Andy Kerr

Conservationist, Writer, Analyst, Operative, Agitator, Strategist, Tactitian, Schmoozer, Raconteur

Western Oregon BLM Federal Public Forestlands:

Merging Counties Part of the Solution

The Oregon Legislature should merge counties (and cities) to provide for the more efficient delivery of services to citizens.

There are presently 36 Oregon Counties ranging in population from 1,590 (Wheeler) to 730,140 (Multnomah), in land area from 435 (Multnomah) to 10,135 (Harney) square miles and in population density from 0.8 (Harney) to 1,678.5 (Multnomah) people/square mile (Table 1).

Oregon counties are not corporations as are Oregon cities, which range in size from 2 (Greenhorn) to 583,835 (Portland). A municipal corporation can go bankrupt; a county cannot. Counties are administrative subdivisions of the sovereign State of Oregon and exist for the convenience of and at the pleasure of the state. Counties exist as a mechanism to provide services to the state’s citizens.

Counties with small populations inefficiently deliver services to its residents. The larger the county population, the more efficient in the delivery of counties services (Table 2).

While population density is a factor in efficient the delivery of services, it is a minor— and in no way controlling—factor. Curry County (21,160 people, 1,627 square miles and 13.0 people/square mile) anticipates it will be insolvent in the near future. Though it has a much higher basic services cost per resident, Harney County (7,720 people, 10,135 square miles and 0.8 people/square mile), while having fiscal challenges, is not facing near-term insolvency. (Perhaps because Harney County (0.99% of home value) taxes its residents at over twice the rate as does Curry County [0.43% of home value]. U.S. Census Bureau; Tax Foundation calculations of US Census Bureau data. See

Because of its imminent insolvency, Curry County, which once was part of Coos County (62,930 people, 600 square miles, and 104.9 people/square mile), should become so again.

While the attention is on Curry County, the Oregon Legislature should not limit county consolidation to just Curry and Coos Counties, but should examine all counties. It should also consider the merging of cities (For example, Coos Bay and North Bend) and of cities and counties (the City of Portland and the County of Multnomah come first to mind).

Here is a PDF of this section with full documentation, entitled Merging Counties in Oregon.