A bi-county meeting aimed at getting the five local governments discussing a regional emergency dispatch system on the same page could be scheduled soon.
At least one official -- Benton County Commissioner Jerome Delvin -- said he's hopeful it would make a difference. "I think once we all sit down, we can hash out (the issues) really quickly," he said Wednesday.
The idea of forming a regional system in the Tri-Cities has been on the table for a while. One study, by the consulting firm eGov, suggested it could improve services and save money. In late 2011, Benton and Franklin counties approved an agreement with the state for a separate feasibility study of regionalization.
But that study never happened. Now, a new agreement -- among the two counties and the cities of Richland, Pasco and Kennewick -- has been drafted, calling for a consultant to help design and implement an action plan resulting in a regional emergency communications system.
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Officials from most of the jurisdictions view the proposed pact as an interim step, with a final decision about regionalization coming once the action plan lays out details. But Benton County reads it as committing to a merger -- and officials aren't ready to take that step.
Benton County commissioners in a special meeting Wednesday agreed to send a letter to the other county and three cities saying they want an independent study that delves into the details of forming a regional system. The study would review the eGov findings and also examine additional issues, such as how Benton County, Richland and Kennewick would be compensated for the millions they've already invested in their upgraded radio system.
Commissioners also plan to send a letter to Benton County Emergency Services in support of inviting Pasco police to use the upgraded radio network in Benton County through a rent or lease agreement while long-term plans are worked out.
"I don't want to have any law enforcement in jeopardy due to some poor technology," said Commissioner Shon Small, referring to communication issues Pasco has because of the VHF radio system it uses.
Both letters are expected to come before Benton County commissioners next week for approval.
Franklin County Commissioner Brad Peck told the Herald on Wednesday that officials from his county and the cities are on the same page and "are really at a loss" to understand Benton County's concerns.
He said a bi-county meeting "would be a useful step, so we can have a public discussion, out in the open."