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One city or two?

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About a century ago a bunch of cities were located in northern Bannock County, in the area of Pocatello. There was Pocatello and Chubbuck and, among others, on the northwest side of the larger community, Fairview and North Pocatello.

The Pocatello area was growing as a railroad, manufacturing and later education center, and all those small communities started bumping up against each other. In 1924 the villages of Fairview and North Pocatello decided to merge, and became the city of Alameda. The new city’s population was about 1,800 then. It continued to grow, and by 1960 it was more than 10,000. The city was then led by an ambitious political figure, George Hansen (later a U.S. representative), who did the unusual thing of arguing that his job ought to vanish: He supported a merger of Alameda with Pocatello. That merger happened, after people in the cities voted approval, in 1962.

Here’s the echo of today from all that: Alameda wasn’t the only city considering a merger with Pocatello in 1962. The municipality of Chubbuck, on the north side of Pocatello, was voting too, and its voters rejected the proposal. The two cities are separate to this day.

So far.

A group of Pocatello city officials, including long-time council member Jim Johnston, are supporting a new plan to merge the two cities. In another echo of the past, there’s sharp opposition from much of the leadership of Chubbuck. That difference in local leadership attitudes may have been one of the reasons for the 1962 vote happening as it did.

Some aspects of the current plan may draw some quick opposition around the area. There’s talk, for example, of renaming the merged jurisdiction Gate City, which probably would never fly. (Pocatello is among other things already a distinctive and reasonably well-known name; why re-brand from scratch?)

Chubbuck officials will tell you – at least they have for years told anyone listening – that the two cities really are quite different in character, and that’s more right than wrong. They also have a realistic, though possibly rebuttable, case about how finances would work (to Chubbuck’s detriment) if the cities united.

But the Pocatello advocates have some good arguments for a merger.

Johnston (who said he plans to make the case for unification as a key part of his upcoming council campaign) argued that, “If we could eliminate duplication of services, we would save huge dollars and be able to reduce the tax burden.” Maybe; merger proposals do not always deliver as clear savings as seem evident in advance.

But they usually do result in efficiencies and more cooperative work. A local area split into a number of jurisdictions has more obstacles to overcome when it tries to accomplish something region-wide. (The Ada and Canyon areas are experiencing the same thing, and while merger talk isn’t in the wind, many of the issues surrounding it are.) Pocatello and Chubbuck are distinct entities, but then parts of Pocatello (and to a lesser extent Chubbuck too) are sharply different from each other. And if the merger brought together a wider range of points of view and perspective, and forced people who think differently to interact with each other, some useful results probably would come from that.

There would even be a matter of civic pride and economic development, which could work together. If the cities were united, the urban population base would seem to increase. Pocatello’s population recently has been counted at 56,266 and Chubbuck’s 15,315; united, they would form a city of 71,581. That would make it clearly the biggest city in Idaho east of Boise or outside the Ada-Canyon area. It would gain some cachet, and also more attention as businesses consider optimal locations. The difference would be artificial, true, but first impressions do sometimes count.

Pocatello voters will get a chance to mull some of this during the council campaigns this fall. So will the residents of Chubbuck since, after all, they won’t have far to hear to the advocates over in Pocatello.
 

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