Moving the county seat from Prosser to Kennewick would "respect state law," be more efficient and make county government generally more accessible, according to the League of Women Voters in Benton and Franklin Counties.
Judy Golberg, chairwoman of the league's county seat study committee, said the nonpartisan group researched the benefits, legal concerns and costs of both relocating the county seat to Kennewick and keeping it in Prosser.
Golberg told those at Wednesday's noon meeting of the Pasco-Kennewick Rotary Club at Leo's Catering in Kennewick the league asked questions such as: "Would it result in better government, efficiencies and be cost-effective?"
Also: "What is the cost of moving and of not moving, and how important is the history and tradition of keeping the county seat in Prosser, where it has been since 1905?"
The league's analysis, which was done separate from one the county paid a Seattle consultant $55,000 to do, concluded the county seat should be moved to where the center of the county's population is -- Kennewick.
Golberg listed the reasons:
w 76 percent of the county population lives in Kennewick, Richland and West Richland, with 3 percent living in Prosser. About 21 percent live in the county's unincorporated area. This suggests the Benton County Justice Center in Kennewick can better serve citizens than the historical courthouse in Prosser.
w 533 county employees work out of Kennewick or Richland offices, while 102 are in Prosser. Golberg said with 80 percent of the county work force already in the Tri-Cities, the county seat already has moved, so why not make it legal.
w The public would benefit by not having to make a 30-mile, one-way trip to attend to county business in Prosser, which at federal mileage reimbursement rates is $36 per trip to and from Prosser.
w Keeping the county seat in Prosser still would require costly facilities upgrades to handle future growth. Golberg said that likely would be $3 million in Prosser, while the justice center in Kennewick has available space now. "They just have to move in a desk," she said.
w Moving the county seat would require commissioners and board meetings to be held in the center of the county population, resulting in more accountability and transparency for citizens.
w Making Kennewick the county seat likely would reduce the number of duplicate offices, cut the number of county employee trips to and from Prosser for job-related duties and be more convenient for necessary services related to growth and new construction, which is predominantly in the Tri-Cities.
Other advantages include having a larger pool of employee candidates in Kennewick, less need for shuffling employees between Prosser and Kennewick to cover absences and vacations, and consolidating official records in one place.
Golberg said moving the county seat from Prosser also would resolve a long-standing legal issue concerning the Superior Courts.
The problem is that state law requires Superior Courts to hold their sessions at the county seat. But in Benton County all Superior Court trials and virtually all court business has been conducted at the justice center in Kennewick since 1984.
Golberg noted that while the Supreme Court agreed Benton County Superior Court could do business in Kennewick, it also said it still expects some regular sessions to be held in Prosser.
"But there has been no significant Superior Court case in Prosser in the last 25 years," Golberg said.
A court commissioner, not a judge, conducts a brief session each Thursday morning in Prosser, which is less than what is required, she said.
"Superior Court trials should be held in Prosser. At this time, the option is available but has not been used," Golberg said.
"We found the county is out of compliance and needs to do something about it," she said.
w John Trumbo: 582-1529; jtrumbo@tricity herald.com