Northwest News

Consolidation of Grays Harbor cities on the table again

There is renewed interest in studying the consolidation of Aberdeen, Hoquiam and Cosmopolis as a businessman with Grays Harbor ties has recruited a Tacoma attorney to research the feasibility.

Tim Quigg, partial owner of Quigg Bros. Inc. construction company based in Aberdeen, is paying Tacoma attorney John Ladenburg Sr. to lead research that would determine how much consolidation of services would benefit the three cities.

Ladenburg will compile his findings and recommendations into a report sometime in September. Quigg, who lives in Issaquah but has been active in various civic betterment activities in Grays Harbor, said he expects to spend no more than $35,000 on the project.

Quigg and Ladenburg were to meet with leaders and officials from the three cities to discuss the possibility of consolidation, Quigg said.

“We feel that the viability and quality of services need to be maintained at a high level, which may require some consolidation,” Quigg said Monday from the Aberdeen Revitalization Movement office, where he serves as a volunteer.

He made it clear that Ladenburg intends only to gather information, and there is no guarantee the cities would make any changes at all.

Quigg said he began talking to Ladenburg about a possible consolidation effort in early January. The two have known each other for years, Quigg said, and Quigg’s brother, Bill Quigg, attended Gonzaga University in Spokane with Ladenburg in the 1960s.

Ladenburg has formerly served as a Tacoma city councilman, Pierce County prosecutor and Pierce County executive. He now works as of counsel for Sadler Ladenburg, the Tacoma-based firm owned by his sons.

Ladenburg on Tuesday said his past leadership in city consolidation and annexation matters include the small city of Ruston, where a $1.2 billion development on a federal Superfund site faced annexation by nearby Tacoma. Ruston’s City Council rejected the annexation with a resolution in March.

He said he also advised officials in Sumner about annexing a Pierce County development directly adjacent to the city’s urban-growth boundary.

Ladenburg said he will come to Grays Harbor with an open mind and no preconceived notion of what needs to be done.

“I don’t come down there with the mindset that these cities need to be all joined into one city. There are other ways to do those kinds of things that can create autonomy and still create cost savings,” Ladenburg said.

Quigg said he plans to keep residents informed about the process via a website, where resident can submit suggestions. He said he plans to have the website operational by June.

Quigg’s only wish is that no jobs at any of the cities are lost, unless through retirement or other attrition. Ladenburg said that can be done through department restructuring, allowing for more middle-management positions.

For example, Ladenburg said most small police forces spend money putting officers on streets and scale back their detective staffs. Combining police forces could result in savings that would allow for more of those positions.

“You have to look at the whole structure and say, OK, with 50 positions, can we have a better structure than we have now by realigning positions and maybe even creating new positions that are something that you may well need, but in the past you just couldn’t afford,” he said.

Quigg said the mayors of all three cities told him they are receptive to discussing consolidating services. Aberdeen and Hoquiam have been involved for several months in discussions about consolidating fire and paramedic services.

Aberdeen Councilman Alan Richrod said the financial situation of all three cities called for, at the very least, a discussion.

“Just from a budgetary point of view, you have the operations of a city and you’re multiplying that three times, but your cities are separated by a line on a map — they’re all essentially the same city,” he said. “The very least we need to do is ... look at the feasibility of consolidating.”

Quigg said he’s OK with most residents rejecting the idea of consolidation, which has been touted in the area for decades.

“It’s for the good of the order,” he said of the research. “If the public doesn’t want to do it, that’s fine, but I think I have the skills to get it started.”