DuBois and Sandy Township begin consolidation process, name nine-person committee
In last November’s municipal election, residents from DuBois and Sandy Township voted in favor of consolidating the two municipalities, after rejecting the proposal three times in past years. The merger will be lengthy and require extensive planning, but the process is already underway.
Sandy Township Supervisor Sam Mollica said this time, residents are more optimistic about the potential benefits of merging.
“Now, we have a larger population. We hopefully should be able to attract more businesses to come to the area,” Mollica said.
Once it merges with Sandy Township, DuBois will be the 22nd largest city in Pennsylvania.
Mollica said the consolidation will also allow the municipalities to save money. Both have run at a deficit in recent years.
“The Pennsylvania Economy League had done two studies and both studies have shown that there’d be overwhelming savings for the combination of our township and our city. Overall, at the minimum, there’d be $500,000 a year savings,” Mollica said.
Those savings would come from eliminating duplicate government positions through attrition and buyouts. The report says that would allow for lower property taxes and utility rates.
The consolidation easily passed in DuBois, but the margin was much narrower in Sandy Township with only 33 more votes for the merger than against it. Mollica said those who were opposed said there were too many unanswered questions.
“But many questions you can’t answer until you actually consolidate. They’re reluctant to change," Mollica said. "A lot of it has to do with the fire companies.”
Sandy Township Manager Shawn Arbaugh says merging the two municipalities’ fire departments will be a challenge.
“Currently, Sandy Township has four 501C individual fire companies. The city of DuBois has five fire companies. So I think integrating those nine fire units and how we do that is going to be one of the most complex things," Arbaugh said. "We’re really lucky to have just a ton of great volunteers. With that comes a lot of different personalities and just trying to mesh all those nine companies together is going to be difficult to do.”
The task of merging the fire departments has been assigned its own subcommittee for the DuBois/Sandy Consolidation Committee to manage. The nine-person committee held its first meeting on January 26 to begin the consolidation process. Arbaugh says the committee is also tasked with ironing out the details of the election for the new form of government.
“That election will elect six council members for the new city and one mayor. There’s two time frames we can have that: one could be November of 2023 or November of 2025,” Arbaugh said.
Arbaugh said one effect of the consolidation the committee may explore is determining if and how Sandy Township will retain its individual identity.
“There’s been some different discussions that maybe there can be some signs that say, ‘Welcome to the Village of Sandy’ or something like that in the future. But essentially Sandy Township would go away,” Arbaugh said.
Arbaugh said he has heard a range of overall feelings about the consolidation. Some people are excited. Some are more negative about the change.
“Myself, I was born and raised in Sandy Township and it’s definitely a little sad to see it kind of disappear, so a lot of people hold onto that historical kind of image of Sandy Township,” Arbaugh said.
As the consolidation process plays out, local leaders remain optimistic about the outcome. Newly elected Sandy Township supervisor Barry Abbott said he believes consolidating is the best course of action, especially for the younger generation.
“You know, some of us that are beyond social security age, we’re not doing that for us. We’re doing it for the second generation following us. That is my hope as this thing progresses,” Abbott said.
The consolidation is required to be completed by November 2025. The DuBois/Sandy Consolidation Committee will meet on the second and fourth Wednesday of every month at noon in the DuBois city building. The meetings are open to the public.
WPSU partnered with a class in Penn State’s Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications to do in-depth reporting in the DuBois area. Support for this student reporting project on WPSU comes from the Benkovic Family Foundation of State College.