The mayors of Kansas City, KS; Edwardsville; and Bonner Springs are forming a task force to explore potential changes to the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and KCK, they announced at a press conference Oct. 11 at KCK City Hall.
Possible solutions could include a de-unified government structure. The move comes in response to mounting financial issues and concerns about the efficiency and accountability of the existing government.
Mayor of KCK and CEO of the UG Tyrone Garner says the financial situation is such that the Unified Government could go bankrupt by 2026.
“If the Unified Government had been working as promised, I personally don’t believe we would’ve inherited a billion dollars worth of debt,” said Garner. “I don’t believe we would be on a pathway to bankruptcy,”
Garner was elected in 2021, and derided the UG’s form of government as bloated and unaccountable while listing the UG’s poor results.
“Crumbling infrastructure, disheartening poverty throughout this town, excessive blight, shameful acts of disinvestment, historic redlining, customer service shortfalls, rampant questions many have posed of continued cronyism, nepotism, and a Unified Government on a pathway to complete financial ruin,” said Garner.
The UG was established in 1997 after WYCO residents voted in favor of consolidating their government with KCK’s. The move promised to help struggling KCK by merging with what was viewed as a more stable county government as a way to bring about a more efficient and cost-effective government structure.
“That promise presented to Wyandotte County back in 1997 from those that said that we need to consolidate to replace a machine,” said Garner, “it appears that that machine has been replaced with a bigger machine that is now operating on all cylinders.”
The mayors of the three biggest cities in WYCO joined together to express willingness to consider alternative forms of government and have taken the first step by creating a task force to evaluate the current situation.
Edwardsville Mayor Carolyn Caiharr said the task force will listen to citizens of the county and make a recommendation based on their input.
“What has served you well over the last 25 years, and what improvements need to be made?” Caiharr asked during a press conference outside Memorial Hall in downtown KCK. “We are not only looking for complaints, but solutions.”
Edwardsville and Bonner Springs voted against unifying the government in 1997 and the cities believe they are not receiving the county services they need, with the UG grappling with its own set of challenges.
The mayors said they will listen to residents and are not yet advocating for the dissolution of the UG. However, they say there is a need for a thorough assessment before determining the best course of action.
The task force will begin neighborhood discussions in November to gather input from residents about the UG. The recommendations from this task force will be submitted to the UG’s 11-member Board of Commissioners, which may include proposals for de-consolidating the governments of KCK and WYCO.
Changes to the UG structure can happen one of two ways. Either the Kansas Legislature could order a public vote like in 1997 or the UG’s commission could similarly put it on the ballot.
The formation of this task force marks a pivotal moment in WYCO’s history, as leaders and residents grapple with the challenges facing their unified government. As discussions unfold, it remains to be seen how the future of the UG will take shape, but it is clear that a serious evaluation of the status quo is now underway.
To follow updates and meeting times of the task force, the mayors formed a Facebook page called Unified Residents of Wyandotte County – see it at https://tinyurl.com/3ztv982n.