Reprint from the Charleston Gazette (February 23, 2001)|
For decades this newspaper has contended that its silly for West
Virginia to have 1870-style
government, with 55 separate county regimes and multiple political
fiefdoms under every
The Mountain State doesn't need 55 isolated school systems, each with
bureaucracy of administrators.
The state doesn't need 55 county seats and political power bases. Nor
does it need a phalanx
of different elected officers in each courthouse, all controlling
appointive jobs. That's too many
small political machines.
Maybe 55 counties were practical after the Civil War, when isolated
West Virginians traveled by
horseback or wagons to county seats. But the horse-and-buggy era died
almost a century ago.
Now mountain people buzz along paved highways and freeways - or
conduct their government
business by fax machines and the Internet. Travel distance has
expanded enormously, and time
requirements have shrunk.
It wastes millions of taxpayer dollars to maintain so many separate
When Gaston Caperton became governor in 1989, he crusaded to merge the
and also eliminate some needless statewide elective offices. A
consolidation amendment was
drafted, to revise the state constitution. But it was defeated
A major reason for the defeat was the hundreds of small political
machines in courthouses. No
local assessor, county clerk, sheriff, prosecutor, etc., wants to lose
power and influence. Most
of them unleashed their taxpayer supported minions against Caperton's
Local school boards likewise didn't want to surrender power. In some
small counties, the school
system and courthouse are the foremost source of employment.
Despite the lesson of 1989, Sen. John Mitchell, D-Kanawha, is making
another try. He wants
the joint Interim Committee on Government and Finance to study the
possibility of mergers.
Bravo. It's a worthy idea, regardless of the odds against success.
Mitchell guessed that consolidations might save taxpayers anywhere
from $50 million to $500
million a tear. Maybe the committee study can make a clearer
Many small counties are struggling to exist. Wirt, with just 5,192
population in 1990, faces
possible bankruptcy. The county's only deputy sheriff may be laid off.
The courthouse hasn't
had a janitor for seven years.
Really there is no need for separate Wirt County government - and the
same can be said for
Its time to mobilize for another consolidation attempt. We wish Sen.
(SEE yesterday's Hur Herald stories: Daily Mail editorial and news
story about the woes in Wirt)