Inter-governmental cooperation explored by Lower Valley cities

GRANDVIEW - Grandview Mayor Norm Childress said it all at last night's meeting between city officials of Prosser, Grandview and Sunnyside.

Philosophically this is a great plan," he said. "Practically, it's going to be tough. If it was easy, everybody would be doing it."

Childress was talking about plans to explore intergovernmental cooperation between the three cities at a meeting held in Grandview Monday night.

Faced with massive cuts in services, members of the city councils, each one of their managers and a spattering of department heads turned out to think of ways the cities can work together as a community. Their main goals of the evening: to agree on service areas they can look at and study, and to find ways for one or more of the cities to save money and improve their services.

"Each one of us has to come to a decision that it's a good idea," Sunnyside Mayor Paul Garcia said. "Then we can take it to the next step and agree on the areas."

The areas each city agreed to look at were animal control, equipment sharing, fuel purchases, information service, online services, purchasing and recreation services.

Sunnyside City Manager Eric Swansen said an example of online services could be dog licenses. Stating that people almost have to take off work to come to city hall to apply for a dog license, he said it could be done much cheaper if people could apply online.

Grandview City Councilman Mike Bren took it one step further, suggesting business licenses could also be applied for online.

By switching some services to online, transaction costs could go down, Swansen added.

Animal control was also an area that city officials seemed interested in.

Sunnyside currently pays just under $50,000 a year to contract with the Humane Society for animal control services. The city doesn't have the funds to continue with this contract so it will be up to the police department to do animal control. Because it is a low priority, police will only respond to threatening situations.

Grandview had a full-time animal control officer but the person left the position with the city. Due to budget constraints the position was eliminated and now the police respond to vicious dogs only.

The city of Prosser has a code enforcement officer that doubles as an animal control officer.

Swansen said it is possible to ask the Humane Society what it would cost to include all three communities in a contract.

Recreation was also a big part of last night's discussion.

Sunnyside and Prosser do not have recreation directors anymore and Grandview City Administrator Scott Staples said Grandview has two recreation employees with more than 35 years of experience between them.

Staples suggested Prosser and Sunnyside could contract with Grandview to use them.

Sunnyside City Councilman Bill Gant asked Staples if Grandview citizens would be willing to give up some of their recreation services if Sunnyside and Prosser contracted with Grandview.

Childress pointed out this deal could actually help the city of Grandview save some of their recreation programs.

Sunnyside City Councilman Bruce Epps voiced support for a recreation district to be formed sometime in the future.

The sharing of equipment was also well received, as was joint fuel purchases.

Prosser Councilman Terry Chambers suggested starting out with the "low-lying fruit", such as joint fuel purchases to see if this experiment will work.

Lots of questions still remain, like how the cooperation will be carried out and how to pay for it.

City staff from each city will now pare down the list of areas to two or three. Reports detailing the impact of any agreement will be provided by the end of November, when the three cities will come together again.

"I thought it went well," Garcia said. "There was good participation."

He picked out recreation as being important to him.

"If we can get those programs back I'm all for it," he added.

Swansen said he was excited about the meeting, adding taxpayers expect city staff to make logical, cost-conscience decisions.


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