Elko-New Market merger meetings draw small crowds

Patrick Fisher, Staff Writer

How can we better serve the people we represent?

According to Rusty Fifield Jr. of Hoisington Koegler Group Inc., that is what representatives of Elko and New Market asked themselves when they began discussing merging the two cities a year ago. He said the question was still relevant.

The two communities in southeastern Scott County recently held meetings for public comment on the topic of a merger. And while the city councils feel the merger would be a way to better serve residents, light turnouts at both meetings make it difficult to judge what the majority of residents think about it.

Elko held its meeting for public comment on Tuesday, Jan. 10, and New Market held its on Wednesday, Jan. 11. Elko had 17 people show up, the majority of them residents. New Market had 15 people attend its meeting. Of those at the hearing, only a few were residents, with the rest including representatives from Elko, Scott County and a few from New Market Township.

Fifield, who was hired by the cities to help them study the possibility of merging and help with the process, spoke at both meetings. He said the hearings were the latest step in the process of the proposed merger. Both councils have approved a draft of a plan for cooperation and combination, which will cover the merger and its implementation.

The two cities have been experiencing rapid growth over the last few years as more people have been moving in from the Twin Cities area. The proposed merger would help the communities cut down on the cost of duplicating services. Elko and New Market share a common boundary, along Scott County Road 91. Elko lies to the east and New Market to the west.

At both meetings, Fifield gave information about the process of studying the merger and the two cities’ decisions based on the information they received. The councils of Elko and New Market met eight times over the last year to discuss the merger, gather information and answer questions. One asked repeatedly, “Would it affect the boundaries for school districts?” The merger will not affect school district boundaries, just as it will not affect postal service or current land use and planning.

One benefit of the merger would be to provide residents the best services for the least property taxes. Fifield said a merger would eliminate the duplication of services. In a chart, he showed that the two communities currently have separate administrations, but do share some services. This includes a joint sewer board, a fire department based in New Market that provides fire service to Elko, and a police department based in Elko that contracts to New Market. The communities both have their public works provided by private contractors.

Even with shared services it does create challenges. Fifield said there is the question of who would provide the service and who would pay for what.

With the merger, some future service needs would have to be addressed. One need would be moving the police from a part-time to full-time department and finding space for the expanded department. A Public Works Department would also need space. Currently, most of this type of work is contracted out.

A financial analysis was done with 10 years of projections included in it. It was found there would be almost $3 million in projected savings over 10 years if the cities were to merge.

The merger would also grant the one city a greater ability to control property taxes, and taxes would be lower. It would also provide expanded revenues and more local government aid.

Pat Nutt, Elko City Clerk, said there was a fair amount of questions at that city’s meeting. She added there were no negative comments or feelings from those who attended.

At both meetings, there was a question about the debt between the two cities and how it would be handled. If the cities merge, so will the debt. Nutt said that in terms of levies and taxes the two are not that far apart.

The two councils will decide at their meetings next week whether to proceed with a referendum, which would be held March 21. Elko’s council will meet Tuesday, Jan. 24, while New Market meets Wednesday, Jan. 25.

If a referendum is held, a majority of voters in each of the two cities would need to approve the merger in order for it to proceed.

If successful, an interim governing body would be set up, made up of the two councils, with a chair and a vice-chair. Elections would be held in November of this year to bring that down to a council with a mayor and four council members. The merger would take effect on January 1, 2007.

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