History & Statehood » Counties
A county is "the largest territorial division for local government within a state of the United States." Each of Kansas' 105 counties acts as a local government for the residents living in its boundaries. However, all of a county's authority is granted by the state, as a county is considered a subdivision of the state.
County boundaries were determined by the Legislature. The counties established before Kansas was admitted as a state in 1861 were determined by the Territorial Legislature, and those established after Kansas officially became a state were set by the Kansas State Legislature.
The boundary lines of counties can be changed. This process is initiated by either a county's board of commissioners or by the people through a petition. If a county's board of commissioners initiates the process, the terms must be agreed on by at least two of the counties involved. These counties must adopt a resolution describing the desired revisions, but the resolution will not be effective until a majority of the voters in both of the counties approve it through an election. If the people form a petition, at least 5 percent of the counties' registered voters must sign it in order for the board of commissioners to adopt the resolution. Again, this resolution will not be effective until an election is held and the majority of the counties' voters approve it. Furthermore, at least three public hearings must be conducted (at least one hearing located in each affected county) on the issue, and the counties' newspapers must publicize information about the hearings at least three times before the date of the hearings.
A county seat is simply a town or a city within a county where all the government proceedings occur. County seats are determined by elections in which all the registered voters residing in that county vote on which town or city they prefer to be the seat of their local government.
Why Counties are Necessary
A county is a necessary form of government within the state for many reasons. A few major functions of counties include the provision of local law enforcement; the county judicial system; the recording of legal documents, such as deeds; and the construction and maintenance of roads, parks, etc.
All counties employ a clerk, treasurer, sheriff, attorney, register of deeds and a minimum of three county commissioners. In the four largest counties—Johnson, Wyandotte, Shawnee and Sedgwick—an election commissioner, appointed by the Kansas Secretary of State, conducts official elections in a county. However, in every other Kansas county, the county clerk is elected rather than appointed, and serves as the county election officer.
At the most fundamental level, a county allows it residents the ability to control their own lives and to live according to the values and beliefs that are unique to their communities. For instance, the lifestyle of southwestern Kansas residents may differ greatly from the lifestyle of those living in northeastern Kansas. Furthermore, county governments create a more convenient and efficient system. For example, a Kansas resident living near the Colorado border should not have to drive across the state to Topeka in order to settle a legal dispute or register a vehicle at a courthouse. Being able to conduct business with the state in your own county's courthouse is a more practical option.
Article 9.--COUNTY AND TOWNSHIP ORGANIZATION
§ 1: Counties. The legislature shall provide for organizing new counties, locating county seats, and changing county lines; but no county seat shall be changed without the consent of a majority of the electors of the county; nor any county organized, nor the lines of any county changed so as to include an area of less than four hundred and thirty-two square miles.
§ 2: County and township officers. The legislature shall provide for such county and township officers as may be necessary.
Constitution of the State of Kansas
County vs. State
Being a subdivision of the state, counties possess similar powers while still having to answer to the state. For instance, the state Legislature can pass a statute, a written law. However, county governments can make resolutions, which are laws that apply only to that specific county, unlike state laws that apply to every county. There are three main kinds of resolutions: charter resolutions, administrative resolutions and home rule (ordinary) resolutions. A charter resolution may be enforced when no state law affects the matter in question; however, it cannot conflict with state law. An administrative resolution affects the procedures of the county government. A home rule (ordinary) resolution may add policies or provisions to an existing policy or state law.
At the state level, the governor is the chief executive of the state. At the local level, the mayor is also the head of government. However, a mayor only has jurisdiction of a town or city.
Kansas is divided into judicial districts, and there is district court in each county. District courts, created by the Kansas Constitution, are where criminal and civil jury trials are held. Appeals may be taken to the Kansas Court of Appeals and in some cases to the Kansas Supreme Court, the highest court in the state.