Pasco shows leadership on consolidation study

Talk about consolidating Pasco, Kennewick and Richland has been around for decades.

The three cities run together, save for a river dividing the boundaries here and there. A lot of people couldn't tell you where one town begins and another ends.

But, we couldn't have agreed more with Pasco City Councilman Matt Watkins when he said, "The word 'consolidation' evokes a lot of emotion" in our community.

Emotions run high for some longtime residents at the thought of their beloved cities losing their identities into one big mass.

For those who think of themselves as Tri-Citians, the bigger questions revolve around potential efficiencies.

Study groups have formed, made recommendations and disbanded over the past 30 years as momentum around the issue waxed and waned.

The Tri-Cities has undergone tremendous changes in recent years. Studies completed decades ago are no longer valid.

The questions remain largely the same, however.

Would consolidation save money in the long run? Would citizens of each district in a consolidated city have easy access to city services near their homes?

Would the region gain or lose in name recognition and identity? Would consolidation help tourism? Would it increase our political clout in Olympia and Washington, D.C.?

Would it be easier for a consolidated Tri-Cities to build an aquatic center or performing arts center? What issues arise because the Tri-Cities crosses county lines?

There's no way to make an informed decision about the issue without knowing a lot more about the answers. A solid study is needed to identify the pros and cons of consolidation.

For the past few years, discussions about forming one larger city have ignited hopes and fears but produced few facts.

To move past that and get some data in hand, one brave city has said it is open to the idea of a study.

And, to the surprise of many, that city is Pasco.

Pasco has always been a holdout, a majority of its residents preferring to cling to the city's unique identity and its Bulldog purple blood.

But times change.

Now, Pasco students are split between two high schools, thanks to a population explosion with an infusion of new residents who aren't entrenched in the past.

At a recent workshop, Pasco City Council members were open to the idea of a proposed study on consolidation that would be conducted by the William D. Ruckelshaus Center.

The center, jointly run by Washington State University and the University of Washington, mediates challenging issues through research and study.

The $140,000 study would be partly paid for with $20,000 each from Kennewick, Pasco and Richland over the next two years. The balance would be paid for by private businesses, West Richland and the port districts.

The William D. Ruckelshaus Center not only combines the prestige of the state's two research universities, but it also brings an outsider's perspective to the issue.

Maybe the study will prove once and for all whether consolidation would be good for the Tri-Cities.

Regardless of the outcome, gathering good data about the region, its needs and services would help all the cities.

Kennewick, Richland and West Richland should follow Pasco's lead and help pay for the study. Information is a powerful tool.