Action near on city-county planning, permitting agency

A public hearing set for Monday will seek input on combining the two agencies.

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WALLA WALLA - Creation of a joint planning and permitting agency for the city of Walla Walla and Walla Walla County could take another step forward this week.

The Walla Walla City Council and county commissioners will hold a joint meeting Tuesday at Walla Walla City Hall to seek more public comment and continue discussions on the proposal. The council may also take action on a resolution for an intergovernmental agreement to create the new agency.

Because Commissioner Greg Tompkins will not be able to attend Tuesday's meeting, county commissioners have said they will take no action until a later date when all three of them can be present to vote.

People are also invited to comment on the proposal when commissioners hold a workshop at 11 a.m. Monday to continue discussions of the idea. That meeting will be at the county Health and Legislative Building, 314 W. Main St.

The proposal calls for creation of an independent entity governed by a three-member board of directors. One board member would be appointed by the city, one by the county and the third jointly appointed by the city and county. If created, the city would be responsible for slightly more than 62 percent of the cost to operate the new agency and the county would pay just under 38 percent.

The board, in turn, would hire a director whose appointment would be approved by the city council and county commissioners. The board would determine, on the recommendation of the director, how the new agency would be staffed.

The new agency would process permits for both the city and county, but permitting decisions would remain under whatever entity the application falls, city or county. The city and county would also retain their separate planning commissioners and hearing examiners.

Creation of the new agency was proposed in August. At earlier meetings on the issue, City Manager Nabiel Shawa said the idea grew out of informal meetings earlier this year between city and county officials "on how things weren't working" for development in the Urban Growth Area surrounding the city.

The potential to cut costs by combining agencies is another driving factor. The city is facing a $1.3 million drop in its revenues next year and county Commissioner Gregg Loney has said the county is also looking at "a rough budget year."

In the weeks since their initial Aug. 31 public hearing, city and council officials have continued holding workshops to refine the wording of the intergovernmental agreement to create the agency and work through budget issues and other details.

At the latest workshop on Sept. 21, Dennis Ledford of Coldwell Banker First Realtors said his company was very excited at the level of cooperation the city and county are exhibiting on the project.

"This is innovative," he said. "What you are doing is not done a lot in small communities. I think what you are doing is going to help us all."

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318. Check out his blog at blogs.ublabs.org/randomthoughts.

public comment

A workshop and public hearing on the proposed formation of a new independent agency to handle planning and permit processing for the city of Walla Walla and Walla Walla County will be held:

11 a.m. Monday. Workshop by Walla Walla County Commissioners during regular Monday meeting at Public Health and Legislative Building, 314 W. Main St.

5 p.m. Tuesday. Joint agency meeting by Walla Walla City Council and Walla Walla County Commission at Walla Walla City Hall, 15 N. Third Ave.

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