Government numbers stay high
Sunflower state sixth in nation in sheer number of government units
By MIKE CORN
When it comes to talking about government, Joe Aistrup sounds a familiar refrain:
"We Kansans like small government," he said, "and a lot of it."
Still, Aistrup, the chairman of Kansas State University's political science department, has no problem with it, never mind Kansas only has a population of 2.8 million, the 34th largest in the nation.
Despite that, it has 3,807 government units -- cities, counties, school districts, townships, rural water districts and even cemetery districts.
That's the sixth largest in the nation.
Only Illinois, Pennsylvania, Texas and California have more government units than Kansas, and each one has a dramatically larger population than the sunflower state.
The government unit count, by the U.S. Census Bureau, takes place every five years.
Five years ago, Kansas had 125 additional government units. The numbers have remained relatively constant since 1962, when the state had 5,411 units. In 1942, there were 11,115 government units.
"It's about what it always is," Aistrup said of the new numbers released as part of the Census of Governments.
And most of them have specific duties, he said, citing townships in many cases as taking care of road needs for rural residents.
"They exist to satisfy local constituents," Aistrup said. "So they satisfy a specific purpose, even if there are a lot of them."
That's something he's not troubled by.
"Just because you have a lot of government units doesn't mean you are over governed," he said.
He's not so enthralled with the sheer number of counties or school districts in Kansas.
The Census Bureau's finding suggest there are just 103 counties in the state -- Wyandotte and Greeley counties the notable exceptions as a result of city and county mergers.
They counted 306 school districts.
Kansas would be better served with fewer counties and school districts, he thinks.
"I would say Kansas could probably survive with half of the counties as they currently have," he said, "and as few as 30."
Consolidation of school districts, Aistrup said, was addressed in a legislative-requested study during 2001.
"Certainly less than 300," he said of how many might be needed. "In general, it's one per county."
Some of the state's largest district might needed to be broken up into smaller districts, the study said.