Consolidation topic as charged as ever
Electric City council wants more info before putting it on ballot
Last updated 11/26/2018 at 10:27am
The topic of consolidating local towns into one came up at the Electric City council meeting Nov. 13, where councilmembers, the mayor, the city clerk, a lawyer, and a citizen spoke on the issue for roughly half an hour.
The Grand Coulee council had voted last month to put consolidation on next year’s ballot. Electric City talked about doing the same thing, but ultimately decided not to come out for or against it being on the ballot until more information comes out regarding the logistics of consolidation.
If a petition for the cause gathers signatures from 10 percent of Electric City voters from the last general election, then the issue goes on ballot. Ten percent of the 527 Electric City voters from the recent election would be 53.
A consolidation steering committee, consisting of area citizens, is raising money to pay SCJ Alliance to answer the myriad of questions associated with consolidation, including whether the measure would be to consolidate two towns, three, or four.
If a measure passes in each of the towns involved, the consolidation will occur. If that measure failed to pass in even one of the towns involved, then it would not happen.
The Electric City council raised topics associated with merging, particularly with Grand Coulee.
“In the five years I’ve been on the council,” said Councilmember Aaron Derr, “Grand Coulee’s budget has been a mess, and our budget we’ve been working hard to keep straight. Grand Coulee has a reputation for not having their ducks in a row, and guess which taxpayers are going to foot that bill?”
“That is something that needs researched — what debt is out there for the proposed cities,” said Anna Franz, the city’s attorney.
Councilmember Birdie Hensley, who raised the topic of consolidation at the meeting, repeatedly stated that the committee will be answering these questions.
“This is what we’re trying to get research on,” Hensley said. “If they owe a million dollars and we owe a hundred dollars, do we have to pay their million dollars off? Those are things that need answered. That’s why we’re going through this process in the next few months.”
Another issue in consolidating Electric City with Grand Coulee is that there needs to be a contiguous border between the cities, and currently there is only one lot separating the two towns.
“The gentleman already voted to go into Grand Coulee and make it a contiguous border,” Hensley said.
Another way for towns to establish a contiguous border is to share a shoreline with a body of water, such as Banks Lake, but that is contestable as a contiguous border, according to the lawyer.
“They’re going to have public meetings, they’re going to talk to land lawyers and stuff and tell you all these answers that you want to know,” Hensley said.
“I’d like to have those answers before we allocate or dedicate anything. That’s just my feeling on it,” Councilmember Rich McGuire said. “We have a long way to go.”
“I can already tell you it’s going to be on the ballot,” Hensley said. “Whether this group votes or not, it will be placed on the ballot.”
Hensley cited a 2016 public survey conducted by the chamber of commerce on the topic that showed that 61 percent of Electric City residents who participated in the survey were in favor of consolidation.
“I’m not going to argue with what the survey said, but I know that’s erroneous and false,” McGuire said.
Another topic raised involved other counties that would be included if Coulee Dam and Elmer City were to be included in a consolidation.
“If we consolidate four towns, you’re in three counties,” Derr said, “and I can tell you from when John and I were doing a police contract and talked to Coulee Dam, Okanogan County threw up so many obstacles. I can’t imagine running a city that has to deal with three counties.”
“I don’t see Coulee Dam or Elmer City voting in favor of consolidation,” McGuire said. “If they do, I’ll be surprised.”
“I’ll be putting signs up that say ‘No!,’” said citizen and former council member Brad Parrish, who resigned that seat in 2017 so his wife could become a city employee. “Unless all the information is on the table that spells it out, because right now it’s a wormhole and the chamber’s at the bottom of it. Because they ain’t seeing daylight because there’s not enough information out there,” Parrish added.
Hensley again reminded everyone that all of the information would be coming out from SCJ Alliance and the consolidation committee, and that the council wasn’t discussing whether they were in favor of consolidation, but whether they were in favor of it being on the ballot, which would save the committee the effort of gathering signatures.
Throughout the meeting, various people did mention their personal views on the topic.
“I’ve always been for [consolidation], so I’m not going to fight anybody, but I think we need more information,” said Councilmember Lonna Bussert.
“Initially I was way for [consolidation],” Derr said. “Then I saw the hell we went through for the police contract, and we realized how much more difficult it’s going to be than just saying, ‘Hey let’s combine the two.’ The only way I see it is relevant is if it’s just Grand Coulee and Electric City, and even then we need to make sure that Grand Coulee has their budget in order, because that’s been a mess.”
“Personally, I don’t really want it to happen, but I can see benefits both ways,” said Mayor John Nordine.
Council also talked about how a new city government would have to be elected, probably with representatives from each area.
“I propose, for this council, that we let the committee handle it, and we say ‘no opinion’ at this time,” Derr said. “Because we don’t have enough information to have an opinion, honestly. If it’s on the ballot it’s out of our hands anyways.”