I’m about to offer several suggestions for which – I’m certain – there’ll be a pile of reasons (excuses) why each won’t work. Failing the smart test, there’ll be more reasons (excuses) why none of them can be done. But I’m a persistent guy and used to swimming upstream. So, here goes.
The premise for these offerings is this one statement. No state in the country really needs all the counties it has. None. In fact, 2012 Census Bureau statistics show one in three U.S. counties is dying. Dying. Put another way, 1,135 of the nation’s 3,143 counties are now experiencing “natural decrease” as deaths exceed births. The young – and immigrants – are moving to the cities.
Oregon has 36 counties – Idaho 44 – Washington 39. That’s 119. Each with commissioners (three to five each), sheriffs, assessors, clerks, judges, treasurers, courts. And jails. Lots of jails. Lots of rundown jails. Some crowded. Some nearly empty. All expensive. With decreasing residents for support. Taxpayers. You and me.
So, Sheriff Kiern Donahue in Idaho’s Canyon County is now publicly asking why several nearby counties can’t pool their resources to build regional jails to serve multiple counties? I’ve been asking that for years.
Idaho has seven judicial districts. Sheriff Donahue wants to know why all counties in each district couldn’t share one judicial district jail? “Corrections facility” or whatever. Huge construction savings. Reduced staff. Video links for arraignments rather than deputies tied up on costly travel. Less crowding. Seems to make a lot of sense. So much so the naysayers are out even at the suggestion stage.
Let’s just stay with Idaho for a minute. I’ve wondered for a long time why it needs 44 counties with 44 duplicate governments. Seems to me you could put one prosecutor, for example, in each of the seven judicial districts to handle major crimes and deputies with much smaller staffs in individual counties for lesser crimes. If you can have a county seat, why not a district seat with smaller and less expensive “little seats” in the counties?
Same for assessors, clerks, treasurers. One per district with deputies in the counties. Why not an elected commission per district with an administrator in each county? Even make the local administrators elected if need be.
Go even further. Do we need all of our school districts? Why not several regional superintendents per state with county of deputy “super’s” at county or district levels? Idaho, for example, has 118 districts. Do we really need 118 duplicate administrations and all the added costs?
Much of this government business is created by state constitutions or state codes. “Engraved in stone” as it were. “Just can’t be changed,” some say. I don’t buy that. When needs change or ways of doing things make the old ways unnecessary or outdated, state laws – and state constitutions – can be changed by the electorate. You and me.
Well, needs and times have changed. Technology has changed how we do a lot of things. We don’t think or live the same daily lives as our ancestors did in 1890 when Idaho became a state or 1859 for Oregon or 1889 in Washington. Everything we do has changed – everything – but we’re still hamstrung by what were perceived to be the governmental needs and formats of pioneer citizens over a century ago. (more…)