said. "East Carbon makes everything out to be hunky-dory and that is not always the case."
Another issue facing the cities will be duplication of services and the possibility of lost jobs. It was again asserted that the new six member council would have to decide which employees to keep and which services to eliminate. The East Carbon council asserted that because Sunnyside's parks and facilities will have to be maintained, the potential loss of jobs is a non-issue.
As the town's citizens began to ask for clarification about grant funding, philosophical differences again became apparent.
"I don't see how they say there won't be any more grants when East Carbon was given a $50,000 grant by the USDA last week," said Parsons. "The grants will still be available."
For the East Carbon council, it's not that the grant money will never be available again, it's that the funding bodies they approach have repeatedly stated that they will no longer pay for duplicate services in East Carbon and Sunnyside.
"I only got that grant because I explained that the cemetery project was for both cities," said East Carbon City Mayor Orlando LaFontaine. "If you notice, when you leave this building tonight, you look at the public safety building. That building says East Carbon/Sunnyside, we had to come together to get that building."
As the meeting continued, more and more the comments focused on finances and the ability of the cities to continue on their own.
"I'm of the opinion that the consolidation needs to go through. All that separates our cities is an invisible line," said East Carbon's Gabe Hunt to rousing applause. "You come up here and try to scare the residents of Sunnyside with East Carbon's debt but what you are saying doesn't make sense. Concerning taxes, if they have to go up, why can't we meet in the middle? It needs to be done."
Several within the meeting asked why things couldn't just continue like they have been, helping each other when needed and maintaining autonomy.
In the past several years, the towns have merged their fire and ambulance services without merging their cities. For some this is a formula that works, for others, consolidation is a long time coming.
"I'm for consolidation, I've really looked into this and I think this will benefit everyone," said East Carbon resident Liz Ferguson. "I don't think the grants will go away. We can get grants but the grants will be less. Economically and financially grants are becoming smaller. We can't stand alone anymore financially. It's not feasible. If we continue to be separate we are going to fall and we're going to fall hard."