DuBOIS — Sandy Township Supervisors Bill Beers and Kevin Salandra said at Monday’s meeting that they stand by their decision to not move forward with the consolidation process between the township and the City of DuBois.
That was after township resident Barry Abbott told them that so far 360 residents have signed a citizens’ petition indicating that they are in favor of placing a consolidation referendum on the November general election ballot so that voters can decide whether the City of DuBois and Sandy Township should become one municipality.
As of 1 p.m. Wednesday, 420 township residents have signed the petition, according to Abbott. The total number of signatures was the result of two-plus days of a consolidation citizens’ petition drive which started on Monday at the DuBois American Legion. Abbott, along with township Supervisor Sam Mollica, are leading the effort. The number of city residents who have signed the petition is more than 200 so far, he said.
In order to appear on the November ballot, supporters must secure and submit 219 valid signatures from the township and approximately 160 from the city to the county Election Office by Aug. 3.
Earlier this year, the city and township decided to collaborate on a study by the Pennsylvania Economy League on the pros and cons, benefits and drawbacks of combining the two municipalities. In June, however, four out of five of the supervisors — Salandra, Beers, Jim Jeffers and Mark Sullivan — decided to not to move forward with the consolidation process. Mollica was the only one of the five supervisors wanting to continue with the consolidation process.
“Here’s the point that I think some of us in the room are trying to make, if you guys wouldn’t have voted for it to stop, we wouldn’t be sitting here,” said Abbott. “We still would’ve been studying the home rule (charter). We still would’ve been taking baby steps.”
“I was elected by the people,” said Beers. “I made a decision that night for what I had in front of me and I will stand by that. I can honestly say I made an honest judgment. There was no politics involved. I looked at what I had in front of me and that’s what I went with. They put me in here, but I have to look at the facts, too. That’s what I looked at — I made a judgment.”
“I appreciate what you’re saying,” said Abbott. “I have now made the judgment that I think it should be on the ballot.”
Abbott also asked the supervisors to sign the petition.
Beers said he’s not against moving forward, but when he voted, it was based on what he had before him — the public survey that was conducted by Majority Communications and the lack of participation from residents, particularly at the public meeting held in March by the Pennsylvania Economy League concerning the consolidation study.
Salandra said he feels the same way as Beers and that is why he voted not to move forward with the consolidation process.
“Me and Kevin were the ones pushing for it (consolidation),” said Beers, who initially proposed meeting with the City of DuBois to get preliminary information about a consolidation study in January 2020 when first elected as supervisor.
According to the petition, the question the organizers would like to be printed on the official ballot for the township and city for the municipal election on Nov. 2 is as follows:
“Shall the Township of Sandy and the City of DuBois consolidate to form a new Third Class City to 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, an elected Controller, and an appointed Manager?”
Township resident Pam August, who has also been collecting signatures for the petition, noted that township residents’ tax dollars were spent to conduct the public survey, as well as the consolidation study.
“I went to the meeting at the country club and I heard what everybody else heard,” said August. “At that meeting at the country club, it was stated this is going to be a long process. It won’t be on the May ballot. It won’t be on the November ballot. We probably won’t even be able to do anything till 2022. And that’s why nobody came to these meetings. So we’re watching and reading and we’re going along. And we read that you guys are getting along, Sandy and DuBois (are) working together. And that I believe was a Monday. And on Tuesday we hear, ‘No, we’re done. Four to one. It’s finished. We’re not pursuing this.’”
“That’s pretty much why we’re in a move to say, ‘What do the people want? Do you want to consolidate or not?’” August said. “We want to be able to say yes or no. We want that option given to us, we voted for you people.”
Earlier in the meeting, Jeffers, who said he is opposed to consolidation, noted that he was approached by a Treasure Lake resident who asked him how much money could be saved if consolidation was approved. Jeffers said the man said he was told by two people collecting petition signatures at the Treasure Lake postal station that they could save $200-$300.
“Best I could see, you’re going to break even, or you might pay more taxes throughout your life,” Jeffers said he told the man.
The only ones Jeffers said he can see are going to save money initially are township water and sewer customers.
“The next thing I looked up, what was the debt?” said Jeffers. “I believe we’re $6 million in debt, and I believe the city’s $18 million in debt. You pay off those debts by taxes. Next thing you look at population, that’s been the bigger factor. The city’s got about 7,000 people or maybe a little bit more than 7,000, it’s been shrinking. The township has somewhere between 11,000 to 12,000. Back and forth, I would say it’s more you’re growing than shrinking.”
Jeffers believes eventually the township would be responsible for two-thirds of the debt. He also said that he was offended by two individuals collecting the signatures also reportedly telling the man that Jeffers “doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
Salandra, who said he is in favor of consolidation if it is done right, said the consolidation study did show a savings for everybody, all city residents, all township residents — some people save more than others.
“Admittedly, Jim, the people in Treasure Lake and the people, like myself, that don’t have township water and sewage, and have a well on a sand mound, we don’t save as much as everybody else,” said Salandra. “But I went to the Treasure Lake meeting and spoke to the board. Bill (Beers) was there too. And my comment to the board was, ‘yes, you’re not getting as much savings as everybody else, but you’re still getting some savings.’ And it’s going to benefit community, and that’s a good thing. And that was if it was organized as a home rule charter and the experts that we hired did recommend it to be a home rule charter. It’s my understanding that the committee and the petition has went the route of we’re going to consolidate as a city and then possibly look at home rule charter later.”
Treasure Lake resident Jason Gray noted there are expressed differences of opinion, both from supervisors and residents at the meeting.
“I think there is a consensus. And that is the need to provide the voter when and if it’s coming to a vote with the most information possible to make an intelligent decision,” said Gray. “Now your point being very good, will they listen? Who knows. They may check a box just on emotion, but I think the responsibility really falls on you gentlemen to provide that information as best you can. Barry said it right, he and us would like to see it on the ballot. We’re backed into a corner because of other alternatives. I think there is consensus, more information, more time is needed. I don’t think anybody wants to railroad this to a hasty decision, but it really comes back to all of you. Would you spend $50,000 to get the information necessary to make an informed decision? I hope you will. I hope you’ll reconsider it.”