DUBOIS – Discussion of the proposed consolidation of Sandy Township and DuBois City was renewed during Monday night’s Sandy Township Supervisors’ meeting.
Recently, a petition was originated as part of an effort to have the consolidation effort revived and placed on the November Election ballot. An identical petition is being circulated in DuBois City.
It was noted that a petition signature doesn’t count so far as a vote in favor of consolidation, and sufficient signatures must be gathered in both municipalities for it appear on the ballot.
If the proposed consolidation would go to a voter referendum and be passed, the new government would have one year to complete the consolidation process.
In early June, the supervisors voted, 4-1, to terminate the consolidation effort with DuBois City due to the pattern of lacking support, costs and the time involved.
First, the supervisors said the public wasn’t engaged in the process, and that was evident with the lack of questions/comments submitted prior to the public hearing.
There was also a low turn-out at the hearing, and a poll showed that 49 percent of residents were in favor while 33 percent were opposed and 18 percent still undecided.
The supervisors had hoped poll results would show a 40- to 60-percent differential that would be more indicative of how residents would vote Election Day.
A few weeks ago, resident Barry Abbott and Supervisor Sam Mollica approached DuBois City Council where they announced their intention to revive the proposed consolidation effort.
Supervisor Jim Jeffers opposed consolidation, explaining he would support it and even sign the petition, if he thought it would matter and actually save him hundreds of dollars as claimed.
Jeffers went on to provide a breakdown of what he pays in taxes to demonstrate that there isn’t room for hundreds of dollars in savings.
Jeffers also argued that Treasure Lake residents benefit even less, as they wouldn’t see direct savings from a joint water/sewer system with their system operated by Aqua PA.
It was noted that consolidation would also make any future attempt by Treasure Lake to secede from Sandy Township, near, if not outright, impossible.
Jeffers was also concerned over debt. Currently, he said the township has $6 million in debt where DuBois City has $18 million.
However, he said the township holds steady with 11,000 residents while the city has only 7,000 residents and is shrinking.
Consolidation of debt, according to Jeffers, would mean township residents would have to start paying for city debt.
Conversely, Supervisor Kevin Salandra said the joint consolidation study showed a savings for everyone. He did admit it wasn’t quite as much for Treasure Lake residents.
Salandra said he still favored consolidation but voted to end the municipality-driven process, as he couldn’t justify the shared cost of $100,000 for a possible failure when put to public vote.
If the petitions gather sufficient signatures and consolidation goes to the ballot, voters would decide whether or not Sandy Township and DuBois City should consolidate as a third-class city.
If this should occur, the new governing body would consist of seven council members, a mayor and so forth.
As a result, Salandra said he wasn’t sure that if consolidation appeared on the ballot and passed that anyone would see savings.
Abbott responded, saying: they “got pushed into a corner.” He said that after a year, the consolidated city would reform into a home rule charter.
Supervisor Bill Beers asked Abbott why he – and others – were rushing to have the consolidation question on this November’s ballot.
Abbott disputed the lack of public support, indicating the petition received 360 signatures in Sandy Township on the first day – alone.
Consolidation supporters said the lack of interest early on was mostly because it was expected to be a lengthy process that would take years. Then, it was suddenly terminated.
Abbott said it was “like getting caught with their pants down,” and he felt area residents should have their say.
There was also discussion on the petition proposing a form of government different from the joint consolidation study (home rule charter vs. third-class city).
Salandra said if the petition would go to voter referendum, it could possibly result in higher taxes for some residents.
“If you guys hadn’t voted 4-1 to stop, we wouldn’t be sitting here,” Abbott said. “We would still be studying home rule. We’d be taking baby step by baby step.”