City hopes to work with KU to research unified government; county still not interested

photo by: Journal-World graphic

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., and the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St.

Lawrence’s city leaders resolved Tuesday to do further research into a unified city-county government, but a day later, Douglas County commissioners restated that they were not interested in the idea of unification.

The Lawrence City Commission, whose members had first brought up the topic with county commissioners at a Sept. 19 joint meeting of local governing bodies, discussed the issue again during its meeting Tuesday night and decided further research was needed.

Per a suggestion from City Manager Tom Markus, city staff will be asking the University of Kansas School of Public Affairs & Administration to study what it would take to unify the city and the county.

Markus said such a review would lay the groundwork for any attempt at unification that could happen in the future.

“No one ever said this was a proposition that was six months away, one year away, two years away or even five years away,” Markus said. “But if you think it’s a long-term proposition and you wait four years, you still have to do a lot of background and research to even think that it is possible.”

But at their regular meeting Wednesday, county commissioners said their positions remained unchanged from the joint meeting — rejecting the idea of unification and instead focusing on updating current service agreements between the city and county.

Assistant County Administrator Sarah Plinsky said county staff was ready to talk to the city about updating the agreements for services such as Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical, the Lawrence Community Shelter and the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department.

“That is a step toward actions we can actually take in our lifetime,” County Commission Chair Nancy Thellman said.

Undersheriff Gary Bunting was scheduled to give a presentation Wednesday on the county jail’s population and present cost estimates for portable, modular cell-block units, but was unable to attend the commission’s meeting. Bunting will give the presentation in coming weeks.


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