2013 election roundup: Turnout light, but municipal voters still make history
In spite of a low turnout at the polls Tuesday, voters in cities across Carbon County managed to make serveral historic choices.
In East Carbon and Sunnyside, citizens elected to create the state's newest city by approving a merger.
East Carbon also elected its first female mayor, while Wellington voters also opted for a woman chief executive, the second to hold the position in about two decades.
Helper and Price citizens also approved small sales tax increases to fund recreational and cultural improvments.
New Mayor for Wellington
In Wellington, challenger Joan Powell unseated incumbent Mayor Ben Blackburn, 174 to 152. The city has not had a female mayor since Sue Critchlow served in the 1990s.
Incumbent council members Terry Sanslow and Kirt Tatton will be returning to new terms.
Voter turnout in Wellington was 31.3 percent.
Helper voters, with a 19.7 percent turnout of eligible voters, re-elected all incumbent candidates. Mayor Ed Chavez Jr. defeated challenger Matt Montoya, 205-69. Chavez made headlines as far away as the British Isles earlier this year when his name was drawn from a wicker basket to settle a deadlock in a special city council vote to choose an interim mayor.
Council members Chris Pugliese and Gary Harwood were also returned to office.
The RAP tax (Recreation, Arts, Parks), which would add 0.1 percent to the city's sales tax, was approved, 174 to 118.
Price City voters also approved the city's Zoo, Arts and Parks (ZAP) tax with over 78 percent of the 657 total votes counted.
Current Price council member Kathy Hanna-Smith retained her spot on the council with 33.01 percent of the vote and will be joined by new council member Miles Nelson who collected over 39 percent of the 1151 ballots counted.
Nelson led the voting with 460 votes and Hanna-Smith picked up 380 votes finishing ahead of James Jewkes with 307 votes.
Nelson will fill the seat of council member Grady McEvoy.
Mayor Joe Piccolo will serve another four-year term for the city after he ran unopposed for the position.
Birth of a City
A new city was born Tuesday night as East Carbon and Sunnyside voters affirmed a ballot initiative seeking consolidation by more than 78 percent.
Public meetings held near the Nov. 4 election demonstrated that town residents still had many questions concerning the merger and were leery of each other's leadership. Chief among the issues which seemed to threaten the area's second attempt at coming together in less than a decade was the matter of municipal debt and the potential for tax increases.
Due to cash flow issues with both town's main source of revenue and an aging population, the financial reality of maintaining duplicated services became more than the area's voters were prepared to bear.
"I'm more excited about the merger of our communities than I am about my election as mayor," said Barbara Robinett, who was voted in as East Carbon's chief administrator Tuesday. "Working through the process of consolidation will now become the main focus of both councils."
After years of nearly constant discussion, East Carbon officials decided to seek the ballot initiative aggressively starting in July.
Nearly every facet of the merger began on tense ground as Sunnyside often voiced displeasure at being "bullied" into working toward a consolidation resolution quickly this summer and then waiting for months as East Carbon discussed the matter with their attorney.
The issue came to a head on multiple occasions. In one instance, Sunnyside Mayor Doug Parsons repeatedly asked East Carbon council member David Maggio about East Carbon's merger resolution, questioning, "Is it done? Is it done?"
During the cities' last joint public hearing, strong comments were made by residents of both communities as water, infrastructure and taxes continued to worry residents and elected officials.
According to East Carbon City Attorney Jeremy Humes, residents don't need to exaggerate the tax issue as there are multiple ways in which the new city can work through their payment obligations.
For instance, once the towns come together, the governing body will have the power to determine which infrastructure projects serve the entire community. As the cities have now joined, it is reasonable to consider that everything contained within the new city limits services all citizens of the new town. This scenario amounts to the same amount of residents paying back the same amount of debt regardless of where the debt started, explained Humes.
The merger vote shows a drastic change in the attitude of Sunnyside voters. In 2004 with many of the same issues facing the eastern county, Sunnyside defeated the consolidation measure by a margin of 105 to 65.
Since then, the CIB, along with county, state and federal organizations have all told the city's leaders that paying for similar services in both towns would become completely infeasible soon.
After consolidating the area's fire and ambulance services recently, voters took the final step Tuesday and created a new city with hopes of reclaiming a new community.