Skip to comments.Better Approach to Government Consolidation
Posted on 02/04/2006 9:59:01 PM PST by kathsua
A Better Approach to Government Consolidation Print E-mail By The Effort Staff Friday, 03 February 2006
HUTCHINSON, KS -- Current talk about government consolidation in Kansas is basically just a continuation of the ancient attempts of cities to control the surrounding countryside. Cities want to force rural residents to finance the services city residents receive and to obey city laws. There is a better approach to the issue than what city governments are suggesting.
County governments are necessary because they are the administrative units of the state. City governments only exist because urban residents want more services or a higher level of services than the county provides. County officials are selected by all county voters, including those who reside in cities. City officials are only chosen by city residents. Having city and county officials negotiate as if they were separate businesses violates the 14th Amendment by giving city residents a voice in both groups even though county residents only have a voice in selecting county officials.
If the city government is doing nothing more than duplicating county government services then the city government should go out of business and allow the county government to take over. Government consolidation should involve a vote in which city residents have the opportunity to vote to turn over physical and fiscal assets to county government. Residents of the county as a whole would have the opportunity to vote to take over those assets as well as assume responsibility for certain liabilities such as paying off debts such as bonds or court imposed obligations (tax assessments to pay for such liabilities would only be applied to property within the boundaries of the former city). The county would continue to pay former city employees according to union contracts through the duration of such contracts, but would not have to pay for unexpired contract obligations to city administrators or to private businesses for providing future goods or services. Elections would be held during the November general election. City taxes would remain in effect for one year after the merger to allow a smooth transition.
The state would allow the new government to downsize by offering those city and county employees near retirement an opportunity to retire early without loss of benefits. Otherwise layoffs would be the most recently hired first. The county could offer to pay for the additional years veteran employees of the city or county would need to qualify for the appropriate state retirement fund (civilian or police/fire) , especially those who had military time they had not yet purchased. The county would also purchase an annuity through the state to pay such employees to cover the difference between what they would receive from state and their current pay as well as provide health insurance until they were eligible for Social Security/Medicare. If the county used this option it would have to be available for all hourly employees even in departments that werent overstaffed. The county would fund this by using the savings from the merger. Using the option would allow the county to reduce future payrolls. Buying an annuity for early retirees would cost less than paying them their regular wages. Retirees would have an initial increase in income due to elimination of deductions for retirement benefits.
If the measure passed, all city ordinances would become void except for zoning regulations, city codes involving new construction and special local traffic regulations such as speed limits. These laws would continue to apply within the boundaries of the former city unless the county decided to change them. State laws and county rules would continue in effect.
County government would have the option of establishing special urban districts within which a greater level of government services such as police and fire protection or street maintenance might be provided for a higher property tax rate. Residents of this area would be allowed to vote on this measure. Precincts on the edge of the proposed urban district could exclude themselves by a majority vote of those living within the precinct. The county could also provide for special land use regulations in urbanized areas which would be defined according to houses allowed per city block. For example, an area would need a certain density before the county could restrict livestock ownership.
Kansas has many local special government districts that could be operated through county government. The county could appoint boards to control the operation of these districts with proposed taxes and rules being subject to a vote of those living within the district.
If the real purpose of merging governments is to reduce taxpayer cost, those who support merging governments should agree to this approach. Those who dont support it will be indicating that the real purpose is to allow the city government to annex the rest of the county. Kansas cities already are often oversized and inefficient. Allowing them to extend control over rural areas would reward them for their inefficiency.