This November, the people finally get to decide whether the Benton County seat should be in Prosser or Kennewick.
County commissioners have hired a consultant from Seattle to give us an idea of what relocating the county seat would entail before we vote on the measure.
Not to put too much pressure on the consultants, but there's a lot on the line. Don't botch it.
Entrix, the Seattle consulting firm, is asking for community input on the proposal. The public has until Aug. 2 to submit comments, and Entrix must submit a detailed report to Benton County by mid-month.
A public advisory board already is in place. Oddly, the identities of its members are being withheld until the group's first meeting.
The secrecy is foolish for a lot of reasons. Here's a big one -- the delayed announcement limits the very feedback the board is supposed to provide Entrix. After all, if the public doesn't know who the board members are, it makes it tough to give them suggestions.
The good news is that any damage, though unnecessary, also is likely to be temporary.
Entrix will work with the board to figure out the financial implications for Prosser and county employees if the seat is moved.
In reality, much of Benton County's work already takes place in Kennewick. The main function left in Prosser is the weekly county commissioners meeting. Some department heads don't even make the drive to Prosser, using videoconference instead.
The commissioners have offices in Kennewick, as does most administrative staff. Nearly all trials are held in Kennewick. It's home to the county jail and soon to be home to the animal shelter.
Beyond the obvious costs of moving the remaining county functions and staff from Prosser are less tangible effects. And that's something Entrix wants to hear about from you.
It wants to know emotional ties and concerns, such as what would happen to the historic courthouse should it be vacated. Or if there'd be fewer county employees eating lunch or shopping in Prosser? How many of them even do that now?
From a practical perspective, we're sure Prosser's economic health depends far more on the wine industry than a minority of county employees working in the city. Yes, the courthouse is historic and stately, but inside there's not much happening.
We'll be interested in the recommendations that come from Entrix's report. Will it be more cost effective to have the seat in Kennewick in more modern facilities and closer to the bulk of the population base? Or will the faade of a county seat in Prosser be what the consultant recommends?
We're hoping for answers to the questions asked by many over the years, from the League of Women Voters to retired Judge Fred Staples.
Staples has lobbied for years to let the people make the decision on the home for the county seat, and he will finally get his day in November.
If you have an opportunity to be part of the process and don't take it, you won't have much room to complain about the results. Comments can be sent via e-mail to county.seat@co. benton.wa.us. The county's mailing address is P.O. Box 190, Prosser, WA 99350.
Let Entrix know your thoughts on the location of the county seat. What needs to be in the study to produce a complete and accurate answer?
Will it be Kennewick or Prosser? Either outcome includes costs and benefits. Anything less than a clear picture of both would leave voters without the facts they need to make an informed decision.