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?