Wayne White/Herald-Chronicle
Perry Thompson, Osage City, presents a stack of petitions to Osage County Clerk Rhonda Beets, Friday. The petitions, representing about 1,600 signatures according to Thompson, request the county commissioners adopt the county unit road maintenance system.

Wayne White
| Managing Editor

LYNDON—Osage County could have a new system for maintaining township roads if a petition filed Friday is determined to be valid by Osage County Clerk Rhonda Beets, and if the petition is not contested.

Perry Thompson, Osage City, presented multiple copies of a petition that requests the Osage County Commission to “adopt provisions of the county road unit system” by resolution.

State statute allows petitioners to collect signatures of at least 10 percent of qualified electors in the county to compel commissioners to adopt the road maintenance system.

Thompson said Monday that about 1,600 names were collected. Beets had previously estimated that 1,080 signatures of qualified electors would be needed to validate the petition.

Osage County now operates under the county-township system, in which the county maintains main traveled roads in the county road system, and townships maintain local roads that are not in cities and not maintained by the county. Under the county unit road system, the county is responsible for maintaining all roads outside cities except for state and federal highways. If the county unit system is adopted, township maintenance of roads will cease.

Not only will the change affect which government entity will maintain the roads, it will also change the method of collecting taxes for road maintenance.

Norm Bowers, local road engineer with the Kansas Association of Counties, explained the county unit road system in an article published in the June 2008 KU Transportation Center newsletter: “Funding for all the county roads is on a countywide tax basis with all property in the county having the same mill levy for county roads and bridges. This results in a somewhat higher mill levy for city residents than with the county-township system, as the city residents have to pay taxes for maintaining all the roads in the county, including the old township roads.”

Bowers said 65 counties in Kansas operate under the county unit road system, and the last county to convert to the system was Coffey County in 1979.

“It appears that there is currently a reluctance to convert to a county unit system as this will increase the taxes for residents inside of cities,” Bowers wrote.

While the change could raise taxes for some taxpayers, Thompson said the reason he carried the petition was because he believed it would cost less if one government entity maintained the roads, instead of the 16 townships in the county.

“It’s an expense cutting move, is how I see it,” Thompson said Monday. “Our expenses in this county just need to be controlled.”

Thompson explained the change would consolidate services and eliminate the need for 48 township officers in the county’s 16 townships.

“We thought it could be a move to hold the line … or possibly have only small tax increases,” Thompson said. “Historically taxes go up, but this would be less of a reason for commissioners to have to give us an increase.”

Thompson was joined by 48 others in the county who helped carry the petition and stated under oath they witnessed the signatures on the petitions.

Beets said Monday that personnel in her office were working to validate the petition. She said she expected the process to take several days.

Beets noted she had been advised by county counselor Delton Gilliland and the Kansas secretary of state that the petition was subject to a 180-day time period for collection of signatures, and any names on the petition dated prior to 180 days before Feb. 5 would be considered invalid.

The petition was originally drafted by Gilliland in June at the direction of county commissioners. At the time, commissioners Ken Kuykendall and Mike Pruitt said constituents had been urging them to adopt the county road unit system. Both said then they knew of citizens who wished to carry the petition.

If Beets declares the petition sufficient, commissioners are required by state statute to approve a resolution enacting the change. Upon publication of the resolution, any objecting citizens will have 90 days to file another petition calling for an election on the issue. If the resolution is approved and not contested, all township road maintenance in the county would cease.

In June, Gilliland noted that townships will continue to exist as municipalities, but will only be responsible for other government functions under their authority such as cemeteries, libraries or fire departments.

The petition procedure is one of several ways commissioners could have enacted the change; they could have also adopted the county road unit system by their own declaration.

State statutes require that upon adoption of the county road unit system, township boards will pay to the county treasurer all unused funds that have been acquired for road purposes or for the purchase of machinery for construction and maintenance of roads. The county treasurer would credit the money to a special fund for each township, and the county commission would be required to expend the special funds for construction and maintenance of roads in the township from which it was received. Those expenditures would be in addition to funds expended by the county in each township from the regular county road and bridge fund. Townships would also be required to deliver to the county any road machinery or equipment. The value of the equipment would be appraised and within two years the county would be required to expend that amount for construction and maintenance of roads in the township from which the equipment was received.