Merging county departments is a prudent move

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Walla Walla County commissioners made the right call Monday when they unanimously voted to merge the Public Health and Human Services into a single department — and save taxpayers $400,000 a year.

Government at all levels should always be on the lookout for opportunities such as this to consolidate departments or agencies to provide services more cost efficiently while continuing to meet the needs of the public.

The commissioners and other county officials have been eyeing the merger since the summer of 2012. Soon after, the head of the Human Services Department took another job. The commissioners then appointed Harvey Crowder, administrator of the Public Health Department, to lead both agencies on an interim basis.

It’s been working, and apparently well, for about a year and a half.

Crowder told commissioners that after that amount of time it now makes more financial sense to outsource many of its human services, such as mental health care. The outsourcing will result in a reduction in staff in the merger.

Crowder presented three options for commissioners to consider:

• Keeping the status quo of two departments and one director at a cost of about $785,000.

• Having two separate departments headed by two directors at a cost of $815,000.

• Merging into one department with one director at a cost of about $345,000.

It would be tough to see how the commissioners could have gone any other way.

That, however, does not mean this merger will be easy sailing. The changes in the nation’s health care with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act can’t be predicted. But things will be different.

“Changes will abound as we go forward through the process,” Crowder wrote in a letter to employees of the two departments.

Change is never easy, but this move seems to have been well thought out by Crowder. The bumps along the way can — and will — be handled as they come.

Ultimately, this move is the right one for the public. Money will be saved and the various services will continue being provided.

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