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Deadline looms for East Carbon, Sunnyside city merger decision

East Carbon council member Darrell Valdez listens to the back-and-forth discussion of the proposed merger with Sunnyside.

Sun Advocate reporter

The pace at which critical decisions will be made concerning the merger of East Carbon and Sunnyside quickened Tuesday night as the East Carbon City Council learned of filing deadlines associated with November's election.

According to City Recorder Liz Marquez, she has spoken with Lloyd Carr of Carr Printing, a voting expert who is responsible for automating more than half of the county registration processes in Utah. He told her that items to be placed on the ballot need to be submitted to the state between June 3 and June 7 in order for them to make it into the November general election ballot.

While a special emergency election could be held by the cities at anytime, the costs and information issues associated with that type of election could be prohibitive.

"This is going to have to be taken care of before the filing period. We need to have the wording finalized before the filing period ends at the beginning of June," she said.

Where Sunnyside will hold a public hearing to discuss the merger on April 16, the council is hoping to move forward at that point. However, most within the council agree that a recent joint session prompted worries about whether the merger is viewed as beneficial in Sunnyside.

"We asked that they try to expedite this process because the longer we wait, the harder it is to get this on the ballot. The one thing I had a problem with was the mayor of Sunnyside saying 'don't push me or I will turn a 180.' I take exception to that," said council member David Maggio. "If you're standing in front of a firing squad and you turn a 180, they just shoot you in the back. I don't care about a 180 and I don't care what one person thinks. This thing needs to be impartially explained to their residents with all the cards on the table and then voted on by all of the people."

Maggio further expressed concerns that Sunnyside officials would sway the public by inferring that the city would be fine to continue on its own with their current tax base. Explaining that he was a tax payer in Sunnyside, Maggio commented that he would attend their April 16 public hearing.

It is the contention of both Maggio and East Carbon Mayor Orlando LaFontaine that city services such as the ambulance would run much more smoothly if the towns were joined. After gaining access to the service's financial statements, the pair posed several questions during Tuesday night's meeting.

"We have been told for years that the ambulance always runs in the red but then at the meeting we see that between March of 2012 and March of 2013 the ambulance ran $22,471 in the black," questioned Maggio.

This figure brought forward discussion about accounting practices at the service and how it has changed. The service recently moved away from local billing, moving to a national billing service.

According to East Carbon Council Member Barbara Robinett, who also has overseen the ambulance service for many years, it was the salary and benefits of former Sunnyside employee Gail Raby that kept the service running in the red.

"I went back through the last three years, and right now we don't have Gail's salary against the ambulance. Right now if you take out her salary and benefits, the service runs pretty much in the black," she said. "I don't know for sure how much she made, but I know if you take her salary and benefits out of it the ambulance runs pretty much in the black."

As the conversation moved back to the merger, council member David Avery spoke up concerning what he sees as the largest impediment to progress.

"I think they are still they are wishing and hoping and praying that a savior comes out of the woodwork, a savior that isn't East Carbon," he said. "I think they see that savior as a state reversal concerning this tax situation."

The state decision spoken of by Avery is linked to the state tax commission and the fact that they have yet to sign off on a tax re-evaluation at Sunnyside Co-Generation which would cost Sunnyside city $100,000 in lost revenue.

According to Avery, the best option for East Carbon may be to move forward via a petition, instead of mutual city resolutions. The merger can either be sent to voters by city resolutions or a 10 percent favorable petition from both towns concerning the merger. The only difference between the two is that if the matter is brought forward via a petition, city officials will have only 45 days to figure out what the merger would look like.

For East Carbon, the process of a merger became more appealing following last year's debacle over a water project which would have captured run-off from the Grassy Trail Reservoir's second diversion. Sunnyside withdrew its name from the Permanent Community Impact Board application following what they called a lack of information concerning the project from East Carbon officials.

"We aren't going to put our name on a project we know nothing about," said Sunnyside Mayor Doug Parsons, following the incident.

In East Carbon the topic remains potent and is frequently brought up.

"We lost almost $300,000 on that project and now look at the problems we are facing over snow pack," said LaFontaine. "If we were one city, that never would have happened. We would be capturing that water right now. The city council needs to be aware that we are dangerously close to not having this merger happen."

For council member Robinett, it's not the council that needs to know, but the residents.

"I think it's the citizens of both communities that need to realize, because we are in this together," she said. "If we stand together we are going to succeed and move forward. If we don't we, are going to be this area's next ghost town."

Moving forward the council agreed to approach the Sunnyside Council following their public hearing on April 16.

"I say we go up there that night," concluded Robinett. "That way we know that night if we need to go back up there with petitions or if we move forward with a resolution."

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