East Carbon, Sunnyside citizens to decide consolidation issue
|Consolidation proponents continue to lobby for voter support in Sunnyside and East Carbon City. Campaign signs dot the cities in support of merging the two town governments. Several signs were reportedly destroyed or torn out, but there is no evidence to identify a suspect vandal or vandals.|
The issue of consolidating two communities can often be a divisive matter. And East Carbon and Sunnyside are no exception to the rule.
The root of the proposed consolidation began years before supporters met at the ABC Learning Center in August 2003 to discuss the matter. The issue will be decided next Tuesday when East Carbon and Sunnyside voters mark yes or no on the 2004 election ballot.
The dispute about whether to consolidate the two communities into one entity has amounted to a turf war, commented a local resident during a recent town meeting .
And the war may have gone farther than just words.
"We put up seven signs in Sunnyside asking people to vote for consolidation," pointed out former Carbon County Sheriff Jim Robertson during a recent interview. "Four of them have been destroyed by outright vandalism."
Whether the signs were damaged by people opposed to consolidation or by delinquent youth, the incident demonstrate the tension existing in the two communities.
The inclusion of the measure on the ballot was brought about by actions from the communities through two different avenues.
Earlier in the year, the East Carbon City Council agreed to approach the county commission about putting the issue on the ballot. Officials made the decision after a committee of citizens recommended that the cities allow local residents to vote on the consolidation proposal.
However, the Sunnyside City Council indicated the officials would not make the recommended decision. The supporters then went around the town collecting signatures on a petition requesting placement of the question on the ballot.
The petition turned into the county contained 36 signatures - more than the 10 percent of Sunnyside's registered voters needed to bring the issue to an election.
The cities are connected economically and, in some ways, politically. But the two towns have always been separate in terms of governments.
Questions about costs and how consolidation could be legally accomplished were addressed at initial meetings.
But some of the answers later came under dispute as consolidation moved into the two communities' city council chambers.
During the initial meetings, some Sunnyside residents were concerned about a loss of identity if the town were merged with the larger East Carbon City.
Some East Carbon residents were concerned about the possibility of having to pay the debt Sunnyside incurred during installation of a water system.
Other citizens were concerned about a loss of city jobs because some positions would be duplicated .
In early September, officials scheduled a joint meeting of the two city councils and the Carbon County Commission to sort out the issues.
"The main purpose for this meeting is to talk about the concerns and related issues pertaining to consolidation," pointed out Commissioner Steve Burge to 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. It has to be decided by the two towns."
The commission called the joint 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 said the county became involved when a problem about providing funds to two police forces instead of one emerged.
Since that time, the county and cities have resolved the funding problem along with the matter of providing 24-hour police protection in Sunnyside.
"What you are witnessing in this meeting is symptomatic of the overall problem," commented Commissioner Mike Milovich at the time. "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 to expensive to operate independently, even at the county level," pointed out Milovich.
It was then that the meeting 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 to 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 it's 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 was presented to the county and the measure was slated to be placed on the ballot.
To pass, the measure must win a majority of votes in both cities. That means that one city could vote for it and the other against it and it would not happen. Sunnyside has 300 registered voters, while East Carbon has over twice that.. 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, because by state law residents of one city cannot absorb the debts incurred previously by the other city.
Some residents fear the consolidation will lead to a loss of jobs between the two cities and a dilution of what their towns have been over the years. Some Sunnyside residents worry about that their say in the combined town will be small because they have less of a population than East Carbon. They say they like running their small town their way and not having someone who doesn't live there telling them what to do. They feel the autonomy is important. They are also concerned about taxes increasing, utility costs escalating and that Sunnyside may loose their post office.
The proponents of the measure say that both towns will still have their identities
"Look at New York City," says Robertson. "There are Queens, the Bronx, Manhattan, etc. All separate villages at one time, yet they are all in New York City, but people who come from there say where they are from."
Those in favor also say that taxes will probably go up no matter where people live and that the post office staying open has little to do with whether a town still exists on it's own or is part of a larger town. That is in the hands of the United States Postal Service and they make those decisions based on other factors.
As far as the debt that the two cities have, state statute spells out that neither can assume the debt of the other, that the citizens of each area will still be responsible only for their debts. However, based on some legal opinions from the Utah Attorney Generals office those debts could be renegotiated.
"I spoke with two people in the attorney generals office recently," said East Carbon Mayor Dale Andrews at the East Carbon City Council meeting on Tuesday evening. "Both Mark Burns and Tom Roberts gave the opinion that we as a complete city could revisit the way these bonds are set up if the consolidation passes."
Proponents also that one government will certainly save money because of the duplication of services now provided to the two small towns and as for utility rates, renegotiations could take place on those as well to do what is best for everyone.
While the residents of the two towns may have some division between them about the issues, many on the outside looking in hope for the best for the two communities. Most have taken a wait and see attitude about the situation.
"I am glad that the people who live there are getting the chance to decide this issue," says Brad King, the house legislative representative from district 69 which encompasses the two towns. "It is their town, it should be theirs to decide."
Editors note: Today's article is the fourth and final installment on amendments and initiatives that will be on ballots in the Nov. 2 election.