Today there is a city called Provo and a city called Orem. A year - or two or three - from now there could be just one city, a big city, a city perhaps called Provo-Orem.

Stranger, seemingly more impossible things have happened: A year ago there was an East Germany and a West Germany. Today there is one Germany.Participants at the second annual Community Leadership Conference hosted Thursday at Sundance by the Provo/Orem Chamber of Commerce learned that a small committee of citizens is studying the feasibility of combining Provo and Orem.

The three members are Steven R. Shallenberger, president of Eagle Marketing in Provo and former chairman of the Utah County Republican Party; Doug Marriott, owner of Marriott Development Co.; and Joe Cannon, president of Geneva Steel.

They began looking at the issue because "through our community service contacts" the possibility kept coming up, Shallenberger said.

While the Provo/Orem Chamber of Commerce felt it shouldn't be involved officially in the investigation, it encouraged the committee to pursue the matter independently, Shallenberger said.

The committee members think a combined Provo-Orem is worth considering.

And most of the 100 or so conference participants - which included elected officials from Provo, representatives of the Provo School District and economic development officials from both cities - indicated they'd support such a merger.

One of the top six accounting firms in the nation will begin a study within the next 30 days to investigate the effect of combining Provo and Orem, Shallenberger said. The firm will look at the number of people needed to staff a new municipality, what facilities would be needed, the cost of merging and the long-term capital maintenance costs for one city versus two.

The study, which will take about six months to complete, will also evaluate whether combining Provo and Orem would result in economic savings and operating efficiencies.

"Is it right?" Shallenberger asked. "That ought to be the fundamental question . . . I firmly believe we should not go further until we have those studies."

A combined city would be nearly equal in size to Salt Lake City and would have much greater economic and political clout, not only in Utah but nationally, Shallenberger said.

Other potential benefits of consolidation:

- If the cities were combined, they would no longer compete against each other in economic development and would better utilize various development zones.

- Many residents who live in one city and work in the other would be better served in a combined community with an elected council serving the entire area. Also, because of the broader pool of people to draw from, the quality of elected representatives would improve.- Capital expenditures would likely be significantly reduced over time.

- Schools in Orem could become part of the Provo School District.

Shallenberger said the only drawback so far identified is that competition, which can be a positive factor, would be eliminated.

If the feasibility study supports consolidation, the next step would be to have each city council adopt resolutions in favor of the action and submit such a request to the Utah County Commission. Or, a petition signed by at least 10 percent of the residents of each city could be presented to the commission.

The commission is authorized by statute to review and supervise requests to consolidate municipalities. After public hearings on the matter, the county would schedule a vote on the proposal, preferably in conjunction with a general election.

At least 51 percent of the voters in each city would have to vote in favor of consolidation for the proposal to pass.

Initially, the two city councils would merge and elect a mayor of the new municipality. City ordinances in place at the time of consolidation would remain effective for at least three years.