Eastern county residents exploring approaches for consolidating cities
Last Thursday, almost 70 citizens from East Carbon, Columbia and Sunnyside met at the ABC Learning Center to discuss the concept of consolidating the cities.
The idea apparently resurfaced, in part, due to the unresolved issue of law enforcement services in the eastern portion of the county.
"With what has been going on, the Rotary Club has raised the idea of supporting consolidation," said Sam Leonard who led the meeting out. "I was born and raised in East Carbon. Now, I live in Sunnyside and I used to walk out the door and I was at work. Now I have to drive a quarter of a mile down the street to get there."
Leonard currently serves as East Carbon's police chief. He had to change the way city police deal with situations that take place in Sunnyside since service from the department was suspended on July 1.
"The one thing none of us want to do is be negative about this issue," noted Leonard. "The people who are on the respective city councils right now are our friends and neighbors and even family. They are doing the best they can, but maybe it is time to look at other options."
The cities have always been connected in various ways, both through family ties and economically.
"A community is defined as a body of individuals with a common interest," stated Leonard. "If we don't have that between these two towns, I don't know who would."
As the meeting progressed, questions were raised about the positive and negative sides of the issue.
One question involved how consolidation could be legally accomplished. According to attorneys contacted by the group leaders, there are two ways the cities can merge. The first is to obtain consolidation resolutions from the city councils and then place the matter on the ballot for a vote by the citizens.
In the event the councils do support the resolutions, citizens may circulate a petition to bring an election to fruition.
Such a petition would require 10 percent of the registered voters in each city to sign the document to bring it to a vote.
If a vote comes about by either method, the majority of voters in the election in each town must pass the measure. It could not pass if either towns population rejected it.
The organizers of the meeting also passed out handouts that not only explained the idea, but also was meant to dispel some myths about consolidation.
It also dealt with the main question everyone had on their mind: What will this cost?
"Based on what we have learned it will not cost any citizen more money than they are already paying out," stated Leonard. "No part of a new town will have to take on the others debt. Each group of citizens will have to service their own debts until they are paid. The only way a combined city could spread debt over both areas would be if the cost came from a project that served both communities."
For most in the audience that was good news because many citizens of East Carbon were concerned about the cost of paying for the new Sunnyside water system that was installed a couple of years ago. But leaders pointed out that East Carbons debt, per capita was just as extensive, so Sunnyside citizens should be relieved too.
According to those at the meeting Sunnyside has about a $1.5 million debt while East Carbon's debt amounts to about $8.5 million. However, Sunnyside's population is just a little over 400 while East Carbon has almost 1700 people. "I think the point is that the county is almost begging us to merge," commented former Carbon County Sheriff Jim Robertson. "If you read the paper and see what they are saying in their meetings you can see that is what they are asking us to do."
Another subject that came up was who would run such a city and what would happen to the existing councils and mayors. According to the Utah Municipal Code 10-2-613, the councils would be merged into one body with that body picking one person to act as mayor of the new town until the next regular municipal election.
During the meeting Leonard asked for a show of hands from the people attending about how they felt concerning the idea. Based on a visual vote everyone in the room agreed consolidation was a good idea.
Leonard will be the one to approach the Sunnyside City council about the resolution on August 19 at 6:30 p.m. at the UMWA building in Sunnyside.