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Consolidation Isn't As Good As It Sounds

Sedgwick County

There are rumblings pushing toward the idea of consolidating Sedgwick County and City of Wichita governments. Some people are unhappy with a divided Sedgwick County Commission on some budgetary matters for the coming fiscal year. Also, there is concern about how well the city-county partnership is working in funding some entities.

Consolidation of governments is rare as there are only 34 city-county consolidated governments out of a total of more than 3,000 county governments in the country. The idea that huge sums of money would be saved and that tax rates would be stabilized has become fixed in the minds of consolidation advocates. I experienced this in the mid-1990s when I served on a committee that was created to consider consolidating Sedgwick County and City of Wichita governments. Over my objections and without any review of the literature and the arguments for and against governmental consolidation, work began to create a structure for a new consolidated government that some members said would save millions of dollars and overcome problems in governing.

Many studies have found that with consolidation we get about the same level of service at greater cost. One reason for this is that in a consolidated government, labor costs and service levels are adjusted to the highest level of the area that is consolidated. With consolidation comes the expectation that a Park City or Valley Center police or fire person would be paid a salary and benefits commensurate with service people in Wichita.

Proponents of consolidation should realize that it will likely lead to a government that is more remote from voters and more amenable and more accessible to spending interests, which will lead to increased expenditures over a period of time. Furthermore, consolidation and having a different structure of government are not the best answers to bringing about change in governmental decision-making. That change depends on the qualifications and kinds of individuals voters choose in primary and general elections.

Dr. Ken Ciboski is an associate professor emeritus of political science at Wichita State University.