“Shall the Township of Sandy and the City of DuBois consolidate to form a new Third Class City and be called The City of DuBois and governed by the Council – Manager form of government as provided in the Home Rule Charter and Optional Plans Law and Including a seven-member Council elected at large (one of whom shall be Mayor), an elected Treasurer, and elected Controller, and an appointed Manager?” is the question on the November 2nd ballot.
The Pennsylvania Economic League returned to the DuBois Country Club to give a revised presentation on what consolidation under this wording could mean for the region. The previous presentation had been based on assumptions that are no longer valid. Both reports were a joint project by PEL and the Center for Government Research. The PEL did not update the underlining data. So the presentation was based on the same 2019 data as the first. As such, the Tuesday presentation still projected both the City of DuBois and Sandy Township will start running into deficits by 2025.
Form of Government
If consolidation passes in November, it would start the process of creating a new third-class city called The City of DuBois. The process has a hard deadline of four years after the election. The earliest it can be completed is after new council elections in 2023 to fill the new elected positions.
The consolidated city would have a council system like the current City of DuBois, which has five council members and a mayor. The consolidated city would up the council number to six. The PEL representatives explained that this wouldn’t just be adding Sandy Township as a new councilmember. The wards for each of the councilmembers would be redrawn.
This would also apply to Treasure Lake properties. The private assessments by Treasure Lake would not change.
Taxes and Utility Rates
Taxes would still be lower as a third-class city, PEL reps stated. The property tax rate for the City of DuBois was 23.5 mills and Sandy Township came to 18.25 mills. Once consolidated, the community could get taxes as low as 17.1 mills. At the previous meeting PEL stated the millage rate could reach as low as 16.06 mils. A contributing factor to this change is that a third-class city is legally bound to be uniform in applying property taxes. PEL’s plans for a home rule charter city would have involved taxing only the parts of the community with streetlights for the maintenance of the street lights and similar zone taxation.
Sewage and Water were given less conclusively clear benefits across the board. Most Sandy Township Municipal Authority customers will see their rates drop as they would now be paying the City of DuBois resident rates. Some residents in Sandy Township who get their water and sewer from the City of DuBois directly will see rate increases as they are paying less than the rates for City of DuBois residents and would be moved to the City rates. Treasure Lake residents who are served by Aqua PA or by a combination of wells and/or septic tanks will see no change as the rate change will only affect Sandy Township residents on the City’s water and sewer system either directly or indirectly through the Sandy Township Municipal Authority.
The PEL report predicts that for the median house there will be a $500 savings a year. This will be partly gained by an eventual $500 thousand in salary savings and $371 thousand in switching employees to Sandy Township’s healthcare program, which is cheaper per person than the City of DuBois plan.
The $500 thousand came up in a question at the meeting and in previous Sandy Township Supervisor meetings. PEL explained that this would come from gradually eliminating duplicate positions in the consolidated city. City Manager and Township Manager were given as an example where only one manager would be needed for the consolidated city. Chief of Police was another example.
Appointed positions would need reappointed by the consolidated city. Employees hired by DuBois and Sandy under contracts would be protected by those contracts. The savings from contracted employee salaries that would be duplicated would come from not refilling the positions as contracted employees retire or move on to other jobs or offering them a buy-out.
The presentation did not touch on fire departments. When asked by the audience, PEL explained their tax and budget estimated assumed the consolidated city would be budgeting for the same amount as Sandy Township and the City of DuBois currently do separately.
What would remain the same and change
The PEL reps said some things would remain the same. The PennDOT overseen stormwater management would not change if consolidation passed. Consolidation may open up avenues for refinancing, but the total debt would continue. Hunting and firearm discharging laws would not change from what they currently are in areas. The Sandy and DuBois boundaries would be combined but would still retain the same shape. Zoning would largely remain the same, but PEL said that spots along the current Sandy and DuBois border may change to be more cohesive if the two sides of the former border were zoned differently.
The one negative PEL could give when asked by the audience is that the consolidated city would likely receive less Community Development Block Grant funds.