Thomson, Carlton likely headed for referendum vote on mergerThe first of two public informational meetings regarding a proposed merger of the cities of Thomson and Carlton was slated for Wednesday night at the Thomson City Hall as the Pine Journal went to press.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
The first of two public informational meetings regarding a proposed merger of the cities of Thomson and Carlton was slated for Wednesday night at the Thomson City Hall as the Pine Journal went to press.
According to Andy Hubley, regional planning director for the Arrowhead Regional Development Commission (ARDC) who is facilitating the process, the purpose of the meeting was to present the results of the community visioning process held on June 13, examine the financial aspects of the merger, and discuss the merger process — including the resolutions and referendum.
Though the idea of a merger of the two communities has been floating around for the past seven years, it came to the forefront after the city of Thomson suffered devastating flood losses in 2012 on the heels in increasing cuts in Local Government Aid. That, coupled with difficulty in replacing city staff and elected officials, caused the small community to turn once again to merger talks with Carlton.
The talks began in the form of informal discussions twice monthly between the mayors and city councilors, with an eye toward holding a public visioning session to determine where the residents would like the proposal to go and whether to move ahead with it at all.
The June 13 meeting was relatively well attended, and the majority of the attendees were in favor of at least continuing to study merging and developing more details of what impacts the merger would have.
According to Carlton County Auditor/Treasurer Paul Gassert, the two communities were required to pass resolutions supporting a referendum vote no later than Aug. 15 in order to get it on the Nov. 5 ballot. He said the question on the ballot will be, “Shall the City of Carlton, Carlton County, Minnesota, and the City of Thomson, Carlton County, Minnesota, be authorized to consolidate into one city?”
Gassert explained the referendum balloting will be conducted by mail.
“This is a first for the city of Carlton, but Thomson has done their elections by mail for many years,” said Gassert. “Because this is a ‘referenda’ question, they are able to do this election by mail — as opposed to the Nov. 2014 elections, at which time they would be electing a mayor, city council, etc.”
Gassert said he and his staff have been working with the two cities on this particular election for a couple of months. The cities have appointed him to administer the election, and his staff will get the ballot materials ready, mail out ballots and accept and tabulate them.
The thought behind the mail ballot process, according to Gassert, is that it is less expensive and everyone who is registered will receive a ballot. Those who are not registered will still be able to come to the County Auditor/Treasurer’s office, register and vote just as they have been able to in the past.
With regards to costs, the respective cities will pay for the election — ballots, postage, publications, etc.
“The bulk of the cost is the ballots and programming — roughly $1,500,” explained Gassert. “These expenses would be incurred even if they were not doing the election by mail. The additional expense is the postage — roughly $1.25 per registered voter (Carlton has 450 and Thomson has 100), but this is offset by their not having a polling location, election judges, etc. I would say for Carlton, the cost of a polling site is roughly $640 to cover the cost of four judges for 16 hours at $10 per hour.”
The communities of Thomson and Carlton are planning to hold another informational meeting just prior to the November vote as well.
In the meantime, Hubley said Wednesday’s meeting would still be important to moving forward with the plan.
“If the public sentiment is against the merger,” added Hubley, “the two cities can take that input back to their councils.”