TRI-CITIES, Wash. - The communities that comprise the Tri-Cities metro area could likely have greater economic and political impact by creating a more singular identity and approach; however there are better ways to achieve this outcome than consolidation.
Combining the communities into one municipality likely has more drawbacks than advantages, but expanding collaboration, and in some cases building on relationships and arrangements already in place between the cities, counties and local agencies, can provide "more lasting and beneficial results" than what's currently being achieved.
Those are the key findings of an assessment by the William D. Ruckelshaus Center, a joint effort of the University of Washington and Washington State University that assists communities in their efforts to build consensus and resolve conflicts around difficult public policy issues. The findings are from the first-phase of a multi-part project examining options for the future of the Tri-Cities. They were released today at the Tri-Cities Regional Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick.
In addition to Ruckelshaus Center staff, former U.S. Senator Slade Gorton and Megan Clubb, president and CEO of Baker Boyer Bank, were on hand to share the study highlights.
Over the past year, the policy center conducted an in-depth assessment of other communities with multiple jurisdictional governments and agencies. In applying those findings to the Tri-Cities, the Ruckelshaus team noted:
Given the characteristics (historic relationships, size, current structures, etc.) of the municipalities comprising the Tri-Cities and surrounding region, it is unlikely that consolidation would result in significant economies of scale.
Although the potential for both positive economic and political outcomes from a successful consolidation effort exists, those outcomes are uncertain and difficult to quantify.
Targeted areas of collaboration and cooperation across the cities and counties that make up the Tri-Cities and surrounding region are an alternative way to achieve many of the benefits of consolidation without the drawbacks.
Wednesday's speakers acknowledged the Tri-Cities has many successful collective efforts including Ben Franklin Transit, a regional airport, joint economic development and tourism agencies, educational partnerships such as Delta High School and Tri-Tech Skills Center, central animal control and a common 911 call center. But they also noted more is achievable and necessary if the Tri-Cities is to fully realize its economic and political potential.
The Ruckelshaus Center study, phase one of a three-phase project, was commissioned by the Tri-Cities Evolution, a working group of the Three Rivers Community Roundtable to help the community evaluate possible approaches to improve governance in the Tri-Cities. The Roundtable is a collection of community leaders interested in creating a bright future for the Tri-Cities and Mid-Columbia region. Community leaders have been discussing leveraging of "the 4Cs" - communication, cooperation, collaboration and consolidation - and how these may best apply to improving the Tri-Cities community.
The charge to the Ruckelshaus Center was to identify potential opportunities to improve governance of the Tri-Cities and help the community to build consensus around the most favored alternatives, and how those efforts could create a better future for the Tri-Cities.
Phases two and three of the project will involve stimulating a community dialogue on which alternatives are most desirable and make the most sense for the Tri-Cities. Phase three will include a survey of Tri-Cities residents on desired improvements for the community.
Tri-Cities Evolution is raising funds to complete the final two phases. As a community based project, funding from the community is essential to its completion, according to Tri-Cities Evolution leaders.