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Do we really need 55 counties in West Virginia?

State Sen. John Mitchell, D-Kanawha, is willing to openly talk about something that many only discuss in hushed tones. Mitchell thinks West Virginia has too many counties.

"We need to seriously look at whether it's necessary for us to have 55 counties," said Mitchell on the floor of the Senate Tuesday. "Could we be more efficient with a more regionalized, centralized approach to offering services? Do we need 55 county commissions and 55 boards of education? I think we should look at it."

We agree. And, apparently, so does Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin. He agrees that it is a subject that bears scrutiny. Tomblin says some of the small, rural counties can't adequately provide the services that the larger, more affluent counties can.

Also interested in Mitchell's proposal is state School Superintendent David Stewart. He says it's time to look at whether the state's system of public schools would function better without 55 boards of education.

Of course, no proposal of this kind would be implemented quickly. Mitchell himself suggests it would probably take 10 or 15 years to accomplish. But we agree with his assessment that "now is the time to start the process."

Fifty-five counties may have been needed a century ago, but now, with interstate highways and an increasingly wired government environment, we should explore some economies of scale.

Mitchell is expected to introduce a measure today that would call for a review of his proposal and to have lawmakers examine the findings in 2002.

It certainly wouldn't hurt to talk about it -- in the open.

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