Editorials

Producing credible figures Benton County's challenge

Retired judge Fred Staples has waged a one-man campaign to relocate the Benton County seat from Prosser to Kennewick.

After years of signature gathering and a few false starts, the Benton County auditor has finally deemed that Staples has enough qualifying signatures to put the matter on the ballot.

And after years of avoiding the topic and dismissing Staples, Benton County now has to deal with it. With the verified signatures in hand, the county must now produce a financial analysis of relocating of the county seat.

That information must be made public at least 60 days before the election, under state law.

Staples worked tirelessly to bring the issue to the voters, and now the workload has been passed to the county. Commissioners have asked their staff to come up with a plan to get the proposal on the ballot.

Commissioner Max Benitz went as far as to suggest hiring a consultant to sort the mess out. That idea has merit, especially if the report is viewed as truly independent.

The county has already made a big investment, with a dozen days of staff time in the auditor's office dedicated to checking the signatures.

Determining the costs of relocation and the potential effect on Prosser and Kennewick if the county seat were to move will require additional resources.

While the need for accurate information is clear, the commissioners have put themselves in a tight spot. That's a lot of data to gather as the days tick away to meet the 60-day deadline in advance of the fall election.

It has always seemed like a financial analysis could have put the issue to rest long ago. Either it would be cost prohibitive to relocate, or the benefits and services provided by moving the county seat closer to the majority of the citizens would outweigh any one-time expenses from the move.

It will be interesting to see how the numbers shake out now that the county's hand has been forced. There's no doubt the figures will be questioned, whatever the outcome.

Both Benton County and Staples should be happy that the issue will finally be decided. We've long contended the people should decide the issue, and now the voters will have that chance.

What kind of financial information they'll have to work from to make that decision is yet to be seen. Benton County owes it to itself and voters to produce a thorough and objective report regarding the financial implications.

Staples is wary of the conclusions Benton County may arrive at with its analysis, having developed a bit of a contentious relationship with the administration over the years.

He won't be the only suspicious observer. The county needs to make every effort to ensure its numbers are credible.

Staples has been trying since 1984 to get the county seat moved.

His tenacity is to be applauded. With an accurate report provided by Benton County and a vote of the people, we should finally find out if his cause makes good sense.

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