In the wake of a dead-end board election for Terry township, Finney County commissioners discussed Monday the option to dissolve and merge the area with a neighboring township, a new action for Finney County that potentially could pave the way for other townships looking to do the same.
Terry, a township in the northwest corner of the county and home to Friend, has long struggled with filling its township board, a three-member committee that sets the area’s budget.
Holcomb resident Mary Chandler has served as the township treasurer and the board’s lone member for several years. In November, the race for the board’s clerk garnered one write-in vote and did not secure a candidate. Now that Chandler wants to exit her position, the board soon will sit empty unless the county can appoint any volunteers.
On Monday, Finney County Clerk Dori Munyan suggested cold calling or advertising the open board positions to Terry residents, but those living in Terry have long shown little interest in the position. If no one wants to fill the seat, County Commissioner Lon Pishny told his colleagues at Monday’s meeting, it may be time to consider dissolving the township and merging it with another, likely the neighboring Pleasant Valley.
Commissioner Dave Jones, who presides over the district containing Terry township, said he had not yet had a chance to reach out to residents who may be interested in taking on the position. Terry township is largely populated by farmhands and other tenants living in residences owned by landowners back in Garden City and Holcomb, he said, and the situation made it difficult to track down residents who would be eligible for the board.
Jones said he was not sure what the commission’s ultimate decision would be, and was waiting on Munyan and Randy Partington, Finney County administrator, to provide updates at the commission’s next meeting before the end of the year. All in all, he said, he would hate to see the township dissolved.
“It’s sad that we don’t have willing participants, and yet I understand … People today have busy schedules. They don’t have time or desire to serve on one of these sort of committees, and we would like to keep that representation as close to home as we can. ... The people who live in Terry township are the best people to make decisions regarding their township,” Jones said.
In all Finney County townships but Pierceville, which also manages a community center, the boards only use their budgets to levy a local tax to pay for fire protection from the Garden City Fire Department.
In some counties, townships take on other duties, levying taxes to maintain their own roads or employ township employees to handle certain operations, Partington said. In Finney County, their role happens to be a good deal smaller.
Merging townships is uncharted territory for Finney County, and the necessary logistics or impact on residents is, at the moment, unknown, Partington said. However, there likely would be very few changes, he said. Any taxes still would be based on the value of the residents’ homes, and he expected any merged costs to be spread throughout the larger township as evenly as possible.
Last year, Terry and Pleasant Valley townships also had fairly comparable tax rates, Terry levying 0.463 mills and Pleasant Valley levying 0.421, according to the townships’ budgets.
Any merger would not impact residents’ representation on a county level, Partington said — commissioners have always been tasked to act as direct representation between the commission and their constituents. If anything, he said, it would only risk impacting residents’ say in how their township levied taxes.
Munyan said according to census records, Terry township’s population dropped by about 20 percent from 2000 to 2010, most recently recording 185 residents, the county’s lowest populated township. The county’s data shows 138 valid addresses and 100 registered voters from the township, she said.
County commissioners may revisit the issue in early 2019 after Munyan’s staff gathers more information on possible candidates for the township board, Partington said. Before seeking any action, he said, commissioners would reach out to the township’s residents.
If the commission and township decide to move in that direction, Partington said, the action could help establish processes for other townships, should they decide to dismantle their boards.
“Even if the county took the lead, it would probably be a communication with the township and as many residents as possible to at least see if that’s something they wanted," he said. "I don’t see the county commission just unilaterally making this decision. But that is a policy decision that they would have to make."
Contact Amber Friend at firstname.lastname@example.org.