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Dont let politics keep four cities from getting along

Most East County elected officials see the necessity of cooperation among the cities of Gresham, Fairview, Troutdale and Wood Village.

The four cities share common boundaries and have similar cultures. They even share some of the same public services, such as fire protection and sewage treatment. Socially, the four cities function as a single community, but politically, the dividing lines can be quite real.

Those divisions were noticeable last week when the elected leaders in the four cities could not agree on the simple concept of having a Multnomah County coordinating committee. Such a committee would help the cities reach consensus on road-improvement projects and other issues before those matters are taken up at a regional level. The concept, put forth by Fairview, was for Multnomah County to have a coordinating body that would be similar to groups already functioning in Washington and Clackamas counties.

This idea may not seem all that important, but it is for this reason: The communities that have their act together at the Metro regional government level are the ones that win prizes such as transportation dollars. That's one explanation for why Washington County has been so successful in attracting economic development.

But East County's coordinating committee got derailed when Gresham and Portland objected to the three smaller cities having the same number of votes on the committee as their two larger neighbors. Now it appears further discussion will lead to an obvious resolution to the conflict: There's really no need for a coordinating committee to take formal votes because the whole idea is to build consensus among the four cities - not to exercise raw political clout. We hope the coordinating committee gets back on track with the goal of encouraging cooperation.

Why are there four cities?

The type of collaboration envisioned with a coordinating committee pales, however, in comparison with an even bigger vision being put forth by East County's three smaller cities. As reported recently in The Outlook, the cities of Fairview, Troutdale and Wood Village have asked Portland State University's School of Urban Studies to examine the possibility of consolidating the three municipalities into one.

Given the dwindling resources available to cities under Oregon's tax laws, we think it's a good idea to broach the consolidation question. But the PSU study, if it is indeed conducted, would be short-sighted to contemplate just the merging of the three smaller cities. Already, Gresham provides fire service to all four cities, and it provides sewage treatment for three of the cities.

Gresham is, in fact, the only full-service city in East County, and if it weren't for the variety of services that Gresham offers - including backup capacity for the Troutdale and Fairview police departments - the other three cities would be unable to function.

Don't limit the possibilities

Consolidation, on the other hand, could offer the possibility of eliminating duplication. Currently, the cities have four sets of administrators, four city councils, multiple planning staffs, police chiefs and other managerial positions. It's worth investigating, at least, to see how much of that duplication could be reduced through merger.

So, we appreciate the progressive thought that is motivating the proposed consolidation study, but it only makes sense to include in this analysis the one city that already provides complete services. The reasons for excluding Gresham come down to politics and community identity. But in an era when taxpayers demand their dollars be stretched as far as possible, we believe East County residents would want any study to include all the possibilities, and not be artificially limited by political concerns.

The chances for actual consolidation are probably remote in any case - but an incomplete analysis wouldn't offer a fair opportunity for East County's residents to weigh all the possible benefits as well as the potential pitfalls.