Courtesy of City of Chubbuck GIS
CHUBBUCK — “Do you support exploring the consolidation of Pocatello and Chubbuck into one city?”
That’s a question Bannock County voters will see on their ballots this election season. It’s an advisory question, meaning it is meant to gauge voters’ opinions of the topic, usually in preparation to make a decision or perform an action in the future. But no change would happen as a direct result of the advisory question.
The question was placed on the ballot after the One City Exploratory Committee approached the Bannock County Commission. The advocacy group is led by co-chairs Ryan Saterfield and Dustin Manwaring. In May, they requested a meeting with the commission to petition for the question to be placed on the primary ballot. But due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that meeting was shelved until recently, and the petition was changed to get on the general election ballot.
In an interview with EastIdahoNews.com, Manwaring emphasized that the committee is not pushing for consolidation of the cities, but they are interested in learning what the public thinks about the debate.
“Neither one of us are overwhelmingly compelled to do it if there isn’t interest out there,” Manwaring said. “Let’s do this the right way if it’s going to happen.”
The question came as a bit of a shock to some local officials though. Earlier this month, Chubbuck Mayor Kevin England and the Chubbuck city council sent out a letter asking their residents to vote no on the question.
“We have collectively heard from many citizens of Chubbuck, and without exception, we have been asked by all to not allow this to happen,” the letter reads. “We say to each of you that we agree, but it is now up to you to make sure and vote no on the advisory question.”
Manwaring says they were a bit confused by that response since the point of this was just to gauge interest, not make any decisions.
“How do they know?” Manwaring asked EastIdahoNews.com. “That’s the whole point of an advisory question.”
In the Chubbuck letter, city officials asserted that their elected officials weren’t approached to find their thoughts on the matter. The city said England did meet with the commission on the topic after it was placed on the ballot. He expressed his opinion that this was not a county issue, it was one that needed to be decided by city governments.
Bannock County Commissioner Jeff Hough explained to EastIdahoNews.com that the county is the smallest level of government that can place an advisory question on the ballot of a general election. Both England and Manwaring acknowledged that information can be pulled for officials to see what geographic area the votes came from.
“We considered (placing the question on the ballot) very carefully,” Hough said. “It is nothing more than to see if there is an interest in studying the issue. We are looking to see if we can put the question to bed once and for all or do something about it.”
In the letter, England emphasized what could happen if the cities were consolidated.
“If two cities consolidate the larger city absorbs the smaller city,” the letter reads. “This means the smaller city’s name, ordinances, policies, everything about it would all go away.”
The letter went on to explain that the only thing remaining with the smaller city would be any debt they have.
“After consolidation, the larger city would geographically cut out the footprint of the smaller former city and the citizens of the smaller city would (still) be billed for any and all debt of their former city.”
Manwaring stressed if the cities were to be consolidated, a new election would be held to gain new elected officials for the new city, which would allow Chubbuck citizens to be a part of the new government.
A new election is something that is supported by laws in Idaho. Idaho Code 50-2017 states, “in the event that the majority of the votes cast by the electors of each and all such cities proposed to be consolidated shall favor consolidation, the city shall proceed to call an election to be held in all the cities so proposed to be consolidated for the election of officers of the new corporation.”
Exact wording in Idaho Code for all aspects of consolidation of cities can be found in Title 50 Chapter 21.
According to England, the question of consolidation has come up before but has continually been turned down by both Chubbuck and Pocatello. Though the mayor says he has nothing against Pocatello, with the direction Chubbuck is heading, the city council does not believe they should change.
“The city of Chubbuck has a very bright future and to change course now, in our opinion, would be a mistake,” the letter said.
Manwaring said some of the major benefits of consolidation could be increased economic development. With the two cities becoming one larger city, they could be eligible for more federal grants. However, more research needs to be done depending on the results of the advisory question.
At the moment, Manwaring reiterated that they are just looking for public input at this time, and not pushing for consolidation.
“This is all about fact gathering and letting the public see where the sentiment is at,” Manwaring said.