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For once, a 'win-win' situation that's a lot more than just yak-yak

February 19, 1999

Whenever the phrase "win-win" gets bandied about, I grow suspicious. Win-win is usually a government or business euphemism meaning two entities have jointly and cooperatively figured out a way to equally rook the little guy of his standing.

But a commissioner called a tentative sewer agreement with the city a win-win this week it's truly a win for both governments and ultimately the people.

The sluice truce in itself is nothing major. A small community south of the city will be served by an underused county sewer plant instead of the overused city plant. The deal affects fewer than 150 residential and commercial customers and affects the respective government sewer budgets by less than $75,000.

The deal is contingent on a $486,000 grant from the state to fund the project, but the state has made no secret that it wants to see city-county cooperation on the matter.

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But the agreement is significant in ways that extend far beyond this individual project.

First, that the city and county are working cooperatively on anything is no small matter.

If the two governments begin pulling the community in the same direction instead of tugging against each other with the people in the middle, our future takes on a far more rosy cast.

Second, is that this agreement could serve as a model for larger and better things to come - namely, consolidation of the city and county services.

That ideal is still a long way off, and indeed it still hasn't been proved that it would save money for all concerned. And even if it is, politics can be more immovable than limestone when blasting away at old pipeline policies.

But generally speaking, one big outfit can run more efficiently than two pretty big outfits performing the same task.

To be sure, after eyeballing the current plan, the only question is why it wasn't done sooner. The city gains because it can postpone expensive expansion of its sewer treatment plant. Further, new, tax-revenue-producing growth can move in without maxing out the plant's capacity.

The county gets the one thing it's sewer system so desperately needs: customers. That brings in revenue to the county and spreads the burden of paying back the county's sewer debt.

Residential rates in the area would actually drop slightly. And the city, while losing customers and the rates they pay, would make up the difference through new hook-ups.

If anything, two "wins" aren't enough to cover it.

Much credit goes to the county sewer-department head Greg Murray and his city counterpart Rick Thomas. Murray took the helm of a county sewer ship headed for the edge of the earth and restored it to a less heart-stopping course.

Thomas' department has less to gain by the alliance - it's quite a distinction that he's willing to help out to such a degree.

County Commissioner (and not insignificantly, former councilman) John Schnebly and Councilman Bill Breichner also served on the committee that forged the agreement - something that bodes well for future city/county relations.

The city and county have lots to talk about - it's been a while. Issues such as tourism, economic development, the stadium, growth and emergency services could all be smoothly and more productively handled by a cooperative effort.

The more you talk, the more you deal, the easier it gets. Old suspicions die hard, but the respective governments seem to be filled with reasonably level-headed individuals at the moment who hopefully are capable of overlooking past slights, real and imagined.

The sewer issue is arguably the toughest nut in the bushel. If they can start hammering out accords on sewers we should have more win-wins than we can count.




Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist

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