The Three Rivers Community Roundtable has asked the Williams B. Ruckleshaus Center in Pullman to tackle the recurring and emotional issue of consolidating the area’s four cities into one entry.
The Roundtable put together its own group, the Communication, Cooperation, Collaboration, Consolidation Task Force, or 4C Task Force, into look at the separate elements surrounding the issues.
Since October 2007 the 13-member group has been meeting to tackle the issues. The group released a 34-page report last month with its analysis and with a recommendation to have a separate study done by an independent party to address the challenges, opportunities and questions raised in the report.
“It’s an enormous, complicated issue,” said Mike Schwenk, Roundtable chairman, during TRIDEC’s 2009 Regional Economic Outlook. “And for all the lessons learned, the bottom line was that we need an independent study by someone at arm’s length, who is not emotionally attached to the issue to look at it.”
The Task Force looked at all the things that have happened over the year in the community where consolidation has already occurred to some extent like the Tri-City Chamber of Commerce, TRIDEC, and the Benton Franklin Health District.
“As a Task Force we have….come to appreciate ongoing efforts to work more efficiently as a region — many of which the community at large in unaware,” said the report. “There are numerous examples of successful and ongoing efforts of communication, cooperation, collaboration and even consolidation, all undertaken to improve services, increase programs and be more fiscally responsible.”
The report also noted the gaps. The Task Force found three specific areas where they believed more study was needed, government, health care and regional facilities planning.
The report said as the group focused in on government, it was clear that three questions needed to be considered. Does consolidation reduce cost and/or increase services? Does it provide additional clout for the region? And does consolidation create a unified vision or accomplish larger project for the region that could not be done independently?
Consolidation was put on the ballot in 1985 and rejected by voters in Kennewick and Pasco, A later attempt to consolidate Richland and Kennewick failed as well. But a growing population base coupled with a changing economy and caps limited property taxes to 1 percent growth annually many have many residents rethinking the issue.
“It appears the community-at-large believes that consolidation will save taxpayers money through a reduction of duplication of services,” the report said. “It is important to understand that a larger city would not necessarily be more cost effective to operate and manage.”
However, consolidation could give the Tri-Cities a more prominent voice in Olympia. The report notes 93 area agencies, governmental and nongovernmental that could collaborate or consolidate.
The William D. Ruckelhaus Center is jointly operated by the University of Washington and Washington State University. It was created to offer neutral conflict resolution services and to provide research and analysis, mediation and experts for collaborate problem solving. “Matters like this are things the William B. Ruckelhaus Center likes to do,” Schwenk said.
For more information or to see the report, go to www.my3rivers.org.