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Benton County consolidates public services under one roof

3 departments merged near Tri-Cities, expanded services coming to Prosser

The process of jumping through the required hoops to start new construction projects is set to run more efficiently in Benton County once a new “one-stop shop” opens in the Tri-Cities, replicating some services currently only available in Prosser.

The move will merge the county’s building, planning and road departments together under one roof on 10 acres at 102808 Wiser Parkway, which is visible from Interstate 82 near the Badger Road exit and across from Columbia Sun RV Resort. The county’s fleet and road maintenance divisions are currently located at the site.

“If you’re building a house or building a business in Benton County, you’re going to interact with those three departments along the way,” said Matt Rasmussen, public works administrator for Benton County. “Currently one department is located on West Canal Drive (in Kennewick) and the other two are located in Prosser. It was inconvenient and we had some people who were not happy with that.”

The plan to build a Public Services Building got underway about a year and a half ago. It took about a year for the county to receive its own permits, following the same process private citizens must.

Banlin Construction of Kennewick is the general contractor for the $1.79 million project and is on schedule to finish it by the end of the year.

“It really is going to become a lot more convenient for the public, and it’s also going to be a lot more interactive for the three departments,” Rasmussen said. “We’ll be able to work together immediately instead of via email or phone call or having to drive back and forth. There are a lot of efficiency gains. And I expect we’re going to see an uptick in person-to-person contact.”

Since the county seat remains in Prosser, Benton County is not moving services, but splitting them across the two cities.

No new hires are planned and staff members who live in Prosser will work there, while those commuting within the Tri-Cities will drive to unincorporated Kennewick.

About 17 to 20 employees will be housed at the Tri-City location, with a “little less” in Prosser. The team issues about 1,500 to 2,000 permits annually across the three departments.

Additionally, the building, road and planning departments in Prosser will be merged at the Benton County Courthouse on Market Street, allowing the county to surplus the Dudley Avenue annex, which currently houses the planning department.

“Even though it’s a block away, it’s like, ‘I’ve got to go here, and then I’ve got to go here, and then this person said this and I’ve got to go back and ask again.’ This way, you can have representatives from all three departments right at the counter talking to you and you can get all the questions answered. There’s no more back-and-forth and that will be a whole lot better for everybody involved,” Rasmussen said.

He said there’s already an interested buyer for the Dudley property and selling the building would lower the county’s operating expenses.

The new building’s cost is split between the road department, building department and capital projects fund.

Rasmussen expects the change to be immediate once the new building is ready.

“Like a light switch moving from one to the other. We may even have to schedule moving over the weekend just to make sure. We really can’t interrupt services, especially with the homebuilding market the way it is. The building department is buried so they can’t afford to be closed at all,” he said.

In the area near where the new building will be on Wiser Parkway, 400 new homes are expected in the next year.

Shyanne Palmus, communications coordinator for Benton County, acknowledges that change can be difficult. “We want to make sure people are well aware before they think they have to drive all the way to Prosser and then get there and realize, ‘Oh, I didn’t have to go all the way here,’ and then be annoyed at that,” she said.

Benton County intends to spread the message widely so the actual switchover will be “anticlimactic” when it happens, potentially by the end of the year.

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