Editorials

Should struggling suburbs go out of business and merge with Kansas City?

Should tiny Ferrelview, Mo., combine itself with Kansas City? That’s the suggestion of the Manhattan Institute.
Should tiny Ferrelview, Mo., combine itself with Kansas City? That’s the suggestion of the Manhattan Institute. kmyers@kcstar.com

Ferrelview, Mo., population 450, give or take, is in the middle of an uncivil war.

The chairwoman of the Board of Trustees wants to get rid of the police chief. Other residents want to keep him. Everyone’s worried about declining revenue and fewer services.

Emotions are raw.

So it was interesting that in the middle of all the angry pushing and shoving, a semi-obscure New York City think tank offered a potential solution for the tiny town: Go out of business, and become part of Kansas City.

“Structurally challenged suburban municipalities … should consider merging with (the) central city,” author Aaron Renn writes for the Manhattan Institute. The paper specifically mentions Ferrelview as a prime merger candidate.

His recommendation isn’t limited to the troubled village northeast of Kansas City International Airport, though. The paper provides a long list of other inner-ring suburban communities that might consider linking with Kansas City: Avondale, Northmoor and Birmingham, among others.

The theory is the same. “As these municipalities become progressively poorer, they are less able to finance public services without tax increases, which drives away people and business,” the author writes.

“If these fiscal conditions are paired with poor governance and corruption, a turnaround can be especially difficult.”

We’re not sure how the folks in those communities would react to a Kansas City marriage proposal. We don’t even know if Kansas City would be interested in courting them.

Yet the Manhattan Institute study could be a catalyst for an important conversation here, on both sides of the state line.

The Kansas City metro is pockmarked with small communities, each with its own police force, city hall, fire department and maintenance workers.

Years ago, that might have made sense: Small local government can be close to its citizens’ needs.

Today, though, it may be wasteful and inefficient. There is no clear reason, other than tradition and inertia, why there are 20 municipalities in Johnson County, for example.

To be sure, “a merger is a fraught undertaking,” the new study says. Politics and financing can get in the way. Renn suggests state government may need to step in to provide resources for municipal couplings.

But there is evidence mergers can work. The voter-approved merger of Wyandotte County government with Kansas City, Kan., took time to execute, yet is now generally considered a success.

Combining communities deserves serious consideration. It would save money. It would likely lead to better service. And in Ferrelview, it might make the coffee shop a bit more peaceful.

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