I get a lot of questions asking about putting the Pocatello/Chubbuck advisory question on the November ballot. Some questioners are upset about putting the question on the ballot.
Their concern is that it isn’t a County issue and question our involvement at all. These comments and concerns are valid, and I appreciate their concerns.
The real purpose of the ballot question is to determine if there is enough interest to further study the issue. The question is not proposing a merger, it only seeks to gauge interest in the discussion.
A local group, Composed of individuals from both cities, approached the Commission asking us to put the question on the November ballot. They wanted to explore the benefits of merging the cities. Before COVID hit, they were working on getting the necessary signatures to put it on the Primary ballot in May.
When the group approached us, my initial reaction was like many others. I didn’t think it was a county issue and believed it to be a non-issue. After the presentation, we began researching the issue of putting a question on the ballot. We discovered precedent in Boise where Ada County put a question on the ballot for the city of Boise.
We discovered that by State statute, there is no mechanism for a city to put a question on a ballot. Only counties or the State have authority to add questions to the ballot. The only other way a question can get on a ballot is by a group obtaining enough signatures to have it added.
In our discussion, the group felt confident they could collect enough signatures, which would force a ballot question next year. If this occurred, it could cost the county over $40,000 in election costs.
Based on the precedent in Boise and the potential cost to the County, it made sense to approve putting the question on the ballot. We agreed to do is as long as there were no extra costs to the county. This meant that if adding the question added another page to the ballot, we wouldn’t do it.
I hear people complain about how high the taxes are in Bannock County. As a steward of public tax dollars, it is my duty to explore all options to reduce taxes. A cursory look at merging the two cities should provide cost savings. Eliminating duplicate services like fire districts, police services, and city departments should produce significant savings.
Additionally, we discovered there could be a positive financial impact on the county. As a steward of the public tax dollars, I felt it was worth asking the question.
The Final Analysis
I understand there are many emotions involved in the discussion. People in Chubbuck are proud of their city. The same goes for Pocatello residents. Many long time residents remember the bad blood that occurred with the Pocatello/Alameda merger. These memories spark strong emotions and fear of a similar situation.
We live in a unique time in history. Times are changing at such a rapid pace and it is unsettling. As a general rule, people fear change. But, we also can’t live our lives governed by fear.
There is no harm in asking a question if it leads to discovery. If we discover there is no interest in doing the research, I am good with that. If we discover there is interest in doing research, I am good with that as well.