FREDERICK – There is no mayor, no city council and no budget. And no one, it seems, knows what to do about Frederick, Kansas.

But the streetlights in Kansas’ second smallest city are still on – for now. It’s the only bill Melode Huggans, who still serves as city clerk, pays each month – although the town with no elected officials never set a budget in August.

The town’s budget authority ended on Dec. 31.

Ten people call Frederick home - on a good day. The little Rice County town once had as many as 150 people, along with grocery stores, a lumberyard, blacksmiths and restaurants.

It still has a grain elevator, but now - for the first time in nearly 130 years - Frederick has no leaders. No one in town ran for office in April. No one voted, either. Budget deadlines came and went.

Rice County officials are grappling with the unique situation for Kansas. Few towns have dissolved in the past few decades. Moreover, in Frederick’s case, no one in town, it seems, cares enough to meet to officially decide Frederick’s fate.

”No one has told us what would happen if we unincorporated or anything,” said Huggans from her home in January. “No one has gotten in touch with me.”

Still elected

Frederick, settled in the late 1870s and 1880s, staved off death for generations. A tornado in 1914 knocked the town to its knees, but it rebuilt, according to a 1975 article in The News. However, a fire in 1934 wiped out much of the business district.

There might not have been much for business after that, but Frederick continued to survive, largely on religion and wheat. On Sunday mornings, the last church in town, the Baptist, would fill the pews. During the annual June harvest, farmers brought loads of wheat into the elevator.

For the past 13 years, it was resident Helen Gregory who held Frederick together. She lived in the town for 55 years, her husband serving as the city’s longtime mayor.

He died in 2000. Gregory continued to serve as the appointed treasurer, doing the books, and pulling everyone together for a once-a-year council meeting to set the budget.

But due to her health, Gregory moved to Lyons in 2013 but continued to do the books until August 2014 when she had a stroke.

Today, little is left but the grain elevator, few houses, the city’s old jail - which sits in the middle of a wheat field - and the dilapidated school. The church was torn down in 1983. The 2010 census counted 18 people, but at the time of the April election, only nine people officially called Frederick home.

Then, in April, no one ran for election. No one wrote anyone in, either. No one went to the polls to vote. For several months, Rice County officials tried to contact the town’s former mayor, Robert Root, to see what was happening.

It appears, with no replacements, the last Frederick city council is still serving its terms, said Eric Smith, legal counsel for the Kansas League of Municipalities who has been researching the situation. Technically, the last people elected or appointed to the council are obligated to remain until replaced.{p dir=”ltr”}”Under the statute, they serve until a replacement is sworn in,” he said.{p dir=”ltr”}Smith said the issue came up in an interim legislative committee meeting in November. There, lawmakers expressed concern that the state didn’t have a mechanism for resolving the issue when a down slowly withers away and there is no one left to dissolve it. Some lawmakers added there could be several towns nearing a similar predicament.

According to the U.S. Census, Kansas has a little more than 100 incorporated cities with populations of 100 residents or less. About 15 towns have a population of 25 people or less.

State statute has these rules for a city that wants to unincorporate, Smith said. Residents can bring a petition to the city council, which would then call for a special election on the matter.

A decision must pass by a two-thirds vote, he said.

The Kansas Legislature could also officially disincorporated the town through legislative action, said Smith. The last time this happened was for the town of Treece, a polluted mining town that had 130-plus resident in 2010 but was abandoned by 2012 due to government buyouts.

In 1895, the Kansas Legislature vacated a number of Kansas cities that sprang up with settlement and then disappeared. That included the town of Cash City in Clark County, which at one time was reported to have 500 people but was empty by the time lawmakers took action, according to The Hutchinson News.

Finding answers

With Frederick’s unprecedented case, officials are still trying to figure out what is permissible and what isn’t.

If the last elected officials can get together and make decisions, Rice County Counselor Scott Bush said he would draw up a resolution to dissolve Frederick, which the council could then approve. Once approved, the matter then would be put on the ballot – allowing the town’s registered voters to make the final decision.

Bush indicated that communication with the former mayor last year indicated the community might be interested unincorporating. Such action could happen as soon as the November election.

”I think that is a very fair goal, assuming that ... these guys are willing to adopt a resolution.”

But what if no one shows up to vote like the past election? County Clerk Alicia Showalter wasn’t sure what would happen, then. It would have a better chance to pass – or fail – if placed on the November ballot – which, she said, has a higher voter turnout.

Over the past few years, the council never set a mill levy, she said, but operated on remaining funds – a budget of $25,000, said Showalter. But now, with no one elected, the town’s council never set an official budget in 2015, which was due to her office in August.

Showalter said she didn’t believe the city had budget authority to spend money.

Frederick City Clerk Huggans said the only check she writes is the roughly $40 monthly payment for the city’s streetlights.

Her husband, Steve Huggans, was among the last members of the city council. He said he hadn’t heard much about getting together to make a decision on Frederick’s future.