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2015 State of the County address

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

            Thank you, Jason, for that kind introduction. Thanks to all of you for joining us today for the 2015 State of the County Address.

            I’d like to express my appreciation to the Johnson County Public Policy Council for their support in coordinating today’s luncheon.

            The leadership of local Chambers of Commerce is to be commended for their support of our local businesses. And, thank you to the business community for helping to make Johnson County a great place to live by generating jobs and boosting our economy, creating for all of us a “Community of Opportunity.”

            I would like to acknowledge my fellow County Commissioners who are present today. Would you please stand and be recognized as I call your name:

  • Jim Allen, Vice-Chair and representing the Second District;
  • Ron Shaffer, our newest commissioner from the First District;
  • Steve Klika, Third District;
  • Jason Osterhaus, Fourth District;
  • Michael Ashcraft, Fifth District; and,
  • John Toplikar, Sixth District.

            I would also like to recognize Sheriff Frank Denning, District Attorney Steve Howe, Chief Judge Kevin Moriarty, and County Manager Hannes Zacharias for joining us this afternoon.

            Finally, I would like to thank KDOT Secretary Mike King and all of the elected state and local government officials who have taken time from their busy schedules to be with us.

            2014 has been a solid year of progress for Johnson County Government.

            We fulfilled our core principles of being good stewards and we continue to operate efficiently and maintain our high financial standards.

            We continue to examine ways to deliver necessary services that provide the quality expected by residents and delivered in the most effective manner, even while our population continues to grow and the need for public services increases. For example:

             Johnson County Department of Health and Environment became the first Public Health Department in Kansas to receive accreditation by the Public Health Accreditation Board and is only the second in our four state region to achieve that distinction.

             Johnson County Park & Recreation District’s New Century Fieldhouse near Gardner received the National Park and Recreation Facility award from the National Association of County Park and Recreation Officials.

            The Youth and Family Services Center has been repurposed, in part, as a Residential Center for youthful offenders who are experiencing difficulties remaining in their homes. This will allow Johnson County juveniles who have been in programs as far away as Junction City to be close to parents and families.

            Johnson County Wastewater received six awards from the National Association of Clean Water Agencies for outstanding compliance with National Pollution Discharge standards.

            The department has won these awards annually for a decade.

            Negotiations begun last year resulted in a vendor contract with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority for management services for our JO transit, resulting in an immediate savings of approximately $500,000.

            The Arts and Heritage Center at King Louie and the opportunity for more public green space at Meadowbrook continue to advance toward completion.

            Our dedicated and hard-working county employees are one of our most important assets. Every day, our county workforce is making a difference in our community and I want to publicly thank and express our appreciation to each and every one of them.

            Their dedication to our county was also demonstrated in recent years as we adjusted to the economic downturn.

  • During the Great Recession, we were able to maintain a flat property tax mill levy, the lowest mill levy in Kansas, and lower than Sedgwick, Wyandotte, Douglas, and Shawnee counties – by some 46 percent on average.
  • Budgeted expenditures during that time were reduced by an accumulative $46 million with a workforce reduction of 12 percent without layoffs.
  • And, we were also able to maintain the highest bond ratings assigned by the market place – Triple, Triple A from three rating agencies.

            Our economy is showing an improving trend. Thanks to the hard work of many of you in this room, I’m pleased to report the following:

  • Our jobless rate at the end of 2014 was 3.0 percent. The December rate was the lowest in 15 years.
  • More than 40 percent of the new jobs created last year in Kansas were in Johnson County.
  • More than 324,000 Johnson County residents were employed in 2014. That’s the highest level in our County's history.
  • Home building reached the highest number in 2013-14 since 2006 and Johnson County led the metro region last year with an overall share of 38 percent of residential construction.
  • Industrial construction was also up – way up, almost doubling from 1.2 million square feet in 2013 to 2.3 million square feet of industrial space last year, due in part to the activities at the Logistics Park-Intermodal Facility in Edgerton.
  • In 2014, the assessed value of real and personal property in Johnson County was $7.9 billion and amounted to approximately 28 percent of the state’s assessed real and property total.

            According to a New York Times study, Johnson County is one of the easiest places in the United States to live. We were ranked number 11 out of the nation’s 3,135 counties. By the way, our nearest competitor was Douglas County with a ranking of 157.

            And, we are not alone. Many of our cities have been nationally recognized for being “tops” in different quality of life categories.

            Our communities have been nationally ranked for safety; for providing healthy lifestyles and amenities, including listing as Tree Cities USA; for being the best suburbs, most intelligent, and the most desirable cities to move to; for playing soccer and biking; and for being exciting places for children, young families, retirees, and even newlyweds.

            So, congratulations to our cities, our school districts, and our private sector investors and workers who all contribute to making our county not only a “Community of Choice” but also a Community of Opportunity.”

            And, people are noticing. Since 2006 our population has increased by 60,000 residents with no signs of letting up in the future. Let me put that in perspective … in the last eight years our county has grown in size by the population of Manhattan, the eighth largest city in Kansas.

            The fruits of our labor not only reflect well on our county, but benefit the State of Kansas as well.

            In fiscal year 2014, $629 million of the state’s sales tax in Kansas was collected in Johnson County, representing 25 percent of the state’s revenue from that source.

            All of these things represent the hard work of many and the return on private as well as public sector investments in creating our Community of Opportunity. We should never forget the solid foundation that has been set for our community supporting today’s success by those who have gone before us.

            Back in the 1950s, a small group of visionaries led by John Barkley, with the support of the local Sertoma Club, began planning for a park district and creation of a recreation association. Our Park District was formed 60 years ago, beginning with Antioch Park in Merriam, and today it includes our signature Shawnee Mission Park for a total of 10 parks preserving more than 10,000 acres of public space.

            During that same decade, a group of Johnson County homemakers saw the need for community libraries. This grassroots effort began with a small group sharing their vision and working hard to get legislation passed to make their dream a reality. That very first library, the Antioch library, was also built in Merriam and today our system has 13 locations serving our community.

            These community assets – our parks and our libraries – required a commitment of public investment that today results in the ability to serve millions of patrons and visitors each year, contributing to our collective success.

            Our commitment to public safety remains a top priority from responding to 9-1-1 calls to patrolling our communities and roadways, from making arrests, to prosecuting offenders charged with crimes.

            Johnson County Med-Act began operating 40 years ago tomorrow and started with just two ambulances covering the entire county. Today, Med-Act operates 17 ambulances and two Paramedic Advance Response units responding to more than 36,000 emergency calls each year.

            There are other programs that have supported our Community of Opportunity.

            Johnson County created its first sewer district and first sewer system in 1945. The first treatment plant was built two years later. The entire system was managed by one employee. Our community continued to grow and the sewer system continued to expand.

            In 1992, Johnson County Wastewater became a Consolidated Wastewater System, combining 61 sewer districts, supporting both existing and new development, without which our communities would not have been able to grow. The wastewater system now serves more than 400,000 residents.

            The Johnson County Airport Commission was formed in 1967 to operate, manage, and develop Executive Airport. Six years later, the commission assumed responsibility for the former Olathe Naval Air Station near Gardner.

            What was originally Johnson County Industrial Airport is now known as New Century AirCenter where more than 64 companies and organizations now operate, employing nearly 4,600 workers. The two airports – Executive and New Century – now are the third and fourth busiest airports in Kansas with nearly 100,000 flights annually between the two facilities.

            In the early 1970s, a group of parents approached the county commission asking for help in providing work opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The commission agreed and dedicated a mill levy to support those efforts. Today those work opportunities are provided through Johnson County Developmental Supports, as well as other service providers, ensuring that individuals, regardless of their abilities, have opportunities in our community's workforce.

            Other programs put in place by county actions included the County Assistance Road System, or CARS, in 1984, a shared resource to provide communities, and the county, funding to build and maintain streets and roads. In 1994, a countywide stormwater management system was developed by a special sales tax which has increased public safety and reduced property flooding.

            Clearly, the county has made significant investments in our services and our physical infrastructure. A successful community, however, needs to invest in human capital, most notably an educated citizenry.

            One vital community asset was formed in the 1960s by a dedicated group of Johnson County citizens, led by Will Billington. They were asked to study the feasibility of creating a local community college. The group unanimously recommended the creation of what would become Johnson County Community College.

            The first classes were held in the old Merriam Grade School building, with other classrooms scattered around the county in commercial buildings, before land was purchased and the first campus buildings opened in 1972.

            Johnson County Community College now ranks as one of the outstanding community colleges in the nation, serving students pursuing an associate’s degree, students who want to become certified in a particular discipline, students who want to learn a new skill or retrain for the workforce, and students who want to go on to secure a four-year degree.

            Currently, the community college is working on a proposed program with the city of Edgerton and NorthPoint Development of the Logistics Park on a training program for warehouse and logistics workers.

            By working with local business and industry, Johnson County Community College is able to provide one of the pillars supporting our “Community of Opportunity:” a skilled workforce.

            Congratulations to the Board of Trustees, staff and faculty, for your outstanding leadership and stewardship that has allowed our community college to excel.  And by the way, congratulations to the Lady Cavaliers for winning the Division II Basketball Championship.

Johnson County Community College is joined by several other higher education opportunities in our county. While they may offer different specialties and career focuses, they share a common thread … innovative ways of ensuring that students of all ages have an opportunity to grow and succeed in the workforce.

            At the KU Edwards campus, students can earn a bachelor’s degree in just three years. It’s called the “Degree in 3” program, and it relies on a partnership with the Community College along with the Blue Valley and Olathe school districts. Students earn college credits in high school, complete an associate’s degree one year after graduating, and finish their bachelor’s degree two years later.

            The KU Edwards Campus also meets the needs of those already in the workforce who want to advance their careers, offering more than 25 programs to students who want to finish a bachelor’s degree or earn an advanced degree while working.

            At the K-State Olathe campus, graduate-level learning integrates education, research and entrepreneurship. Programs focus on animal health, food safety, and nutrition. Students and researchers at K-State Olathe do important work in protecting the world’s food supply, and the campus is a key player in the Animal Health Corridor between Manhattan, Kansas and Columbia, Missouri.

            KU Edwards and K-State Olathe belong to the Johnson County Education Research Triangle, or JCERT, which is supported by a one-eighth cent sales tax enacted by voters in 2008.

            One of our communities’ most important assets, one that has been the major driver of our county’s success, is the longstanding support of our public school systems. The quality education opportunities provided our young students are absolutely necessary to meet the changing conditions of today’s economy.

            Supporting our public schools and providing quality education opportunities are hallmarks of our community. That commitment represents the engine that has assured our success and has brought well-deserved recognition to our students, teachers, and staff. Our schools are truly outstanding.

            In today’s changing workplace, the ability to provide career choices in many areas is necessary for our students' future.

The early and continuing strong support for our public education system is the bedrock on which our county’s neighborhoods and business community has been built. The strength and quality of our education system decade-after-decade has attracted residents and businesses to our communities and has made the difference in advancing the economic success we enjoy today.

            There is no stronger force for progress in our communities than our schools. Almost 20 percent of the K-12 students in all of Kansas now learn in Johnson County schools.

            I want to thank our talented teachers, outstanding administrators, and dedicated support staff, as well as the Johnson County taxpayers, for their continued commitment to supporting our exceptional and truly outstanding schools.

            Our community leaders in the past have made the right choices by deciding to invest in our parks, our libraries, our schools and colleges, our human service safety net, our roadways, and other infrastructure and recognized those investments as important community assets.

            Their leadership has shown a path to follow if we want to accomplish a goal of job growth and economic success.

            Our economic blueprint has been rooted in making investments to educate, retain, and grow workforce talent, creating our Community of Opportunity and leading our state in many economic and job growth measurements.

             I want to refer back to something I mentioned a year ago. A gentleman named Marc Andreessen, who was an early Silicon Valley pioneer, developed the first internet browser, a company called Netscape. Following that success, he created a venture capital company and he along with others made many successful investments in technology startups.

            When asked why he was able to be so successful in those investments, his response was this, and I will paraphrase: before I invest in an idea I want to make sure that the creators of that company really understand what is the “valued product” they are going to deliver to the marketplace. Have they developed a plan that reflects an understanding of the time, energy, and resources necessary to gain success? If I see that understanding in the organization, then I know the opportunity for success is very high.

             Let me ask each one of you here today: Why do you live and raise your family in Johnson County? Why do you own or operate a business in Johnson County?

            Each of you may have a somewhat different answer, but I believe the overarching answer is rooted in the vision of those early leaders of Johnson County who understood the necessity of delivering a “Valued Product.” Individuals who recognized the importance of committing the time, energy, and resources to build a “Community of Opportunity,” to make sure that the valued product would be successful in the marketplace.

            We have a county that is one of the best places to live, work, receive an education, and raise a family.

            We can certainly share in the success of today and that’s OK, but we need to understand that tomorrow could be a different day, with challenges, some of which are beyond our control.

            Our library board is reviewing their master plan in an effort to make sure that facilities and programs will meet the needs of a growing community and technology innovations.

            The Park and Recreation board is doing a similar review focused on necessary capital improvements to repair and maintain existing public park features as well as plan for the opening of parkland currently unavailable for public access.

            Those decisions need to be well considered, but we need to remember that providing those community assets are essential parts of our Valued Product.

            It is essential that our K-12 schools be allowed to continue to deliver outstanding classroom instruction and that higher education and career opportunities continue to be a priority.

            The lesson etched in our community’s history and legacy of leadership is very clear – you cannot stand still, you must move forward, and you must invest for the future.      

            As did community leaders before us, we know that building a community is about choices – making the right decision, at the right time, for the right reasons, for the public good.

            It is up to each one of us to not become complacent, not to lose understanding of the vision and commitment of those who have built a strong foundation for our communities.

            If Johnson County is to maintain the success we enjoy today, we must be willing to shoulder the responsibility of that shared vision for future success.

            Those leaders who came before us made the right choices, not just for their time, but also for the future, and guided Johnson County to what it is today. Our choices must also be made with the future in mind.

            We must continue working together, choosing to make our community everything we all believe it can be, and will be, and keep advancing our “Community of Opportunity” for all.

            The State of your County is strong, and with your help, we look forward to making 2015 even better.

            Thank you.