Dozens of local citizens attended the Sunnyside council meeting Tuesday to discuss the consolidation of East Carbon and Sunnyside into one city.
"What we are proposing here is a win-win situation for both cities," noted Sam Leonard, presenting the case for consolidation. "I want to propose this not at Sunnyside vs. East Carbon, but as a situation in which things are tough for both cities."
Leonard explained the way consolidation could happen. Utah law outlines two ways for consolidation to progress. One legal approach involves obtaining authorization from the two city councils to conduct a public vote in the matter. The second involves securing signatures from 10 percent of the registered voters in the two towns on a petition asking for an election on the proposed consolidation.
"There will be strong feelings on both sides of this issue," stated Leonard. "The councils are both doing a great job, but this type of decision needs to go to the people. Let's let the democratic process work its magic."
After Leonard's opening comments, residents raised questions about how the cities would be governed, how debts owed by the towns would be paid and whether the post office in Sunnyside would stay in place in the event consolidation were to occur.
Debt seemed to be the crux of the majority of the questions. Leonard explained that the individual cities would be responsible for paying existing debts.
However, city attorney Craig Bunnell advised the officials that passing a resolution indicating the city agreed to a vote on the issue did not meet state statutes.
"The resolution must have a plan for the consolidation attached to it," pointed out Bunnell. "Without that, it doesn't mean much."
The attorney's statement seemed to throw a monkey wrench into coming up with a quick resolution to send voters to the polls. However, the discussion continued. One matter brought up concerned designing a consolidation plan.
One citizen in attendance at the Aug. 19 meeting asked who would work on developing a consolidation plan if the council granted the city's approval. Leonard told the group that according to the lawyers he consulted the plan could be put together by the cities and citizens.
"If this happens, whether it is by resolution or petition, at least one person on a planning committee should be from the city council," stated Bunnell.
One of the members of the audience said he couldn't see the point in planning something that may not happen. He suggested that a vote on the resolution is what should take place first.
"According to the law the plan has to be there before the council can act," restated Bunnell. "If a petition is submitted then the towns have 15 days to set up a plan. All anyone can do tonight is to set up the planning process."
Leonard asked for a show of hands as to how many people in the room were from East Carbon. A number of hands went up. Then he asked how many people thought that the public should vote on the matter of consolidation. That action sent a seeming majority of hands into the air.
"You know, I don't know how I feel about this," said one citizen. "Everyone has lots of questions and we need those answered before we can do anything."
The city attorney explained that if a resolution passed at least one public hearing would be held to answer questions and take comments.
That brought the meeting to a point where people began to want to know about the problems and advantages of consolidation.
"One big feature of this is that it will eliminate doubling the costs of two cities over one," explained Leonard. "There is a human cost to this, remember that. Some people may lose their jobs."
But while there seemed to be many people for the idea, and many more undecided, there were also those that weren't sure it was such a good idea.
"When I came onto the council we wanted to create a fire district to make us more efficient," said councilman Doug Parsons. "East Carbon said no to that. As for our police force, it is small but it is doing a great job."
Leonard countered by pointing out that the county had offered to build a public service building and equip it if the cities would cooperate with one another.
"That's just the problem, coming together to get these things done," he said.
However Sunnyside Mayor Bruce Andrews saw it differently.
"We listened to the county on this," he stated. "The East Carbon city council said that their city didn't want to pay taxes for a building that was going to be built in Sunnyside."
Councilman Eugene Vernon pointed out that East Carbon also has other problems that could affect Sunnyside if a merger took place.
"When we went before the CIB (Community Improvement Board) we received $1 million from them for our water system," he noted. "East Carbon has been less fortunate. They have been turned down for similar kinds of funds because they are getting money from ECDC (East Carbon Development Corporation)."
The back and forth continued and a number of times the mayor had to call the meeting to order because of side conversations and one person having the floor yet others trying to speak over them.
Often citizens would rise and make a statement and the audience would clap. One man noted his experience with living in Sunnyside and many people clapped.
"I moved here a year ago from California," he said. "Since I came here all I hear is people fighting. I brought my kids here for a peaceful place. We need to come together and help each other out. All this bickering that is taking place is like a bunch of two years olds."
Another citizen that received applause related the situation to the future of both communities involved.
"We keep talking about these past debts the city owes, but I don't think those are the problem," she stated adamantly. "The combination of the two towns will save money and make us a more viable community. We need to look to the future. The kids who graduate here have no opportunities to stay here with."
The debate then turned to setting up a committee to either research the idea of consolidation or to put together a plan of consolidation. That continued for a few minutes and then one citizen asked the key question.
"We want to know whether the council wants to look at an election or if it should go to a petition drive?"
After some more discussion councilman Paul Marquez made a motion that Doug Parsons be appointed to head up a committee to look into the idea of consolidation. The rest of the council approved it.
Next week the group working toward having the two towns consolidate will approach the East Carbon City Council on Tuesday evening at their regular meeting place and time about putting forth a resolution to put the issue on the ballot.