The Richland City Council on Tuesday approved an agreement that sets the stage for creating a regional emergency communications system in the Tri-Cities.
The 6-0 vote came during a special council meeting that followed a workshop session. Councilman Terry Christensen was absent.
"It's a big deal," City Manager Cindy Johnson said of the council's action, noting local jurisdictions have been working on the communications pact for about two years.
She said public safety is a priority for the council, and the city also always is seeking "innovation, cost-savings and efficiencies."
The agreement is among the cities of Richland, Pasco and Kennewick, and Benton and Franklin counties. It's already been to Benton County commissioners, and "the four other entities are moving forward to have it approved as well," Johnson told the council.
The pact is expected to get a warm reception in those other jurisdictions; they were on board with a previous version. Benton County had reservations, and revisions were hammered out before commissioners signed off on a draft last week in a split vote.
Under the pact, a consultant would be hired -- using a state grant -- to create a regionalization plan. The pact doesn't commit the jurisdictions to forming a regional agency -- that decision would come later.
The agreement sets out a timeline, including having a cost-benefit analysis by July. Complete migration to a regional system could happen by the end of the year.
The idea of joining Franklin County's dispatch center and the Southeast Communications Center in Benton County has been discussed for years. One study, by the consulting firm eGov, suggested regionalization could save money and improve service.