Considering merging public services usually worth exploring

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Consolidating government services can be more efficient and save taxpayers money. It’s generally a good idea to at least look into mergers between governments — city, county or state — to determine if there is a benefit to citizens.

However, not all consolidation makes sense. Sometimes trying to merge the delivery of services creates new problems without solving old ones. It can also be more expensive.

So as the city of College Place looks into merging its Municipal Court with Walla Walla County District Court, the entities involved need to take a hard look at more than just costs.

A merged, county-city District Court was created 17 years ago when Walla Walla Municipal Court was folded into County District Court. It made a great deal of sense since the courts focused on the same types of cases (misdemeanors, traffic offenses and some civil cases) and they shared judges. The transition was seamless and the combined court has been a success.

College Place Municipal Court does handle the same types of cases but has its own judge, Richard Wernette.

Wernette does not favor his court being absorbed into District Court. In running his part-time court, Wernette tries to tailor his rulings to the community.

“When you get into a larger entity, like Walla Walla District Court, you can’t help but lose some of that self-identity of what it means to live in College Place,” he said.

It’s a valid consideration.

College Place City Administrator Pat Reay has been working with county commissioners, the county Prosecutor’s Office and the city of Walla Walla to develop an agreement to consolidate the College Place Court with county District Court when 2013 becomes 2014. Reay’s focus seems to be savings for College Place.

But at this point, it’s not at all clear whether money will be saved. Nor is it known if District Court can accommodate the case-load from College Place.

Before College Place City Council makes a decision, it needs to look at the issue from a variety of angles.

Whatever the final decision, it’s prudent to look at new ways of doing things in an effort to save money and improve services for the public.

If both can be achieved, action should be taken. And even if one of the two is achieved, it can also make sense to eliminate duplication of services and combine services of two local governments.

That was done, for example, with the local Emergency Dispatch Center and the Planning Department. Other possibilities should also be explored such as fire departments, law enforcement and even a county council approach.

While some of these might not pencil out, the discussions are always appropriate.

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