Opinion

Our Voice: Counties should look to the future and work together

We sure don't like what seems to be a growing divide between leaders in Benton and Franklin counties.

The two counties have several partnerships to provide services for their residents. That makes sense as efficiencies can be gained in working together and sharing costs.

But Benton County commissioners say it's time to dissolve some of those jointly operated departments.

That strikes us as odd, closed minded and old-fashioned thinking.

We've seen what happened when cities and counties couldn't come to terms to share services. Animal control is one example that comes to mind. It's still a haphazard patchwork system with individual entities struggling with their own programs and other areas with no service at all.

A mental health crisis center and a consolidated emergency dispatch center are other opportunities that have been missed so far.

The two counties have had successes in working together, but now seem to threaten to separate rather than find ways to overcome some differences.

Benton County commissioners say the human services department would be a good place to begin togo out on its own.

"Start there and see what other types of things we can do without Franklin County," said Commissioner Shon Small at a recent meeting.

Franklin County hasn't made the situation any better with its decision to place a moratorium on bicounty meetings in Benton County. Franklin County says it needs the state Attorney General's Office to determine whether it's legal for its commissioners to meet and vote in Benton County.

The counties have had disagreements on a location for the human services' crisis response and homeless housing units, as well as funding for a seventh Superior Court judge.

But Franklin County has at least been displaying more cooperative behavior than its counterpart across the river. Commissioners recently approved money for engineering and architectural plans for a much-needed renovation of the bicounty Juvenile Justice Center even in the wake of Benton County's seeming hesitation to continue partnerships.

Benton-Franklin Superior Court's presiding judge helped to bolster the fact that some of the partnerships couldn't be easily dissolved. Separating the court system, for example, would require legislative action. A joint judicial district is beneficial to both counties, the judge said.

Unfortunately, we expect the disagreements to continue, with the counties haggling over whether the other is paying its fair share of the costs for some of the programs.

What we'd like to see instead is our leaders making decisions in the best interest of their residents. We're quite sure in some of those cases cooperation and consolidation will create a better environment than derision and division.

We need open-minded and forward-thinking leaders who can look at regional issues with a wide lens and avoid the kind of parochial mindset that we've seen divide our community in the past.

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