Bingen Council talks WS consolidation

Bingen and White Salmon are discussing consolidation. At the end of this month, members from both city councils will meet in a workshop setting to discuss the possibility of merging the two cities. A new name under consideration: “Bingen-White Salmon.”

Photo by Michelle Scott
Bingen and White Salmon are discussing consolidation. At the end of this month, members from both city councils will meet in a workshop setting to discuss the possibility of merging the two cities. A new name under consideration: “Bingen-White Salmon.”

On the menu for White Salmon and Bingen city councils at the end of this month is a discussion on whether to merge the two cities, but not everyone sitting at the discussion table will be putting in an order for the consolidation of the municipalities.

During last week’s Bingen city council meeting, Mayor Betty Barnes explained to councilors why she had the city’s administrator research how and if the two cities could consolidate. The idea of consolidating Bingen and White Salmon was met with adamant disapproval by city council member Isolde Schroder.

“This is probably one of the biggest decisions that we’ll come across as we serve on council, this is not a light conversation,” said Schroder. “Currently from where I sit, neither city is in dire straits and rushing in to a decision like this is not a wise choice from my perspective.”

Schroder noted that she hadn’t seen any drive from citizens to consolidate the cities.

“I don’t think we have the resources, and nor would I be in favor of allocating our resources to a project of this size at this time,” she said.

“How this all came about was when we were having so many vacancies, and long term vacancies, on the council. It was getting pretty rough to make sure we had a quorum,” explained Barnes.

After having a council position vacant for over a year, paired with the departure of another council member, the five city council seats were filled with the minimum quorum of three in February.

“It was really a tough burden for the council,” Barnes said, “And it kind of put things in faster motion, and that’s where we are today.”

Currently, Bingen’s city council sits at full capacity with all five positions filled.

Ryan O’Connor recently took over Position No. 1, while Laura Mann was reappointed by the Klickitat County Board of Commissioners to fill an opening in Position No. 4.

Mann was appointed after Barnes made a written request to the Board of Commissioners to appoint Mann to Bingen’s City Council, since the position had been vacant since September 2015. Pursuant to RCW 42.12.070 the County Board has the authority to make an appointment to fill a vacant position past 181 days.

“It only seemed to make sense to talk to our sister city and talk about what are the possibilities, what are the different ways it could happen; knowing full well that the council is the governing body of our cities and that’s why it’s all about setting up a staff report for you to review,” explained Barnes.

A joint discussion will be held between the two councils on Wednesday, May 31, in White Salmon at the city’s council chamber, 119 N.E. Church Ave., at 6 p.m.

After the joint workshop, the city councils will meet on their own to discuss what the next steps are, and whether either council wants to pursue them.

During the joint meeting, council members will discuss the different methods available to the councils if they decide to pursue a merger.

One of the options afforded to the cities is annexation. “There’s two different process under annexation,” explained Bingen City Administrator Jan Brending.

“One: the councils themselves could make the ultimate decision without a vote of the citizens, or the other option is to actually elect to put it on the ballot and to have a vote of the citizens.”

If councilors choose annexation as the method of choice, either city could be absorbed into the other.

“The other process is consolidation, that is total a vote of the people, and the council makes the decision to put it on the ballot,” noted Brending. Consolidation requires a majority vote of both cities to pass a consolidation measure.

The minutiae are still being sorted out at this point, said Brending, but as far as the name of the new city, “Under consolidation or even annexation, everyone I know calls it Bingen-White Salmon — and we’re recommending it be called Bingen-White Salmon.”

That decision will ultimately be decided by voters.

The May 31 workshop will be open to the public, but no comment will be taken from members of the community at that time.

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