CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's patchwork quilt of 55 separate counties originated in the era when it was difficult for rural folks to ride horses and wagons to county seats. But the coming of modern highways and electronic communications shortened travel time and reduced the need for so many small local governments with little political fiefdoms.
We always contended that the Mountain State should merge some counties and municipalities, or at least pool services between them, to save taxpayers money and improve operations. Former Gov. Gaston Caperton pushed a constitutional amendment for that reform, but taxpayers rejected it. Afterward, state Sen. Brooks McCabe championed "metro" mergers to reduce overlapping governments and streamline local efficiency.
This spirit of teamwork has produced a splendid example in central West Virginia, on the border between Gilmer and Lewis counties. Each county has an aging, dilapidated elementary school that must be replaced -- so the two school boards decided to become partners in a brand-new joint school on the county line.
Century-old Troy Elementary in Gilmer will be merged with antiquated Alum Bridge Elementary in the partner county. In bucolic hills where enrollment is declining, taxpayers will save the cost of building two new schools,. Although no jobs will be shaved at first, the payroll presumably will decline in the future, because a single school needs fewer cooks, janitors, administrators and the like.
In the past, some counties have joined in operating two-county vocational schools, but this is a "first" for regular schools. We hope the team spirit spreads to other regions, benefiting many people.
Currently, the state School Building Authority is urging Putnam and Mason counties to join in similar cooperation in the lower Kanawha Valley. Go for it, we say. Working together is a win-win for everyone.