Members of the Sunnyside Voluinteer Fire Department show their recently-awarded state certification.
Officials in East Carbon and Sunnyside continue to go where no city leaders have dared to tread before, a combined public safety department for both cities. For several years, the sister townships have discussed combining their fire departments, only to allow one issue or another to derail the project.
Recently however Sunnyside's worsening financial situation and new attitudes among East Carbon officials seems to have breathed new life into creating a local fire district.
After gaining the approval of his own council to approach East Carbon, Sunnyside city Mayor Doug Parsons approached East Carbon officials during their Tuesday meeting to request that a board be formed to work through the details of creating a shared district between the cities.
"At this time I think it should be feasible to combine both fire departments and the ambulance service into one district to serve the residents of the Sunnyside and East Carbon area," said Parsons during the East Carbon council session. "My proposal would be to see if we can set up a committee from East Carbon and Sunnyside to see what needs to be done in order to get this accomplished."
Parsons has been working on this over the past few weeks as he both gained permission from his own council to approach East Carbon and discussed the matter with the Carbon County Commission.
Parsons was in front of the commission this week to seek funds which would subsidize the Sunnyside ambulance. While the commissioners did provide $15,000 in assistance, they were reportedly enthusiastic about the cities combining their efforts where fire and ambulance services are concerned. Sunnyside officials have long contended that the ambulance service is a difficult financial burden for the residents of Sunnyside.With their largest taxpayer, Sunnyside Co-Gen, contesting their current tax payment, the city has reached a breaking point.
"It's very expensive to run an ambulance service out of a city our size," explained Parsons. "We budget over $100,000 a year for the ambulance, we don't spend that much annually but we did lose $20,000 last year and that was on top of the county giving us $15,000."
According to the mayor, if Sunnyside Co-Gen is granted a reduction in their taxes the city will have to cut into its budget and general fund.
"I feel that the residents of Sunnyside have supported the ambulance for a long time and don't get me wrong, we want to keep the service here," said Parsons. "But you know the few residents of Sunnyside cannot support maintaining the ambulance."
Reportedly, if a district was to be formed between the two cities, taxes would be taken in a different manner to fund the organization and a referendum vote would have to be held to decide on the change.
"At this point, we are losing money by bumping heads over funding for the fire department," said East Carbon council member David Maggio, who sat in as mayor pro tem during Tuesday's session. "I believe the time has come and we do need to form a committee."
Maggio recommended that the cities gather the mayor, one council member and the fire chiefs from both cities to come together and work toward forming the district.
While there was no objection to forming the committee, council member Darrell Valdez did ask the citys attorney about the cost of forming a district.
"We are facing the inevitable here," said Maggio in response to Valdez's inquiry. "When somebody dies here we aren't getting them replaced. We have only a couple hundred residents in Sunnyside and well under 2,000 here in East Carbon and when it comes to getting funding there is strength in numbers."
The council did approve organizing the committee and hopes to have the district formed by the drafting of next year's budget.