Managers: Wichita, Sedgwick County should merge services only when it makes sense

Wichita and Sedgwick County shouldn’t consolidate services just to say they did, City Manager Robert Layton told Rotary members Monday.

Merging services should only be done when it makes sense because of cost savings or efficiencies, Layton said. He and County Manager William Buchanan spoke to the Downtown Wichita Rotary Club about the benefits and drawbacks of merging services.

“This is more about how to make ourselves stronger,” Layton said. “I don’t believe there is a need today to say we have to have one government.”

Wichita and Sedgwick County are working to consolidate building code enforcement and already have a combined planning department.

Layton said animal control and equipment and fleet maintenance may be other areas where it makes sense to merge.

He gave examples of other cities and counties that have merged services – some successfully, some not so much.

Indianapolis and Marion County consolidated in 1969, Layton said, in an attempt to “reverse urban deterioration and spur economic development.”

The benefits, he said, were economic development, leveraged resources and taking a regional approach to transportation and restructure.

He said Indianapolis learned that county functions performed for the state, such as vehicle registration and corrections, are best provided by the county. For example, the sheriff should operate the county jail.

An incremental approach, which is what Wichita and Sedgwick County are doing, also was important to Indianapolis and the county there, Layton said.

It’s also important to admit when consolidation doesn’t work, Layton said.

The police and sheriff’s departments in the Indianapolis area merged in 2005 and then branched off again in 2008 because consolidation wasn’t working, Layton said.

Consolidation between Louisville, Ky., and Jefferson County was fueled by economic development, Layton said. Before consolidation, the city and county were competing to bring businesses to the area.

“They could not play well together as far as economic development. They would not have been able to do the Bombardier deal,” Layton said, referring to a $52.7 million expansion plan announced Monday by Bombardier that calls for the city and county to each kick in $1 million in incentives.

Merging services helped the Louisville area develop a regional approach to economic development, Layton said.

Consolidation provided the “shakeup” needed to get that city and county to cooperate, he said.

Buchanan told Rotary members that the city and county want to hear from residents about consolidation and what makes sense and what doesn’t.

“We don’t need lip service,” Buchanan said.

He agreed that the city and county shouldn’t merge just to merge.

“I love this community; I’ve been here for 20 years. One of the things I love the most is watching this community work together on special projects,” Buchanan said.

A Rotary member then asked the city and county if the school district was involved in consolidation efforts.

“No,” Buchanan said matter-of-factly, drawing laughter from the audience at Botanica.