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
“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.