Lawmakers Consider Consolidating Counties

DES MOINES, Iowa  --  Can Iowa continue to sustain having 99 counties? Some say no, and argue it's time to shake things up. A House resolution seeks to do just that. The lawmaker that introduced it says having so many physical county courthouses is simply unnecessary in the age of the internet.

"It sounds like they're trying to say we`re not important," said Jacque McCall of Oskaloosa, expressing how she felt about the idea. "Oh, let`s just smoosh them altogether, you know, it sounds like we`re nothing...we aren't being recognized for who we are," said McCall.

Barbara Krusemark of Oskaloosa is also against county consolidation.

"When you go into the courthouse here, people knows you. You get seven or whatever, they wouldn't care if you was, who out on the street or whatever," said Krusemark. "This world is changing enough the way it is, but we do not need how many counties together for a county seat, absolutely not."

But the lawmaker that introduced the resolution, Republican Representative Jake Highfill from Johnston, says the reason he believes county consolidation makes sense is because of how times have changed.

"A long time ago, a courthouse, you wanted to be within a day's ride of a horse, but with the internet and doing almost everything you possibly can on the internet, I have no desire to go to our courthouse here in Polk County. I'm sure it's nice and lovely, but I have the internet," said Representative Highfill.

Highfill also says reorganizing counties and moving county seats will save money for the taxpayer by sharing, condensing, and even eliminating services.

"Especially in some of the really rural counties that are down to just a few thousand people," said Highfill. "It's very difficult to sustain the tax base needed to provide the services."

DeVee Wandling of Montezuma says consolidation would cost people like her more money.

"Condensing it down, it makes it harder for people to get to where they need to go, or get the help that they need because the counties are so far away from them," said Wandling. "A lot of people who are on fixed incomes, they can't handle that. I mean it's too much of a inconvenience, money pressures, and people like me, I don't have a vehicle so it's finding a ride," she said.

Meanwhile, Representative Mary Gaskill, a Democrat from Ottumwa, is concerned about the resolution and would like to see the the issued studied more. Gaskill says there are lots of unanswered questions that remain.

"What do we do with the facilities, for instance?" she said. "Probably 10-15 years ago, we just built a new jail in Wapello County, so will we have the jail there and the courthouse there, or will we have it someplace else, and you know, you lose your communities when you lose your courthouses," said Gaskill.

The resolution, which passed out of subcommittee 2-1, calls for a constitutional amendment to allow the legislature to reorganize counties and relocate county seats. It would need to pass two general assemblies and get voted on by the people of Iowa in a 50 plus 1 vote, before becoming a reality.