East Carbon, Sunnyside voters to cast ballots at 2004 polls to decide consolidation issue
East Carbon and Sunnyside voters will decide whether the two cities will be consolidated at the election polls in November.
The movement to join the two towns gained momentum last summer.
Placing the matter on the November ballot was brought about by actions from the communities through two different avenues.
The East Carbon City Council agreed to approach the county commission about putting the issue to a vote after a committee of citizens formed last fall recommended that the cities consider the move.
However, Sunnyside officials decided that the city council would not make the decision about placing the consolidation issue on the ballot for a public vote.
Following the city's decision, supporters of the consolidation proposal collected signatures on a petition from Sunnyside residents favoring the movement to merge the two towns.
The petition contained 36 signatures when the document was turned into the Carbon County Clerk's Office.
Under state statute, the petition had to contain the signatures of 10 percent of the registered voters in Sunnyside's regstered voters in order to place consolidation on the ballot. The number collected by supporters exceeded the requirement.
The movement gained momentum last August when 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 surfaced, in part, due to the unresolved issue of law enforcement services in the eastern portion of Carbon County. In July 2003, Sunnyside officials decided to start a police force rather than use East Carbon's officers after the larger city increased the cost of providing services to the smaller community.
The proposed consolidation was discussed at council meeting in Sunnyside and East Carbon.
Some citizens in Sunnyside voiced concern about the loss of the town's identity if the city merged with East Carbon.
Some East Carbon residents were concerned that they might have to pay the debt Sunnyside incurred for installation of the new water system.
Other citizens were concerned about the loss of jobs and elected officials.
In September 2003, a joint meeting with the two city councils and the Carbon County Commission occurred to consider what could be done to resolve the issue.
"The main purpose for this meeting is to talk about the concerns and related issues pertaining to consolidation," pointed out Carbon Commissioner Steve Burge to the nearly 80 people in attendance at the gathering. "We will do anything we can do to help you with this process, but it's not our decision.
The commission called the meeting to get an idea of where the process was and get a sense of where residents in the towns were coming from on the issue, explained Burge.
Commissioner Bill Krompel indicated Carbon government became involved when a problem associated with allocating funds to two police departments for provision of law enforcement services in unincorporated areas of the county emerged. County revenues had previously gone to one law enforcement agency.
The matter became a hot issue at the joint meeting. But since the gathering, Krompel reported that the two cities and the county have resolved the law enforcement funding problem along with the issue of providing 24-hour law enforcement protection for the people residing in Sunnyside.
The discussion at the joint meeting, however, moved from the police issue when Commissioner Mike Milovich pointed out that the matter was only an example of the problems the two towns have.
"What you are witnessing in this meeting is symptomatic of the overall problem," commented Milovich. "I have been chastised several times for suggesting these two towns should get together, but I think my reasons are strong. The cost of all public services is going up. East Carbon just applied to the (Utah) Community Impact Board for money for a new fire truck and they will need $235,000 to buy it. A self-contained breathing apparatus now costs between $3,200 and $4,000. Soon the EPA will be out with new rules on arsenic in water systems. The cost of reducing the water from the old standard (50 parts) to 10 parts per million will cost a lot of money and that will be a lot for a city of 1,800 much less two smaller cities. It's just getting too expensive to operate independently, even at the county level."
The cities' debt loads could be renegotiated and refinanced should consolidation take place, indicated Milovich. At the present time Sunnyside's debt is at about $1.5 and East Carbon's is about $8.5 million.
The meeting then turned into a melding of the minds as to how to bring consolidation to completion if that is what the citizens wanted. At the time both cities were concerned about citizens working toward the goal by using a petition process as opposed to a council approval process to explore the possibilities.
In the end a committee composed of citizens from both towns was set up to study the issue and report back to the city councils, with two council members and two citizens from each town to serve on a committee to work toward a consolidation plan.
At the time the county commissioners suggested that Sunnyside and East Carbon City arrange to have a representative from the Utah Association of Governments act as a neutral chairman on the committee, and ultimately Bill Howell from that organization functioned in that capacity.
The committee began to meet in late September and by early winter they held a meeting with towns people from both cities at East Carbon High to explain their progress. That meeting became a debate between those who supported consolidation in the towns and those who didn't. In about the middle of the meeting, some of those opposed to the idea walked out.
A short time later the committee delivered its report to the city councils suggesting that the people should decide by a vote whether to accept the consolidation or not. East Carbon sent it to the county, while Sunnyside did not. Ultimately the petition came in.
To pass, the measure must win a majority of votes in both cities, separately. Sunnyside has 300 registered voters, while East Carbon has more than twice as many. If consolidation is voted in, the new city will have some obstacles to overcome, such as combining the city councils and mayors positions, looking at what jobs in the city governments need to be changed and sorting out finances. By law, residents of one city cannot absorb the debts incurred previously by the other city.