Despite popular wisdom that consolidating the Tri-Cities would make local government more efficient and cost-effective, a study by a Washington think tank shows the area may be better off with more cooperation rather than actual consolidation.
Results of the study by the William D. Ruckelshaus Center were unveiled Wednesday at a meeting of the Tri-Cities Regional Chamber of Commerce in Kennewick attended by former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, a board member for the center.
In brief remarks at the Wednesday meeting, Gorton, who also served on the state Redistricting Commission last year, noted that the 2010 U.S. Census showed Eastern Washington growing faster than Western Washington for the first time.
"And that growth is right here in the Tri-Cities," Gorton said.
As the population has boomed, many local residents have asked whether the Tri-Cities could gain political clout and spur economic development if it were one, unified city instead of four collective cities -- Pasco, Kennewick, Richland and West Richland -- totaling about 250,000 in population.
A group called Tri-Cities Evolution was formed as an offshoot of the Three Rivers Community Roundtable -- a group of public and business leaders -- to explore that idea, and they brought the Ruckelshaus center on board to study the pros and cons of consolidation, said Marty Conger, Tri-Cities Evolution chairman.
"Our objective was to bring facts and data to the equation," Conger said.
The Ruckelshaus Center report looked at other examples of county-city and city-city consolidations and found that mixed or little evidence that consolidating jurisdictions saved money.
And the possibility that consolidation could boost political clout or economic development was uncertain and hard to quantify, the report said.
But what the report described as "functional consolidation" -- essentially cooperation between local governments -- can help lower costs by spreading them among a larger group of people.
Cooperation also benefited areas when a "spill over" benefit was present, such as economic development in one jurisdiction also resulting in economic development in neighboring cities or counties.
"The results were a little surprising," Conger said. "I think it's a great study that will help us a lot as we go forward."
The next phase involves a community dialogue about what degree of cooperation -- or consolidation -- makes sense for the Tri-Cities.
-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org