|Sunnyside Mayor Bruce Andrews and Commissioner Steve Burge review a document during the consolidation meeting called by the county last Thursday. At the end of the meeting, the three governing bodies decided to form a committee to develop a plan for merging East Carbon and Sunnyside.|
In a special meeting last Thursday, members of the Sunnyside and East Carbon City councils and the county commission met to explore the situation concerning the movement to merge the two towns.
"The main purpose for this meeting is to talk about the concerns and related issues pertaining to consolidation," pointed out Commissioner Steve Burge after East Carbon Mayor Dale Andrews introduced the councils and county officials to the 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 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 with providing funds to the area emerged.
"My chief concern came when East Carbon approached us about the money we had been paying the town for police coverage for the unincorporated areas around the area," noted Krompel. "When the separation of police forces came, we were wondering how to give out the money and were concerned about providing residents in this area with the protection they need."
Police protection has been an important matter in the area. According to officials at the meeting, Sunnyside paid East Carbon $500 a month for police services before July 1. But when East Carbon began to look at the city's budget, the officials realized they needed to charge more. Instead of paying more money, Sunnyside decided to start a city police force.
The Sunnyside police force is part-time and the town has coverage for about five hours a day. In emergency situations, East Carbon police will respond and the county sheriff's office will send law enforcement personnel to the town.
"The problem we have is that the county's response would be slow because the closest officers would be, at the closest, near Wellington," said Krompel. "I am concerned about full-time protection."
Sunnyside Councilman Doug Parsons questioned the concerns regarding the part-time police force.
"It may be true that we do not have a 24-7 police force. But then, Wellington doesn't have one, either," stated Parsons. "It's always been my contention that we help East Carbon cover and they help us in emergencies. Maybe some of that could be helped with money from the county."
Sunnyside Council woman Darlene Kuhns indicated that she had looked at the police services agreement and it was not set up for both cities to get money.
"The last interlocal agreement ended on Jan. 1, 1999," said Kuhns. "According to that, it does not include Sunnsyside city. East Carbon should not get the money if we are the ones that have to provide the protection in the unincorporated areas."
Years ago, the money was divided between the two cities, said Sunnyside Mayor Bruce Andrews. Officials at the time saw no reason for the money to come to Sunnyside, then be transferred to East Carbon where the police force was located. Officials decided to have the money sent to East Carbon directly.
East Carbon Councilman Dave Maggio pointed out the split took place because the city could not afford to provide police service to Sunnyside while local citizens footed the bill.
"We had a police budget of $246,000 per year and were only getting $6,000 per year from Sunnyside," noted Maggio. "The $22,000 from the county helped in the funding of a fourth officer, but now we only have three. Sam (Leonard, East Carbon police chief) said that at least one-third of the calls his force got before were from Sunnyside. We had a problem with our tax base - we just couldn't keep paying for it."
The question was brought up about how much Sunnyside was paying for the city's police force. The Sunnyside mayor said the costs were about $2,300 per month.
The discussion moved from the police issue when Commissioner Mike Milovich pointed out the matter was only an example of the problem the towns have.
"What you are witnessing in this meeting is symptomatic of the overall problem," commented Milovich. "I have been chastised several times for suggesting these two towns should get together, but I think my reasons are strong."
The $22,000 would solve neither town's problems, noted Milovich
"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," said Milovich. "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 will even 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."
The cities' debt loads could be renegotiated and refinanced, indicated Milovich.
Sunnyside's debt is at about $1.5 and East Carbon's is about $8.5 million.
"Years ago, we only had two police officers," stated Maggio. "But the world has changed, it's a different and more dangerous place now."
Several residents in the audience voiced opinions on the matters at hand.
Some citizens suggested conducting a referendum election to determine how people feel before proceeding with the work of developing a plan as the law requires.
However, Sunnyside city attorney Craig Bunnell pointed out that the state requires the plan before any kind of vote is pursued.
"It would be a waste of money and effort without the plan," advised Bunnell.
Maggio pointed out that a plan needs to anticipate what might happen instead of what it looks like it will happen.
"Anticipation is everything," said Maggio. "We have to ask questions. For instance, if for some reason the population were cut in half, could we afford to pay the bills?"
Most city and county officials were concerned about the citizenry jumping the gun and working on a petition that would create a more difficult process.
According to state law, if the vote is presented to the county by petition instead of by agreement between the two councils, the cities would have only 15 days to come up with a plan.
Most of the officials in attendance at the meeting felt working through the existing government would be the best way. They were also concerned about rumors.
"Rumors are already being told out there," said Kuhns. "Everyone needs the truth - they need to know."
By the end of the meeting, Sunnyside and East Carbon officials had selected two council members and two citizens from each town to serve on a committee to work toward a consolidation plan.
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.
The county commissioners also offered funds to help pay for any professional services that may become necessary in connection with the work that the committee will do.
The members of the consolidation committee will meet for the first time around Sept. 17 to become organized.
The committee will then publish a list of meetings that will take place during the planning process.