Opinion

Law hinders cooperation between counties

I believe the citizens of both counties benefit from the efficiencies associated with bi-county programs and see no reason to pursue an end to those programs.

For the sake of clarity, Franklin County has not proposed separating from any of the existing bi-county organizations. Actually, we have been advocates for existing consolidated programs and have pressed for more cooperation, including adding another Superior Court judge and consolidating the region’s 911 programs. We have twice presented plans for building and operating a consolidated crisis response center with no net increase in taxes.

As for the apparent moratorium on bi-county meetings…there really isn’t one. Franklin County commissioners have agreed the law (RCW 36.32.080 & 090) is very clear. Our meetings must be in Franklin County. Even meeting and discussing issues outside the county, with no votes taken, is illegal since discussions are considered “actions” under state law. Of course the same law applies to Benton County. We’ve asked the WA Attorney General for an opinion largely to begin the dialogue for a possible legislative change to the RCW’s, not because we felt there was some question as to the meaning of the law as written.

One solution is legislation allowing adjoining counties to meet and take action in either county on matters strictly tied to bi-county programs. Authority to take action on issues of bi-county interest, but not tied to specific bi-county programs, is likely too broad as out-of-county meetings would make participation more difficult for our citizens.

Recent discussions over renting office space for several years, rather than buying a building for bi-county activities, were an excellent exercise in local government, not an indication of strife between counties. Competing opinions were shared publicly on the options and the issue was decided respectfully and professionally by a vote of the two boards. I far prefer that discourse - even debate - to groupthink that spends the public’s money without thorough examination of the merits of important issues.

As for cost sharing of bi-county programs, Franklin County is about 28 percent of the population and pays about 28-30 percent of the costs. Both counties benefit from the larger economies of scale.

Suggestions that each county should have voting rights on bi-county programs based on population are completely untenable. Such a plan would give Benton County 70 percent of all votes, potentially leaving the citizens of Franklin County subject to financial obligations decided solely by Benton County officials.

Your closing lines allege the counties are behaving from a parochial mindset. “Parochial” has several permutations, the common element being concern for the local “parish” or citizens we represent. That approach sounds exactly like what you called for in your preceding paragraph wherein you said…”What we’d like to see instead is our leaders making decisions in the best interest of their residents.” I certainly agree.

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