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Steineger introduces Kansas county consolidation bill

Kansas Senator Chris Steineger, Democrat from Kansas City, has introduced a bill whose aim is to reduce the number of counties in Kansas. The bill is Senate Bill 198. It’s pretty short to read at just two pages, part of that being the list of counties to be merged.

I’ve covered this idea in earlier posts based on listening to Sen. Steinger speak in public, and in private. See Kansas Senator Chris Steineger on Redesigning Kansas Government and Redesigning Kansas County Government: Follow-up.

Sen. Steineger also had an op-ed piece in the Wichita Eagle at Sen. Chris Steineger: Modernize Government. The Lawrence Journal-World has an Associated Press piece at Kansas legislator wants to consider drastically reducing number of counties. The Hutchinson News reports on this and has reader comments in Kansas too bountiful in number of counties?

When I heard Sen. Steineger talk about this, my thinking went along the line that two counties would merge into one. But it turns my thinking was too constrained. Steineger’s bill proposes merging 105 Kansas counties into 13. For example, Sedgwick, Butler, Sumner, and Cowley counties would be merged into one new county. (The list of counties to merge is in the text of the bill.)

Reporting in the Pittsburg Morning Sun reveals that southeast Kansas legislators are not keen on the idea of county consolidation, or on the reduction of their numbers (a related concern of Steineger’s). See
Legislators sound off on idea to consolidate
.

Comments left at the Journal-World article show mixed support and ridicule of the idea. But some of the detractors, I believe, are not thinking of the dynamic changes that would take place.

For example, one comment says “You would end up with the situation where in a ‘populous’ new county it would take days to get access to any service even as simple as a marriage license.” Evidently this comment-writer believes that staffing levels would not be adjusted to match the number of people in these new counties.

Another writer says “I also have the feeling that many small towns would lose economically by having the county seat taken away from them.” Related to this is the comment “Sure it might cut taxes, but what happens to all of those county jobs?” I imagine that some present county seats would suffer some if they were no longer the seat. These losses might come in the form of reduced employment if county offices are no longer in the town. If you believe that local government is a jobs program, that is a loss. But government jobs come at a price — taxation. If there are fewer government employees, that leaves more money in the pockets of taxpayers, and they will be able to spend it on other, more productive, uses. This leads to other jobs being created. But they’re not government jobs, which is a bad thing to some people.

Another comment: “You think people want to spend a whole day driving to the courthouse 100 miles away to go handle thier [sic] business?” If courthouses are farther away than they are now, people will need to adjust. That might be difficult for some. Just last week I was talking to someone who complained about having to go through security at Wichita city hall (not a county office, I realize) in order to pay their water bill. Someone else remarked that there are many ways to pay a water bill besides going to city hall — mail, Internet, drop-off boxes at the grocery store, etc. But this person said they didn’t trust the system, and they wanted a receipt. With the government office being potentially a two-hour drive, will people change their ways and do more business by mail, telephone, or Internet?

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13 Comments

  1. Tom Breit February 10, 2009

    What happens to county-based public safety?

  2. DanD February 10, 2009

    I know for a fact if this happens our town will die. I live and own a business in Columbus, KS (a small town in S.E. Kansas) and a good portion of my business revolves around the county offices, not to mention the shear number of people that would lose their jobs – what does the senator propose for them? Is he going to take a pay cut to compensate for short falls? What would our taxes be like then for schools – granted they are outrageous now but if you consolidate 8 counties to make one what are you going to do with 10-20 schools in the small counties, not to mention the big cities schools in that system? How will the taxes be shared? This sounds like a good idea until you really start to think about the impact on everyone that will be affected. My suggestion is to file 13 this puppy until we can get some people in charge of this state that have some common sense and know what a dollar is worth.

  3. Frank February 19, 2009

    This consolidation idea is a great idea. The only thing that would change is: Rural head honchos would be out of business, and government would be able to oversee the operations of 13 counties more precisely than 105. We can stand to do without 92 county attorneys, 92 court clerks, 92 sheriffs, 92 “good ole boy” networks.
    Consolidation would not only be more efficient, it would be more Constitutional. For example, jurors would be summoned from a wider area, and from a larger population pool. As it is now: Jurors are allowed to be summoned from the county the crime was committed in. This allows for witch hunts to transpire, as everybody knows one another in counties with only 3,300 people total residing in them. And the majority are the same-minded, politically. The 105 county court clerks know who to summon in favor of the local boy prosecutor.
    105 counties is a left over from the horse and buggy days. And I don’t believe every current county seat will be shut down from its function. They will only serve as an extention office to the main county seat.
    Government runs more smoothly, and the Constitution is guaranteed more precisely when there are fewer head honchos to oversee. It’s past time for this to happen, and I’m glad someone in the legislature is thinking with superior reasoning.

  4. Tom Breit February 20, 2009

    Frank, you want me to have to drive 100 miles to go to my local courthouse to do business? Sorry, don’t think so.

  5. Tom Breit February 20, 2009

    Also Frank, when I dial 911, the call goes to a dispatch center 100 miles away?

  6. Frank February 20, 2009

    That isn’t how it will be. Every service and function of the current court houses will still be offered. Nobody is taking that away. The services will be the same. Only, the courthouses will serve as an extention office from the main county seat…where the county attorney, the sheriff, and the chief judge have their offices. Each county courthouse will operate as does now, only more efficient. And with more Constitutional oversight to assure their functions are performed to a common standard and legal. The extention offices will be the offices and jails ran by undersheriffs and magistrates and assistant county attorneys. Nobody is suggesting you place a call to a dispatcher 100 miles away. And nobody is suggesting you travel 100 miles to do your business. However, due to the Constitutional mandate of receiving impartial jurors, you will be required to serve on jury duty 100 miles away…simply because you dont know a thing about the person being charged with a crime. But you will be compensated for that. As the supreme court is now asking for the authority to raise the docket fees on cases. They can also raise the court cost fees for those losing the case. But the juror wont have to lose out on anything, and the state already mandates employers to excuse employees for jury duty. And besides: The constitution does not give way to the whimpers of monetary concerns…it will be a law abiding citizens patriotic duty to serve on a jury 100 miles away. A small consequence and inconvenience for living in a rural and sparsely populated area?

  7. Frank February 20, 2009

    The services will be the same, if not way better due to more combined tax revenue.

  8. Frank February 20, 2009

    It’s not beyond the courts to run a jurors bus to and from the summoned jurors place of residence either.

  9. Frank February 22, 2009

    This is about accurate, responsible, constitutional oversight of government. It’s not about taking jobs away. Job titles maybe, but not jobs.

  10. Leslie February 27, 2009

    I oppose this idea. It is just one more step closer to regionalism. Next it will be joining several states together to form a region and pretty soon we will have the North American Union!!! This sort of idea takes away the voice of the average voter in less populated areas.

  11. Thewatchman April 29, 2009

    I completely disagree with Frank’s analysis of this — if no one loses their jobs, where will savings be realized? If current facilities are not shuttered, where will savings come from?

    The answer: there will be none. You might eliminate county commissioners (paid $20,000 annually in this county). But without eliminating staff, there is little to no savings realized by this idea. Further, his statement of “The 105 county court clerks know who to summon in favor of the local boy prosecutor” is as the most erronious thing I have ever read.

    I am on a first-name, social basis with every judge in my district, the county sheriff, city police chief, the county prosecutor and many of the defense lawyers in this area. I know the court clerks.

    I have been summoned twice. I was told to not even report, as I would not be seated on a jury.

    Care to revise that red herring?

    Bottom line, some consolodation might be warranted — however, it is not a good idea to cut from 105 to 13. It is a bad idea to ask people to take a full day off of work to get their DL (Photo required. Not a service that could or should be offered online) or file their deeds at the courthouse.

    For most Kansans their access point to government and the court system is the county courthouse.

    And if county court buildings are not shuttered, there is no savings to be realized.

    What this really is, in my opinion, is erosion of local control and decision making. This looks and smells like what large corporations have been doing for decades, and as we can see in the markets today, does not work.

    The real issue, at the state level, began in 1999, when the Legislature allowed this state to spend more than it recieved. The error was repeated right up until 2003, then was again made in 2008 and 2009.

    In 2008 FY, the state spend more than 6,000,000,000. Receipts were just over 5,500,000,000. Receipts really did not increase in 2009, however the expenditures rose to nearly 6,500,000,000.

    What little reserve was built between 2003 and 2007 is gone.

    And now the Legislature is trying to force those problems, again, on counties and cities.

  12. […] Kansas Senator Chris Steineger has introduced legislation to reduce the number of counties in Kansas, as reported in Steineger introduces Kansas county consolidation bill. […]

  13. Herbert West 3rd March 8, 2013

    I don’t want to run for Governor again just to stop stupidity. He cannot fire all those elected 105 County, Sheriff’s, County Clerks, District Attorney’s etc. Herbert West 3rd, Former Candidate for KS Governor 2009-2010, Former Candidate Miami County KS Sheriff 2008, 2012. Oh yea, our State is going down tthe drain and the KS Legislature is doing side show stuff like this.

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