Kansas at top in total government numbers
By MIKE CORN
It ranks in the bottom half of the states in terms of total population, but Kansas is near the top when it comes to the sheer number of governments it supports.
In short, Kansas has one governing body for every 754 residents.
New U.S. Census Bureau estimates show Kansas with 3,826 local governments as of June 30, 2012.
That's the sixth highest in the nation. Only Illinois, Texas, California, Ohio and Missouri -- in that order -- have more governments than Kansas.
Fort Hays State University political science professor Chapman Rackaway thinks the high number of governments in Kansas is a result of a declining population in much of the state.
"So much of this is just a by-product of our population losses out here," he said.
Counties continue to have a number of elected officials -- commissioners, clerks, treasurers, attorneys, sheriffs and registers of deeds -- who represent an ever-declining number of residents.
"It has more to do with our loss of population rather than an explosion of government," Rackaway said.
Kansas, in fact, is shedding government in a small way.
In 2007, for example, Kansas had 3,932 active governments, according to the five-year census of government compiled at that time.
In 2002, there were 3,888.
But in 1942, prior to school consolidation, there were 11,115 governments operating in Kansas.
Governments run the gamut, from counties to cities and townships.
In Kansas, there are 103 county governments.
Wyandotte and Kansas City merged to create the Unified Government of Wyandotte County.
Greeley County and Tribune merged, but Tribune also is counted as a municipal government.
The Census Bureau reported 626 city governments and 1,268 townships. There are 306 school districts.
And then there are 1,829 special district governments that include cemetery districts, airport authorities, community building districts and conservation districts. If that weren't enough, there's drainage districts, groundwater management districts, the HorseThief Reservoir Benefits District near Jetmore, along with a number of hospital, improvement, industrial and irrigation districts.
There's also library districts, local and regional, as well as rural water districts, water assurance districts and watershed districts.
All those different governments operate in a state with just 2.8 million people.
But don't expect them to be going away anytime soon.
Consolidation frequently is mentioned, but rarely considered in Kansas, and Rackaway said it won't happen until it's forced by economics.
Residents don't like the idea of driving greater distances to buy license tags, he said, and the loss of a county could mean the realignment of school districts.
That could put students on a bus for even longer periods of time.
Rackaway said there's no immediate push to whittle the number of governments down, but a slower economic growth rate than envisioned by Gov. Sam Brownback, for example, could mean less money for schools.
Even then, the loss of identity will be tough to overcome.
That's why he's not expecting to see anything before 2022 -- when redistricting will take place in the wake of the 2020 census.
Just last year, representation for the western half of the state tumbled from 11 to nine senators and from 35 to 30 representatives.
"The fewer state representatives we have," Rackaway said, "the fewer advocates for what is primarily a western Kansas issue."
That could lead to a showdown with larger metropolitan areas, he said.