What a difference a few weeks and some facts can make.
Benton and Franklin counties are back in the business of sharing a court system for the foreseeable future.
The counties, which have shared a court system of some kind since Washington became a state, had been fighting since January when Benton County claimed to be carrying its partner county’s costs.
Commissioners in Benton County said they were subsidizing Franklin County’s portion of expenses to administer the shared courts, juvenile justice and human services by more than $660,000.
So far, it turns out that both sides find a figure of $42,000 for courts amenable and Franklin County commissioners signed off on the agreement to pay that annual fee. Benton County commissioners are expected to approve the agreement March 29.
Both counties have courthouses, attorneys and staff but Benton County handles the administration of the system and sends Franklin County an invoice for its share of those costs. About 30 percent of the court’s cases are from Franklin County.
The rancor between commissioners on both sides of the river became fierce and threatened the continuation of the joint court system. The situation became so tenuous that Benton Franklin Superior Court judges, who tend to stay out of bicounty disagreements, felt compelled to weigh-in.
“We have watched with increasing dismay as your relationship with your colleagues in Franklin County has deteriorated to the point where you are now apparently attempting to unravel bicounty agencies and programs,” said the letter, addressed to Benton County Commissioners. “Now that your efforts have expanded to threaten the structure of the court itself, it is our obligation as members of the judiciary to make public our unanimous opposition to your course of action.”
We encouraged the two sets of elected commissioners to focus on the issues at hand and find solutions in the best interest of the people they serve. We’re beyond delighted that they came to such a “reasonable and peaceful solution” to quote Superior Court Judge Cameron Mitchell.
Commissioners stepped aside and the deal was negotiated between executives for the two counties. Benton County wanted a 7.5 percent administration fee but settled on 5 percent, or $33,000 annually, toward pay for bicounty employees. The agreement also includes $9,000 for benefits for nonjudicial employees.
And while this is great progress, other matters are still in dispute and we hope that rational negotiations can continue. The two counties still need agreements on other shared services.
Partnerships between the already intertwined counties make a lot of sense. Each side should cover its fair share of the costs and the Superior Court agreement is a great step toward preserving those services and relationships far into the future.
And the commissioners on both sides deserve credit for remedying the situation rather than remaining mired in the debate.
The 400 missing soldiers mentioned in Thursday’s editorial refers to the number of bodies pending excavation around the world.