While the Benham City Council has already passed an ordinance allowing their residents to vote to allow elected officials to begin discussing a possible merger of services, and the city of Lynch has scheduled a special-called council meeting Monday to vote on the matter, the ordinance has experienced some resistance by Cumberland city officials.
The Cumberland City Council recently held a special-called meeting to vote on the ordinance, but the only vote was to obtain more information regarding the issue.
Charles Raleigh, the only Cumberland council member who didn’t vote to obtain more information, said he was disappointed the council did not vote on the proposed ordinance.
“I asked if we want to put this to a vote, and the council members said they wanted more information. So they voted to get more information. I have all of the information that I need to put it on the ballot and let the public decide if they want to merge services,” Raleigh said. “The citizens trust us enough to vote us into office. I don’t know why we can’t trust them to vote on a merger of services. I am not sure what other information the other council members are looking for, but I hope they find it. I have made it clear that I have all of the information I need.”
Raleigh added it is his understanding that each of the Tri-Cities have to approve the ordinance in order for it it to appear on the ballot.
Cumberland council member Yvonne Gilliam, who voted to obtain more information about the ordinance before it is put on the voting ballot, said she and other council members would like to know what services will be combined.
“Before I can present it and lay it out to the public, I feel like I should understand it and not have it be a financial burden to the citizens,” Gilliam said. “We would just like to know what services are going to be combined. I have always felt like the Tri-Cities services should be combined, but we need a plan.”
Cumberland Mayor Loretta Cornett said a meeting to vote on the ordinance has not been scheduled and the subject is unlikely to reach the ballot.
“I wish I could say yes or no. It’s not the mayors, it’s the council. My council wanted more in-depth detail,” Cornett said when asked if the council would vote on the ordinance before the Aug. 12 deadline. “The citizens have a right to vote. But they need to know what they are voting for. I think the three mayors and the council members need to sit down and discuss everything that needs to be done. I don’t think it (the vote to allow elected officials to discuss a possible merger of services) will go on the ballot. I think it could go on next year’s ballot with more information.”
Carl Shoupe, a Benham council member, said the ordinance should be put on the ballot to give citizens the opportunity to vote on the matter.
“All we are trying to do is let the people decide. It’s the people that are losing out. The cities are missing a great chance to get additional funding from the state. It was a chance to keep the price down for the citizens,” Shoupe said. “I really thought they would let the citizens vote on it anyway. Maybe Lynch and Benham can still work something out.”
Bob Collier, the mayor of Lynch, confirmed that a special-called meeting has been scheduled for Monday to vote on the ordinance. He added that the city of Lynch has already been cooperating with the city of Benham.
“We work with Benham anyway,” Collier said. “I am open to working with anybody on anything as long as it will help the residents of Lynch.”
Lynch City Council member Carl Collins said a lot of residents in the Tri-Cities are confused regarding the ordinance.
“A lot of people think it (the ordinance) is to combine the cities,” Collins said. “It’s not. All the people will be doing is voting to let us know if they want their elected officials to pursue a merger of services. This is not a vote to combine a particular service or a vote to combine the cities.”
Collins said even if the residents vote to allow discussions about a merger, it will still be a long process before any merger of services can be completed.
“This is not an overnight deal,” he said. “This will take a lot of planning and discussion between the cities before there can be any combination of services.”
David Kennedy, the magistrate for District 3, said he would like to see the topic available for citizens to vote on but stressed the decision is up to each of the cities.
“We were hoping they would put it before the citizens and let them vote on it,” Kennedy said. “The decision is left up to the three cities though. It is their decision.”
Kennedy added that a merger of services could be beneficial to the Tri-Cities and added that county government will work with each of the cities.
“We feel like a merger of some services would benefit all three towns,” he said. “The county will work with whoever decides to do it. If Cumberland decides to do it at a later date, we will work with them. I am ready and willing to do whatever I can to help all three towns.”