By the time the 2010 legislative session starts in January, lawmakers, confronting a huge budget deficit, will have two studies done by their audit division that could be used as a guide to some savings.
One study that’s under way centers on whether Kansas’ judicial and prosecutorial districts could be redrawn to save money and more evenly distribute caseloads.
Kansas has 31 judicial districts. Auditors have already noted that Utah, which is about the same size and population as Kansas, has 8 districts. Urban districts in Kansas, including Douglas County, have district attorneys, while in multiple-county districts, each county generally has its own county attorney. A 1997 audit found that judges in some Kansas districts had caseloads of fewer than 400 cases, while judges in other districts had as many as 2,300.
The current fiscal year state budget shorted the state judicial branch $16 million to maintain current services, according to Jerry Sloan, the judicial branch budget and fiscal officer.
The judicial branch has instituted a hiring freeze, eliminated temporary employees, implemented a surcharge on docket fees, and received some federal stimulus funds.
Another audit in the works will review the potential for savings in reducing the number of school districts.
The last major attempt at this was in the 1960s when Kansas had approximately 2,600 districts. By 2000, that number had fallen to 304, and currently there are 295.
A study done for the state in 2001 said the number of districts could be reduced to between 255 and 284, depending on how it was done.
Combining school districts or judicial districts would be tough political nuts to crack.
“Everyone likes the thought of consolidation until it happens to them,” Topeka school district Superintendent Kevin Singer said recently concerning consolidation of school districts. “Then, their support of the idea wanes and oftentimes turns to resentment and anger,” he said.
A more realistic way to reach savings would be to try to share administrative services between willing governmental bodies, he said.