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Glasgow Daily Times: 120 counties is too many

February 15, 2010

A proposal that has long been controversial in Frankfort is the idea of paring down the number of counties in Kentucky.

Many will concede that 120 counties for a state Kentucky’s size is too many – is far more than most other, larger states, and the fourth-highest number of counties of all states. U.S. Census figures show that a state has about 60 counties on average with a population of about 100,000, which is far more than most Kentucky counties.

But while some agree Kentucky could do with fewer counties, and the inherent costs that go with operating each county government, the sticking point always comes down to which counties do you cut. Kentucky’s smaller counties often get defensive, and perhaps rightfully so.

As this year’s legislative session was getting under way last month, the Glasgow Daily Times in Barren County (population 41,500) supported the idea of reducing the number of counties. The editorial board came out in favor of legislation that would allow for the voluntary consolidation of counties.

From the Jan. 20 editorial

There are 120 counties in the state, with 120 judge-executives, 120 sheriffs, 120 jailers, and countless other duplicated offices paid for by taxpayers. The wage for those elected positions is typically significantly higher than the median income of the county residents.

Take for instance Metcalfe County, where the population is appropriately 10,000 and the median household income is less that $24,000, the lowest pay grade of judge-executive and sheriff are each set at more than $64,000 annually, according to the 2006 salary schedule published in the Duties of Elected Officials manual.

Neighboring Cumberland County paints a similar picture. The county population is less than 7,500 and the median household income is less than $22,000. The lowest pay grade for sheriff and judge-executive for a county with that population is more than $54,000.

It’s an idea that makes good fiscal sense, particularly when you consider the offices set out by the constitution that each county must elect.

Perhaps making the consolidation voluntary is the way to go, and this proposal would seem to be more palatable than a top-down approach that forces consolidation.

But while many might agree with the dollars-and-cents of the argument to reduce the number of Kentucky counties, the roots of people who associate themselves with their home county’s name is harder to overcome. The heart often overrules the pocketbook.

One Comment
  1. Sean Dysinger permalink
    February 16, 2010 11:05 am

    I don’t know why the right to voluntarily consolidate doesn’t already exist. If the people vote to join another county, its as simple as that. I am concerned this will one day lead to involuntary consolidation as small counties by definition lack the political pull to defend themselves. Also, I can see a sort of extreme gerrymandering develope as powerful interests try to consolidate counties to better influence the Commonwealth to their own benefit. Smaller more responsive county governments that represent the people to which they are nearest is good for liberty.

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