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Johnson County 2019 State of the County Address by Chairman Ed Eilert

Introduction by David Kugler on behalf of JoCo Public Policy Council

Good afternoon and welcome to the state of the county report. Thanks David for your kind introduction and thanks to the Olathe Embassy Suites for their great service in hosting today’s event.

A special thank you goes out to the Sheriff’s Honor Guard for the presentation of the colors.  Thanks also to the Johnson County Chambers Public Policy Council for their assistance and support in coordinating today’s luncheon, to our local chambers for their strong and effective ongoing support to our local businesses and to our larger business community that fuels our strong economy.

I also want to say thanks to our outstanding K-12 schools, our higher education institutions and vocational training centers, our non-profits and our many volunteers in Johnson County. All serve important roles in improving lives and building a strong community.

I would like to recognize my colleagues on the Board of Commissioners who are able to be with us today:

  • Becky Fast, new member of the board representing the First District;
  • Jim Allen, Second District. Jim also serves as the board’s vice chairman of the commission;
  • Steve Klika, Third District;
  • Janeé Hanzlick, another new board member, who represents the Fourth District;
  • Michael Ashcraft, Fifth District; and,
  • Mike Brown, Sixth District representative.

Also with us today are District Attorney Steve Howe, Sheriff Calvin Hayden and Chief District Court Judge Kelly Ryan.

I also want to thank County Manager Penny Postoak Ferguson, who assumed the operational helm of county government last July after serving as deputy county manager for more than five years.

It is my pleasure again to stand before you again to share with you a report on the State of Johnson County. Let me assure you from the get-go: These are exciting times in our county.

  • The economy is humming. New residents are coming.
  • Important projects are being built or moving off drawing boards.
  • The park system is expanding. New libraries are opening.
  • Johnson County is strong, growing, changing and moving forward.

We all contribute in many ways to our community’s success. We all have a stake in our Johnson County. We can only build strong communities – together.

I would like you to take a short multiple-choice quiz about your Johnson County community. So, everyone please take out your cell phone and participate if you choose. Your answers will be tabulated on the screens as they are submitted.

So, are you ready? Then let’s begin.

First question: What is the smallest city in Johnson County?

Is it: Edgerton … Westwood Hills … Mission Woods or Lake Quivira?

Next: What was the first program in The Theatre in the Park production?

The choices are: Mame … Brigadoon … My Fair Lady … or Guys and Doll.

Ready: When did Johnson County voters approve creation of a Johnson County Library District?

As you see: The right answer is somewhere from 1951 to 1954.

Now answer this: What percentage of the county budget funds public safety and criminal justice services?

Your options are: 18% … 20% … 22% or 24%

Finally: How many Johnson County clients were served by our mental health agencies in 2018?

Is it more than: 6,000 … 7,000 … 8,000 or 9,000?

The answers to these questions are coming, so please follow along.

With our 20 cities—ranging from Overland Park, the county’s largest and second largest city in Kansas with a population nearing 200,000, to our smallest Mission Woods, with a population of less than 200 — we are home to a diversity of people. They are living in strong communities, large or small, that are good, safe places providing a high quality of life.

It’s no wonder that USA Today again ranks Johnson County as the only county in Kansas or Missouri to make the annual list of the 25 best counties in the nation to live. We’re now No. 18 and moving in the right direction – up the list from No. 23 last year.

Our residents agree, giving a 98 percent satisfaction rating for our county being a great place to live in the 2018 Community Survey. The county also scored a 96 percent rating for a great place to raise children and a 93 percent rating for quality of life.

Newspaper rankings and community surveys only tell you part of the tale about why Johnson County is so unique and highly regarded.

Building a strong community requires investing for Johnson County today and Johnson County yet to come. In doing so, it has been a very busy year with capital projects starting or nearing completion at all corners of our county.

We don’t build courthouses too often in Johnson County. The new one taking shape in downtown Olathe is only the fourth courthouse in the county’s 164-year history. It will replace the current courthouse built in 1951. The new courthouse will serve our county’s court needs for at least the next 75 years. Construction has also started on the county’s first-ever Medical Examiner Facility in Olathe, which along with the courthouse, is being funded by the public safety sales tax approved by voters in November 2016.

Work is also well under way in a major rebuild of the Tomahawk Creek Wastewater Treatment Facility in Leawood. This project will allow us to protect the environment, improve treatment operations and provide the most cost-effective, long-term solution for customers.

Upon completion, we will be able to save the approximately $16 million paid annually to Kansas City, Missouri for treating part of the flow to that facility. By September, we expect to have about 300 workers onsite during the peak of construction.

All three capital projects are on time and on budget.

Investments in bricks and mortar are only one way we have become one of the nation’s best counties. Parks and trails, entertainment and playgrounds also are essential community amenities that residents expect and enjoy.

The Johnson County Park and Recreation District’s Legacy Plan addresses and fulfills those expectations with the continued implementation of new park development and park/recreational improvements through 2030.

One of the most anticipated projects is the opening of Meadowbrook Park in Prairie Village in early summer. It comes on the heels of a busy 2018 with the completion of three facilities and one new park to enhance a park system than annually attracts more than 7 million visitors.

Jill Geller, executive director of the Park and Recreation District, and her team are quite willing to tell us more ....

Thanks Jill for that update that shows our park district has been very busy indeed, but important work will continue in 2019.

In two months, The Theatre in the Park will be kicking off another summer of entertainment and also celebrating its 50th season. The concept of having an outdoor live theater in Johnson County was developed in 1969 with its first production of “Mame” occurring the following year in Antioch Park.

The summer outdoor productions were moved to Shawnee Mission Park in 1975. Indoor theater performances were also added two years ago with the opening of the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center in Overland Park.

Other exciting community assets are also on the way. In the months ahead, the county will award a contract to begin future development of Cedar Niles Park in western Olathe.

And, if you want a bird’s-eye view of western Johnson County, a 45-foot observation tower will provide that opportunity this fall when it opens at Kill Creek Park south of De Soto.

Johnson County Library has also been quite busy as a cornerstone in our communities. Our libraries are resources for learning, educational programming and multi-purpose activities for residents of all ages.

With the opening of Monticello Library last year in western Shawnee, the library system now has 14 branch library facilities in 13 cities. The library circulated more than 7 million items and had more than 2 million visitors in 2018.

The growth of our library system began as a seed in the early 1950s when a group of volunteers formed the Citizens Library Committee. That group launched a successful petition drive placing a library question on the 1952 ballot for creation of a taxing district to establish a county public library. The question was approved by voters in a four-to-one vote.

Since funding was not immediately available, books were collected and 11 volunteer libraries were opened during the next two years. The first volunteer library was established in 1953 in the Dunbar School in Shawnee. Other grass-roots libraries were in basements of homes and stores, in a barbershop and at other locations throughout Johnson County. In 1956, the district opened its first library facility in Merriam and started a bookmobile to serve other communities.

Very soon, the relocated Lackman Branch will reopen at the Lenexa City Center complex.  Here is County Librarian Sean Casserley and some of his team from Johnson County Library providing more  data ….

Sean and our library staff also are quite busy getting ready for that ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new branch in Lenexa, so please mark your calendar for June 2 and come join our celebration.

It comes as no surprise that Johnson County has become, and remains, the most populous county in Kansas. Our current population is now more than 600,000 residents in a state with an estimated total population of 2.9 million Kansans.

People come to Johnson County for many reasons … our quality of life, our excellent schools … our parks and libraries, but there’s another important reason. They want to work.

Eighty-nine (89) percent of the residents in the 2018 Community Survey were satisfied with Johnson County as being a great place to work.

According to year-end statistics compiled by the County Economic Research Institute, or CERI, more than 327,000 Johnson County residents were employed on average during 2018. That’s an increase of nearly 5,000 employed residents. From a statewide perspective, more than one in five employed Kansans lives in Johnson County!

Johnson County’s unemployment rate ended the year at 2.6 percent.

Our local economy continues to grow and thrive in other ways. According to CERI, the housing market and residential construction remained strong, but did cool slightly in 2018.

The average price of homes sold was almost 6 percent higher; the value of construction activity soared by double digits; and retail sales increased by nearly 5 percent in our county.

CERI also shared information from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis that estimates the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for every county in the U.S. from 2012 through 2015, the latest year available. 

According to this federal data, Johnson County was the largest producer of goods and services in Kansas with a total GDP of $44.5 billion in 2015. This represents 29 percent of the total GDP in Kansas. 

Not only is Johnson County the largest local economy in Kansas, it also has been the principal driver of economic growth statewide, accounting for 44 percent of Kansas GDP growth between 2012 and 2015.

With a sound local economy, we also must understand where our fiscal house stands. The bottom line is this:

  • Our bonds are still among the highest rated in the nation with triple AAA ratings.
  • Our budget is always balanced with reserves to ensure financial strength and stability.
  • And, our fiscal outlook is strong.

The county budget provides essential services and quality programs while being ever cognizant of Johnson County taxpayers. It has been said often before and is always worth repeating: The county government tax levy remains the lowest of 105 counties in Kansas and far lower than the state’s other urban counties.

Keeping the county’s mill levy at even keel always seem to face continued challenges to meet increased demands for public services and decreased state and federal funding. Yet, in both the 2019 and 2018 budgets, the mill levies for Johnson County Government have gone down slightly.

A key element in building a strong community is public safety. Our residents must feel and be safe in their homes, in their neighborhoods and in their communities.

Johnson County’s public safety services received a 91 percent rating in the 2018 Community Survey. To achieve and maintain that level of satisfaction, 22 percent of the county budget funds the Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney’s Office, District Courts and other emergency operations.

Dispatchers at the Emergency Communications Center handled almost 370,000 phone calls for emergency service in Johnson County for 2018. That included more than 126,000 911 calls, mostly by cell phones.

Last year, the Sheriff’s Office Security Division screened more than 528,000 people entering the courthouse and nearby Justice Annex.

The District Attorney’s Office handled a 7 percent increase in criminal and domestic violence case filings last year.

Med-Act ambulances were dispatched more than 51,000 times in responding to medical emergencies.

Our ability to tackle the substantial human services and health needs also is critical. Ten (10) percent of the county’s budget funds services to our most vulnerable populations; assist needy households of all ages with food, utility and housing assistance; provide disability services; and do so much more.

A growing concern is the future needs and demands to serve and protect our senior population that’s increasing by leaps and bounds.

The 2010 Census reported slightly more than 56,000 citizens in Johnson County, or almost 11 percent of the county’s total population, were 65 and older. The estimate of the 65-plus population now is almost 83,000, representing 14 percent of population.

Researchers from Wichita State University predict that by 2039, just 20 years from now, we will have almost 192,000 residents 65 and over. That means our senior population will double in just two decades as the retiring baby-boomers continue to impact state and local aging services.

Another particular challenge is growing demands on our mental health system which served more than 9,200 clients last year.

In meeting that challenge, Johnson County has become a leader in the nation in its proactive efforts to address mental health issues in our criminal justice system.

Johnson County was also selected as one of seven counties in the nation as a Stepping Up Innovator County by the National Association of Counties. That selection affirms our expertise in taking action to reduce the number of people in jail who experience mental illness and to take essential steps to help residents with mental health issues.

One resident is willing to share a personal story about how her family was helped by mental health professionals. Tim DeWeese, our mental health director; Robert Sullivan, director of our Corrections Department; and mental health staff also explain important services to help our residents at risk ….

I would like to thank United Healthcare for partnering in the ongoing program that provides transportation services to clients with mental health concerns. Supporting individuals through transportation to work, school and physical and mental health appointments is vital in promoting treatment and recovery for a healthy community.

While Tim, Robert and their team members are ensuring services and treatment are available to help residents with mental illness, another community issue is suicides.

Here’s a sad national reality: On average in the United States, there are 129 suicides per day.

Another sad fact: Johnson County has the highest suicide rate in Kansas. The county had 92 suicides last year. That’s one suicide every four days.

All six public school districts are also coping with the loss of students who took their own lives or have tried or thought about suicide. Our schools have joined a partnership with our mental health professionals, parents, religious leaders and local businesses to develop mental health and suicide prevention programs for students needing guidance and treatment.

Suicide is tragic and alarming, just as every life is precious. It’s a community issue that requires a community response. Suicide prevention is our goal as a caring community.

Our Mental Health First Aid program has been designated a champion by the National Council for Behavioral Health. This program is helping to build mental health literacy by helping the public identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness.

More than 2,200 participants, including first-responders and teachers, have completed the training since the program began. People trained in Mental Health First Aid are supporting our communities, our schools and our residents by becoming more comfortable and confident in helping someone at risk.

Another important focus in Johnson County is building a strong community for both employees and employers.

We have a unique business environment in our county. We have a combination of major corporations, as well as “mom and pop” shops and small businesses that each face unique challenges in meeting their employment needs and providing education and training for skills to address changing workforce demands.

We need to attract businesses and keep business here in Johnson County to keep our economy strong. When our businesses thrive, our community thrives. 

Despite the positive job growth and low joblessness, we know that workforce issues are critical especially in professional skills training and career development not needing a college degree.

The College of Trades, started by Johnson County Department of Corrections, is helping to bridge the skills job gap by training clients in a variety of trades. The program includes a partnership with Cultivate Inc. to help clients with personal skills for successful employment.

Corrections has also formed a partnership with the Construct KC program to equip clients in becoming skilled laborers in the construction industry.

Providing job training to probationers in our criminal justice system is an important thing to do. It helps to reduce recidivism by providing work skills to improve lives. Individuals receive a second chance at becoming productive residents and not being defined by their past.

Project SEARCH, an employment program offered by Johnson County Developmental Supports for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, successfully found employment for 92 percent of its graduates last year.

Twenty-one (21) percent of the county budget funds infrastructure services, including our Public Works Department and transportation system.

Our Public Works employees were quite busy this winter with 35 winter-storm-related dispatches. They, along with our city and KDOT crews, kept Johnson County’s roadways passable in often frightful weather conditions.

All these crews deserve our thanks as we celebrate the arrival of spring.

Our economic development also demands a robust transportation system permitting us to move people and goods effectively and safely, connecting people to jobs, connecting businesses to their markets and providing transportation choices.

The county continues to support access to employment and public transportation. Our transit system recently implemented a micro-transit program serving areas in Overland Park, Lenexa and Shawnee. This pilot service is testing on-demand shared ride service that enhances other jobs access routes to southwest Johnson County and to Lenexa City Center.

Transportation services provided more than 514,000 rides last year to serve residents from all walks of life. With improved mobility options, residents in Johnson County can access employment, educational opportunities and participate more fully in their communities.

Before closing, I wonder how did you do in answering the questions at the start of my presentation?

The quiz provides an opportunity to test what we might not know about our community and county government with its wide range of services delivered by our dedicated public employees. What they do truly matters.

  • It means that people leaving jail have the chance to learn a skill and get a job.
  • It means that someone answers the phone when 911 is dialed or crisis hot line is called.
  • It means that our libraries are sources of learning.
  • It means that kids fish in park lakes and couples walk on park trails.
  • It means that people’s health needs are met and aging services are available.
  • It matters in these ways and so many more.

Together, we can make a positive difference for our communities.

We often do not know or fully understand what makes up Johnson County. It’s far more than local government and community boundaries. It’s about problem solving. It’s about meeting challenges and overcoming them. It’s about opening the doors to opportunity and success.

Too often, we tend to look at our differences – big vs. small cities, old vs. new neighborhoods, urban vs. rural areas – rather than our similarities that draw us together:

  • Our common goals;
  • Our shared past and future; and,
  • Most importantly, our people who call their neighborhood, their city, their county – home.

We look forward to working with our cities, schools, businesses and other community partners in the coming year and the years that follow.

We all have a stake in Johnson County to continue in building strong communities.

Working together, our future is brighter, our challenges will be met and our communities will continue to be known as great places to live, work and raise a family.

Thank you.  Have a great 2019.

Media Contacts

Lori Sand
Senior Public Information Officer
Office: 913-715-8572
Cell: 816-560-6713

Jody Hanson
Director of Public Affairs and Communication
Office: 913-715-0730
Cell: 913-626-5482