Pocatello-Chubbuck merger (Nov. 2020 election)

An aerial photo showing the border of Pocatello and Chubbuck along Interstate 86.

While Chubbuck Mayor Kevin England says the result of the Bannock County advisory ballot question should put to rest any effort to consolidate Chubbuck and Pocatello into one city, the committee interested in studying the endeavor hasn’t yet decided its next steps.

Just under 54 percent of voters in Bannock County indicated they did not “support exploring the consolidation of Pocatello and Chubbuck into one city,” in Tuesday’s election, according to unofficial results.

“If you take the overall, and if I remember how ballots work, if you lose you lose,” England told the Idaho State Journal during a Friday interview. “Almost 54 percent of voters in the county said they do not support this. And while it wasn’t resounding, I believe election day data told us what we needed to hear — that this issue needs to go away and we need to start focusing our time and efforts on much more important things.”

Dustin Manwaring, a Pocatello Republican House Rep-elect for District 28 following Tuesday’s election, is also a co-chair of the One City Exploratory Committee, the group interested in studying the potential of a Pocatello-Chubbuck Merger. Manwaring told the Journal Friday that the overall county results were encouraging and provided the committee with a snapshot of helpful information about the county’s sentiment toward the issue.

“I’ve provided the precinct by precinct results of the advisory question to the committee and asked for our group to meet and discuss them,” Manwaring said. “The earliest our committee would meet would be next week but it could be later than that and we’ll know more about where we go from here after that.”

Exactly how many voters in each of the two cities at the center of the advisory question who indicated they did or did not support further exploration was not yet available as of Friday evening, particularly because over 21,000 Bannock County residents voted with an absentee ballot, which is only reported by legislative district on election night and requires a special report to break down results at the individual precinct level.

Bannock County has two legislative districts, 28 and 29. While District 29 encompasses most of Pocatello, it doesn’t include the entire city. And for District 28, it does include all of Chubbuck, but also every other part of the entire county.

But if ballots cast on election day were to serve as any indicator as to which cities supported further exploration of a Pocatello-Chubbuck merger, it’s clear most Chubbuck voters would reject the idea.

Of the 4,138 Chubbuck voters who answered the advisory question about the merger when casting their ballot on election day, 3,012 voters, or about 73 percent, answered ‘No,’ indicating they would not support exploring a merger.

For England, seeing about three out of every four same-day Chubbuck voters voice opposition to studying a merger serves as a strong indicator as to how difficult it would be for the One City Exploratory Committee, or any citizen group, to effectively force the cities to merge via petition and a subsequent ballot initiative, which requires a simple majority of both cities to pass. Idaho statute also allows two contiguous cities to begin the consolidation process after their respective governing bodies issue resolutions asking for such, which would still require an election and a simple majority to pass.

“In order for this to ever become a reality, you have to get 50 percent plus one from the city of Chubbuck to say let’s do this thing and they aren’t even close to that,” England said. “Does that mean people here don’t want to study it? No. But it’s going to cost someone hundreds of thousands of dollars, and if they can’t get close on the soft question there’s no way you even get close to 54 percent on the harder question of actually asking Chubbuck to consolidate with Pocatello.”

Manwaring said he hoped about 30 to 40 percent of Chubbuck voters would indicate they supported studying the merger and was not surprised by the election returns Tuesday night. However, he also said he wondered how high that number would have been had Chubbuck not launched a campaign cautioning its residents against the pitfalls of a merger as if the advisory question was actually asking Bannock County residents to combine the two cities.

“I actually think it performed relatively well in Chubbuck given that it was a one-sided campaign with Chubbuck campaigning against it and nobody campaigning for it,” Manwaring said. “We need to reevaluate how much damage that caused in Chubbuck and whether it’s worth getting more feedback specific to that city, because Pocatello somewhat favored exploring the merger.”

In Pocatello, 10,468 voters answered the advisory question on election day, with 5,619, or nearly 54 percent, indicating they would support exploring a merger, a close reflection of the overall sentiment of Bannock County.

Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad told the Journal Saturday that the conversation about merging Pocatello and Chubbuck into one city has been a discussion in the Portnuef Valley for decades and isn’t likely to disappear anytime soon.

“I personally believe that this will come back. This is just one of those topics that come back every few years,” Blad said. “I do think that we missed an opportunity because a study could find out whether or not this makes financial sense for both communities or not. I honestly don’t know how it would break down. But I think if you truly want to put this to bed, you need to do a study.”

Blad said he’s not advocating for or against conducting a study, adding that he remained silent throughout the process of creating the advisory question as to not influence the minds of voters.

Precinct level data suggests the areas in Pocatello closer to the Chubbuck border were more inclined to vote against exploring the merger. Manwaring said he found that data fascinating and believes more work could be done to educate Bannock County residents about the pros and cons of merging two contiguous cities

“Clearly there is division there on how Chubbuck sees this issue and how it resonates in Pocatello,” Manwaring said.