Archive for Thursday, May 29, 2003

State auditors told county governs area efficiently

May 29, 2003


As state auditors open their search for governmental efficiency in Douglas County, Charlie Wintermantel offers two words of advice:

Tim Kohler.

"The county has about 60 employees for 200 miles of road. We have one employee for 80 miles of road," said Wintermantel, a Willow Springs trustee, of the township's lone employee. "He puts in a lot of hours. I can't get him to take vacation, and I have a hard time even getting him to take days off, he's so dedicated.

"He's a good employee."

Kohler's efficiency at $14 an hour -- as the township's road supervisor, equipment operator, weed sprayer, ditch cleaner, snow clearer and all-around troubleshooter -- will be among the dozens of government resources studied this summer by the Legislative Division of Post Audit.

The auditors are charged with uncovering opportunities for coordination, cooperation and consolidation in local governments statewide. And they've chosen to use Douglas County -- with 31 separate taxing units of government, excluding school districts -- and Dickinson County (with 89) as case studies, in hopes of finding ways to save money without sacrificing service.

The search started Wednesday night at the Douglas County Courthouse, where about a dozen representatives of cities, townships, drainage districts and the Northeast Kansas Library System gathered to hear auditors make an appeal for information.

Barb Hinton, legislative post auditor, said her division's recommendations would be forwarded this fall to state legislators. Senate President Dave Kerr, R-Hutchinson, ordered the audit with the intention of identifying obstacles to cooperation that could be lifted at the state level, and therefore allow local governments to find innovative ways to save money as the state's budget hole deepens.

"Everybody's looking for bucks," Hinton said.

Craig Weinaug, county administrator, said the search would prove challenging. He noted that while 31 different governments in one county might appear inefficient on the surface, they also could provide a wealth of value.

Townships, for example, are known for attracting volunteers who are more than willing to pitch in to help a neighbor, Weinaug said. Willow Springs gets by on about $110,000 a year.

"They are efficient because they take advantage of so many neighborhood resources," Weinaug said.

Ernie Butell, trustee in Wakarusa Township, said townships provided efficient services by being responsive. Clearing a clogged ditch might take a day or two after a call, while the wait might be weeks for a larger government.

"Consolidation won't ever work," he said. "It just means more government and more supervision."

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