DUBOIS – Earlier this week, residents of the Township of Sandy had the opportunity to share their views on the proposed amalgamation of the Township of Sandy and the Town of DuBois.
The supervisors meeting was held at the West Sandy Fire Co., so that more people could attend and participate in the public comment period.
Most opposed the proposed consolidation, in particular the terms of the November 2 ballot question. Four of the canton’s five supervisors also opposed it.
Supervisor Kevin Salandra said he was in favor of consolidating the two communities in the DuBois area, but not as proposed in the November 2 poll.
He expressed concerns about the process, with community engagement still being his main concern, noting that only 234 people attended the October 12 public meeting.
This, Salandra said, was not a very good representation since the DuBois area has 19,000 residents. Another concern was with the fire department.
Salandra asked how the region’s fire coverage would be affected, an issue he said the Pennsylvania Economy League (PEL) “barely scratched the surface of.”
Salandra drew attention to a “hitch” with the fire department. He said DuBois City manages its fire departments while those in Sandy Township operate independently.
“[Our] the fire departments are largely self-funded through fundraising, ”he said,“ and operate for the township under contract ”.
Salandra also questioned the anticipated tax savings. He said the PEL report was “overly optimistic” with the anticipation of an annual tax savings of $ 400 for the median household.
Based on the township’s calculations, he said it was more at $ 19 to $ 27 per year per median household and $ 68 to $ 92 per median household in DuBois City.
Supervisor Bill Beers objected to the current “push” for consolidation which he said was based on too much guesswork, not enough facts and too much embedding.
He said the ELP claimed that municipalities, if consolidated, would be “good” and would keep the same fire department budget. Beers is the Fire Chief for West Sandy Fire Co.
He said the township’s four fire departments are working their “rear end” to fund the stations while the five DuBois City stations have funds “turned over” to them.
Beers also said that if the DuBois-Sandy consolidation ballot measure had been proposed as a charter of autonomy, he would be in favor. “… I want to do it the right way.”
He went on to say that the proposed consolidation, as it will appear on November 2, will not give the residents of the area a voice, as many claim, but will actually take it away from them.
Beers said if the ballot issue is accepted, the consolidation process would be different from that of a home rule charter, which allows the new community to vote to start the consolidation process.
Then, if passed, he said a new municipal government would be drafted and the common community would vote to accept or reject the proposed government.
Conversely, he said, if the consolidation passes on November 2, there will only be one vote. He said there would be no second vote – by the new community – to approve / reject his new form of government.
Supervisor Jim Jeffers said his position has always been “for the township” and that he does not believe the proposed consolidation is in the “best interest” of Sandy Township or Treasure Lake.
When he spoke and when asked, he didn’t specifically say whether he was for or against consolidation, but did point out that he wanted what was best for Sandy Township.
He noted that he was in favor of initiating the initial consolidation study and then proposed ways to resolve the township issues without consolidation.
Jeffers felt the home rule charter was a possible solution, saying they could explore on their own converting from a second-class township to a home rule charter.
Another option, he said, to reach the mileage cap would be to change the value of a mill. Currently, each plant is equivalent to $ 110,000 and Jeffers said the dollar value per plant could change.
Debt also seemed to be a mark against consolidation for Jeffers. He said most of the city’s debts were related to its water and sewer system and would be paid by customers of the system.
Ideally, he said residents of Treasure Lake and other non-DuBois water and sewer customers would not be responsible for that debt or the roughly $ 45 million for the new water treatment plant.
Supervisor Sam Mollica said he was “in some way responsible” for the consolidation issue appearing on the Nov. 2 ballot because he felt voters should be given a chance to say yes or no.
He didn’t believe the supervisors would ever return to the consolidation process and still doesn’t understand why they even ended the process in June.
As a local businessman, Mollica said township businesses pay $ 3,000 to $ 4,000 more than municipal rates for water, pushing businesses away from Sandy Township.
Mollica said he only had three days to draft the petition, which is why he reused the question from the 2002 ballot. Salandra asked Mollica about the allegations of working under such time constraints.
Salandra said the citizens’ petition wasn’t even launched until about seven weeks after the township voted to end the consolidation process.
Mollica explained that once it was decided to go ahead with the petition, he only had three days to work on his tongue. Mollica and Salandra have reconciled.
Mollica ended by addressing PEL’s report regarding fire coverage. He said if Sandy / DuBois were happy then there was no need for any changes here.
Beers, however, accused Mollica of “coating the firefighters’ problem in sugar”, saying if they stay after the consolidation they will become fully funded and lead to higher taxes.
Later in the meeting, Mollica spoke again and was optimistic that the consolidation – if passed – would work in Sandy Township’s favor.
He said all council seats, including the mayor, in the consolidated municipality would be voted on by residents of Sandy Township, DuBois City and Treasure Lake.
Mollica also suggested that because Sandy Township has a larger population, it could occupy most of the council seats and decide the specifics of the city in terms of ordinances and zoning.
Supervisor Mark Sullivan spoke at length about the “Cons of Consolidation” as well as a leaflet published by the “One Community Committee”.
The flyer was mailed and distributed at the public meeting on October 12. Sullivan said he used outdated data from March and “picked” the “pinker” data in favor of consolidation.
Sullivan urged the township to speed up its plans to publish a newsletter and clearly outline the Township of Sandy’s perspective on the proposed consolidation.
Supervisors then voted on whether to publish the newsletter Sullivan, Jeffers, Salandra and Beers were in favor; Mollica alone voted against.
Resident Barry Abbott, who assisted Mollica with the citizens’ petition and ballot measurement, challenged the legitimacy of the vote. The state recently added voting requirements on governing bodies.
He said the board cannot vote on an issue that was not on the meeting’s agenda, which also needs to be finalized and announced 24 hours in advance. Exceptions exist for emergencies.
After the meeting, Salandra clarified that the newsletter was already in the budget and also in preparation. He said the vote was not necessary and therefore not in violation of the new state law.
Residents who spoke during the public comments were also largely against the proposed consolidation. Most came from the Treasure Lake and Sabula areas.
Residents of Treasure Lake asked why they should favor consolidation as they would be at risk of DuBois City water / sewer debt when they have their own water / sewer service through Aqua PA.
They were also concerned that consolidation would “dilute” their influence. Currently, Treasure Lake represents 38 percent of the township’s population and that number would decrease to 19 percent if the two municipalities consolidated.
Township manager Shawn Arbaugh broke down the debt scenario. Sandy Township has $ 5 million while DuBois City has $ 18 million in total.
Arbaugh reported that the city has a general fund debt of $ 6 million that affects all taxpayers and $ 12 million that affects its water and sewer customers.
Looking ahead, Arbaugh said DuBois City’s water and sewer debt will increase with the construction of its $ 45 million water treatment plant.
Another concern that arose repeatedly was that areas outside of Sandy Township, such as Sabula, would be forgotten and neglected even more than they already are.
One resident warned of larger government, but was countered by resident Terry Noble, who believed consolidated operations would actually be more efficient.
Noble encouraged others to speak with residents of St. Marys about their perspectives after their consolidation process. “Almost at a ‘T’, they think it’s been beneficial. We saw this happen just 30 miles north.
Some residents, however, were still concerned that consolidation with DuBois City might spell the end of a “more rural way of life” for Sandy Township.
Additionally, at this week’s meeting, supervisors announced that the township will be working on a voter referendum for the May election ballot.
They noted that this electoral referendum would only take place if the proposed consolidation was unsuccessful on November 2, and would seek authorization to spend $ 50,000 to resume initial consolidation efforts.