Dying Longton, Part Four; Some City Background

Started by CCarl, November 23, 2022, 04:08:03 PM

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Part Four; Some City Background                 Copyright © MMXXII CCarl

On to more mundane information about Longton than the surveillance state discussed earlier. Surveillance will pop up again, as will a few other questionable City activities. In the meantime, here is a little background on Longton that many of you are probably familiar with.

Local Demographics

Elk County was formed in 1875 [a few sources say 1870] when Howard County was divided into Elk and Chautauqua counties. The oldest census record I found for Elk County is the 1890 Federal Census, most easily found at Wikipedia [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Longton,_Kansas ]. Elk County's 1890 population was 12,216. With the exception of a slight population increase in the 1970-1980 decade, the County's population has steadily declined to its population of 2,483 in 2020. In the 1970-1980 decade the County gained 60 people, which was a 1.55% increase.

The earliest population I can find for Longton is also in 1890, when it had 255 people [same Wikipedia link]. Longton's population grew every decade until 1930 when its population peaked at 744 people. With the exception of the 1970-1980 decade, our population has steadily declined since 1930, to 288 people in 2020. In the 1970-1980 decade, our population increased 92 people, an increase of 30.3%.

[What would be interesting is a local history buff's explanation of the factors that made Longton's population increase so dramatically between 1970 and 1980. Comments would be appreciated for anyone who has thoughts and/or recollections of events in that decade.]

In 2000 Longton had 163 households. In 2010 that number was down to 147 households. I have not seen household numbers reported for 2020. Clearly from population numbers of residents and households, Longton is dying, and has been at least declining since the Great Depression that started in 1929.

In 2000, the median income for a Longton household was $20,469, while the median income for an Elk County household was $27,267. In 2021, Forbes Magazine reported that Elk County was the poorest county in Kansas, with a median household income of $38,750 [ https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewdepietro/2021/09/01/poorest-counties-in-every-us-state-2021/?sh=351744ce312a.]

Merchandise that cost $1.00 in 2000, cost $1.57 in 2021. That means the 2000 median County income, adjusted for inflation through 2021, should be $42,809 in 2021, which is $4,059 greater than the reported median income. In other words, the County's, and no doubt Longton's, median income has not kept up with inflation the past twenty-some years, i.e., we are getting poorer. And it shows, doesn't it? Do you hear a death rattle? I do.

The following has been paraphrased from an article at apnews.com about data from the 2020 census. "Most Kansas counties lost residents over the past ten years as the state's population concentrated in more populous places. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau's every ten-year count of the population showed that 80 of the state's 105 counties declined in population since 2010. Most of the decline was in rural counties. An executive director of the Kansas Rural Center, said younger people move to urban areas or college towns and stay for jobs, then attract other younger people. The director also said population losses in rural areas were fueled by a lack of high-speed internet service, shortages of housing, relatively few cultural activities, and greater concentration and corporate ownership in farming."

The data above certainly reflect a story of a town that has struggled to survive, and has been unable to sustain even a modest growth curve. There are several reasons for the struggles, and one common reason that I will write about in subsequent posts.

Before moving on to the tipping point little old Longton faces, and the short-term actions that will affect that tipping point [besides the surveillance state discussed earlier], let's take a quick look at the business profile Longton had in that 1970-1980 decade of growth.

According to a friend's memory of his childhood and teen years, Longton's business district looked like this: four full-service gas stations, a lumber yard, a hardware store, a barber shop, three beauty salons, three grocery stores, a drug store, two banks, a pool hall, a saddle shop, a liquor store, a beer joint, a mortuary, two feed stores, two cafes, four churches, an insurance company, a newspaper, a motel, a hotel, an alfalfa mill, the Wigwam, and two closed movie theaters. That was twenty-seven open, retail businesses. And, that may not be inclusive, but it is a reasonable snapshot of a town with close to 400 residents during a more prosperous time. Clearly, Longton was serving itself, and serving greater Elk County in an economically important way. What has changed?

In 2022, Longton has the following business profile; one gas station slash quick-stop that will not let you shop inside, one liquor store that will not let you shop inside, one part-time bar, one restaurant being remodeled, one rarely open used-everything store, a repaired Red Barn to become an auction house or other business, a bank, three churches, a car wash, and three mechanic's shops. That is nine, part to full time, businesses in a town of approximately 283 people. Today, Longton is not serving the greater County, it is not even serving itself. I have not included public services in this discussion for reasons that will be clear in a later post that discusses the negative impact of government on wealth and well-being.

Like it or not, Longton is close to becoming the regions next LaFountaine, although much larger at the moment. That statement is just an attention-getter, a sub-headline, if you will. But it has truth in it, and before I'm done posting I will comment on why that might ultimately be a good thing to purposefully consider.

City Government

We form governments to do three basic things for us: 1) to secure our Inalienable Rights; 2) to protect us, our properties, and our interests; and 3) to provide us specific and limited services that we have authorized government to perform. Those specific and limited services are enumerated in the Constitution for the United States, and in our case, the Kansas State Constitution. Longton is a Class 3 community, according to the State Constitution. Our government has a weak mayor, strong council government, without a city manager. See this webpage [ https://law.justia.com/codes/kansas/2017/chapter-15/article-1/ ] for information on Chapter 15: Cities of the Third Class. Just a few sections of Chapter 15 are referenced below. See the link and click on 'Update' to see all the code relevant to Class 3 cities. Future posts will refer back to the code listed below.

15-105. Composition of council; census.
The council of each city governed by this act shall consist of five members. The population of the city shall be ascertained, when necessary, by a census taken under an ordinance of the city.
15-106. Meetings of council.
Regular meetings of the council shall be held at such times, not less than once each month, as shall be prescribed by ordinance. Special meetings may be called by the mayor or acting mayor on written request of any three members of the council, specifying the object and purpose of such meeting, which request shall be read at the meeting and entered at length on the journal. In all cases it shall require a majority of the councilmen elect to constitute a quorum to do business; but a smaller number may adjourn from day to day, and may compel the attendance of absent members in such manner and under such penalties as the council, by ordinance, may have previously prescribed.
15-124. Same; operation as mayor-council city upon incorporation.
The city, regardless of the number of inhabitants at the time of incorporation, shall operate as a mayor-council city of the third class and the statutes relating thereto and home rule powers under the constitution until such time as by proper proceedings the class is changed or form of government changed.
15-201. Election of officers; terms; vacancies.
Every two years an election shall be held for a mayor, and five council members. The mayor and council members shall hold their offices for two years and until their successors are elected and qualified.
Subject to the provisions of K.S.A. 2021 Supp. 12-16,128, and amendments thereto, in case of a vacancy in the council occurring by reason of resignation, death, or removal from office or from the city, the mayor, by and with the advice and consent of the remaining council members, shall appoint an elector to fill the vacancy until the next election for that office. In case any person elected as a council member neglects or refuses to qualify within 30 days after election, the council member shall be deemed to have refused to accept the office and a vacancy shall exist. Subject to the provisions of K.S.A. 2021 Supp. 12-16,128, and amendments thereto, the mayor may, with the consent of the remaining council members, appoint a suitable elector to fill the vacancy.
In case of a vacancy in the office of mayor, the president of the council shall become mayor until the next regular election for that office and a vacancy shall occur in the office of the council member becoming mayor.
[A note here to readers. Chapter 15-201 was replaced by Charter Ordinance 7 in April, 2017. A copy of it is available at City Hall. This ordinance changes two-year terms of office to four-year terms, with three council members elected in November, then two council members and the mayor elected the following November election cycle. I will post follow-ups to this information if I find that other changes to Chapter 15 have been made by charter ordinances.]
15-204. Appointment of city officers; duties and compensation; removal.
Subject to the provisions of K.S.A. 2021 Supp. 12-16,128, and amendments thereto, the mayor, with the consent of the council, may appoint, at the first regular meeting of the governing body in May of each year, the following city officers: A municipal judge of the municipal court, a clerk, a treasurer, a marshal-chief of police, law enforcement officers and such other officers as deemed necessary. Such officers shall hold an initial term of office of not to exceed one year and until their successors have been appointed and qualified. Any officers who are reappointed shall hold their offices for a term of one year and until their successors are appointed and qualified. The duties and pay of the various officers shall be regulated by ordinance. Any officer may be removed by a majority vote of the total membership elected or appointed to the council and may be suspended at any time by the mayor.
15-301. General powers and duties of mayor.
The mayor shall preside at all meetings of the city council, and shall have a casting vote when the council is equally divided, and none other, and shall have general supervision over the affairs of the city. The mayor shall be active and vigilant in enforcing all laws and ordinances for the government of the city, and he or she shall cause all subordinate officers to be dealt with promptly for any neglect or violation of duty.
15-305. Messages and recommendations to council.
The mayor shall from time to time communicate to the city council such information and recommend such measures as in the mayor's opinion may tend to the improvement of the finances of the city, the police, health, security, ornament, comfort and general prosperity of the city.
15-310. President of council.
The city council shall elect one of their own body as "president of the council," who shall preside at all meetings of the council in the absence of the mayor; and in the absence of the president the council shall elect one of their own body to occupy the president's place temporarily, who shall be styled "acting president of the council." The president and acting president, when occupying the place of mayor, shall have the same privileges as other members of the council.
15-311. Vacancy in office of mayor; temporary absence of mayor.
When any vacancy occurs in the office of mayor, by death, resignation, removal from the city, removal from office, refusal to qualify, or otherwise, the vacancy shall be filled as provided by K.S.A. 15-201, and amendments thereto. In the case of the temporary absence of the mayor, the president of the council shall exercise the office of mayor, with all the rights, privileges and jurisdiction of the mayor, other than the appointment of council members or officers pursuant to K.S.A. 15-201 and 15-204, and amendments thereto, until the mayor returns.

City Ownership

The physical extent of Longton includes 755 acres of commercial and residential lots, and rights-of-way [ROW] for roads and alleys. That acreage includes public lands administered by State, County, City, and School District; and privately owned property, including a railroad ROW.
The State administers the Highway 160 ROW. That ROW occupies approximately 12.1 acres within our city limits.
Elk County administers two properties in town, the County Roads Maintenance shop, a 0.45-acre parcel; and the County Fire Department, a 0.24-acre parcel.
The City administers thirteen properties in town, totaling approximately 28.1 acres. In addition it administers 5.0 acres of the cemetery (the southern half), northeast of town. The City also administers approximately 93.9 acres of road ROW, and 6.6 acres of alley ROW. The original plat designated Kansas Ave and Fifth Ave as the business district, each with a 100-foot wide ROW. All other roads in town have an 80-foot wide ROW, and all alleys have 20-foot wide ROWs.
School District USD 283 administers five properties within our city limits, totaling approximately 18.1 acres.

Summary of Public Land Acreage in Longton Sorry, the numbers below line up perfectly in Preview - grrr.
State            12.10
County            0.69
City            128.00
USD 283          18.10
    Total       158.89

That leaves approximately 596 acres of private property in Longton. Of that, the railroad holds approximately 31 acres of ROW through town. That leaves Longton with approximately 565 acres for residential and commercial use. That is about 75 percent of the plated acreage. I have no idea whether that percentage is reasonable for a small town, or not. The biggest part of the public lands are the access ROWs, and they are no doubt the largest percentage of public administration in any Class 3 City in Kansas, acreage-wise anyway, and possibly dollar-wise. I will delve into problems with some of the publicly controlled properties in Post 14.

City Ownership In Our Business District

Let's take a look at Longton's business district. It was initially laid out to include Kansas and Fifth Avenues with the wider ROWs, probably to allow for parking, and loading and unloading goods. Back in its heyday, some businesses might have been on Fifth, but the far majority have been, and now are, only on Kansas, and only on Kansas between 4th and 6th. Lets look closer at that two block area. A little math shows us this; 35% of the lots in this two-block area are not on the tax rolls. Can we really call it a business district when over a third of the lots are not on a tax roll because they are government administered? And only 11% of the business district lots support retail businesses. The remainder, if not government administered, are vacant lots, abandoned buildings, or other, non-retail activities.

Obviously, Longton no longer has a functional business district, a necessary dynamic in a vibrant community. Along about Post 15, I will start discussing options to recreate a business climate in Longton. It is not for a tax and spend, top down government to do. It is up to the bottom up actions of people, by thinking and acting locally.

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