After making a firm decision to begin exploring an East Carbon City/Sunnyside merger at the beginning of the year, East Carbon officials prompted their city attorney to investigate the legal issues involved. Following his report, the East Carbon Council also vowed to approach Sunnyside's city leaders during their next session.
To facilitate a merger plan, East Carbon officials agreed to have their entire council put on Sunnyside City's agenda during their next session regardless of who is in attendance. The council attempted this meeting last week but were stymied because of Sunnyside Mayor Doug Parson's absence.
Discussion of the merger was brought forward by council member Barbara Robinett, who questioned East Carbon Attorney Jeremy Humes about his investigation of a 2004 plan which was drafted in order to bring the cities together.
"Liz [East Carbon City Recorder Liz Holt] and I met and went through the old consolidation plan and everything appeared to be in order," said Humes. "Since then I've continued through the documents and found that there are some updates which are needed. We need a current list of city assets and an inventory which would could be added as an addendum. The city's bonding would also need to be included but aside from current information everything seems to be just fine."
While both cities have publicly stated that consolidation would be a big help to both towns concerning public funding, East Carbon officials seem much more eager to get the project rolling.
"I think it is going to behoove us to start going out and talking to everybody, the more that I talk to people they don't even know what this merger is going to entail," said Robinett. "I understand we need to have open meetings but both cities now how many people tend to show up at public hearings."
Council member David Maggio, who also expressed interest in beginning the merger process sooner rather than later.
"Almost every citizen I have talked to in Sunnyside feels that it's time. They understand that a city of 300 or less can't continue to operate," he said. "Their liability to East Carbon just for police protection is $70,000."
Maggio then turned his comments to Sunnyside Cogeneration and the anger he feels over their recent property tax adjustment.
"You know they bought 90 coats for the kids in Sunnyside but if you look at it from the proper perspective, Sunnyside bought those coats," he said. "Sunnyside lost $100,000 [in tax revenue] and these guys bought $9,000 worth of coats. I'm not too impressed."
According to Maggio, the main motivating factor behind this merger and the hurried nature in which it is now moving forward is solely based on community survival.
"This has nothing to do with us trying to absorb another town. What this is about is having enough people so that the agencies that we work with on the county, state and federal level will be willing to help us," he continued. "Because they are not going to help us when we ask for duplicated services. Them days are gone and they aren't coming back."
Concerning the loss of tax revenue in Sunnyside City, residents within the crowd inquired as to whether or not city contracts with Sunnyside Cogeneration would be modified if the cities were to combine.
"When you join these two towns you have no way of knowing who the new mayor or the council is going to be," answered Maggio. "Whoever throws their name in the hat and whoever is elected collectively by the three subdivisions for lack of a better term. If it was my thought process, this is what I would tell them. You changed your tax structure by approaching the county and the state to claim that you are worth less. We have approached ourselves and have found that your water is worth more. So whatever you paid for water before, quadruple it. Or pray for rain."
Maggio continued his comments concerning water issues by stating that East Carbon employees are regularly called to the town's water treatment facilities over weekend hours to generate more clean water solely because of the power plant's consumption.
"The way this whole scenario plays out is going to be very intense," he continued. "We have to look at our debt, look at their debt. We have to look at everybody's assets and make it work."
The council agreed to set firm dates at their next work session which would determine when certain benchmarks having to do with the merger would be complete.
Those goals according to city attorney Humes will revolve around a plan for merger which will have to be accepted by both cities and then filed with the Carbon County Recorder.
"Once they determine that all legal requirements have been made then they will put the matter on the ballot," said Humes. "That's if the merger is proposed through resolutions. If the matter is proposed through petition then the city has only 45 days to get the plan done, so you it's definitely a good idea to have some goals."