In a typical year, the Chair of the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners delivers a State of the County Address at a luncheon event held at the end of March. At that event, we celebrate as a community the achievements of the prior year. As we all know, 2020 was anything but typical. The pandemic prevented us from gathering in person for the State of the County. As the year progressed, with such a laser focus on the immense task of fighting COVID-19, it never felt like the right time to celebrate the successes of 2019. However, as 2020 comes to a close, I would be remiss if I let any more time pass before reflecting on 2019, with a few high-level thoughts about 2020.
Had we come together in March for the annual State of the County address, we would have celebrated progress made towards Board of County Commissioner priority areas, such as completing/advancing major capital projects with efficiency and effectiveness. Back in the spring, we continued to be on schedule and on budget on the new courthouse, and now find ourselves days away from completion. Also, in the spring we were just a few months from opening our county’s first-ever medical examiner facility, and that new office has been working out of its new home since June.
The past two years have also seen tremendous progress at the Tomahawk Creek wastewater treatment plant expansion, which is the county’s largest major project in our history. Tomahawk will provide wastewater service for the next 75 years or more and help to improve water quality in nearby streams.
In 2019 and 2020, Johnson County Library and Johnson County Park and Recreation District continued to implement their master plans. You may remember that 2019 marked the opening of Meadowbrook Park and the Lenexa City Center library branch. I look forward to providing more updates on the Library and Park master plan progress at next year’s State of the County.
Much progress was made in 2019 towards a second BOCC priority, to strengthen and finance the appropriate level of service to meet the needs of the county’s vulnerable populations, pursuing innovative strategies.
In partnership with all our cities, both large and small, and working with United Community Services of Johnson County, we conducted a study of the local housing market.
We continued to provide vital safety-net services for residents in crisis and households in need. More specifically, we made great strides in treating people with mental health challenges, our senior population and people with an intellectual or developmental disability.
In March 2019 Johnson Mental Health Center convened the very first National Co-Responder Conference. The event, which was attended by representatives from 18 states, focused on collaborative programs that embed mental health professionals within law enforcement agencies, schools and other organizations. The county also launched efforts to place Johnson County as the first county in the metropolitan region designated a “Community for All Ages.” The initiative aims to support healthy lifestyles, health care and quality of life for an aging population.
A third BOCC priority in 2019, and continues today, is to develop a creative an innovative vision for a transit plan that is financially sustainable.
Public transit is at the heart of a review aimed at considering positive changes to the fixed-route metro and micro transit systems to provide a more robust, more effective, more accessible plan. In 2019 we asked for, and received, valuable public comment on our transit system. Since then we have made some adjustments and expanded our microtransit program to reach a larger area.
The county provides other opportunities to help people get to work, school, medical appointments and other important destinations. Johnson County Mental Health’s peer-driving program, which is free, provided more than 34,000 rides in 2019. Almost half of the rides benefitted people served by Johnson County Developmental Supports. The Catch-a-Ride program of the Human Services Department also assisted more than 1,100 older adults with their transit needs. At next year’s State of the County we will have updated numbers on these crucial services.
Speaking of next year’s State of the County, we are starting conversations about when it will take place and it what format, whether in person, virtually or a hybrid. We will announce those details as we can. At that time you can expect to hear a review of 2020, and what a review it will be. We will share stories and provide details of our organization’s COVID-19 response that begin with our first case announced on March 7. Every day since then we have worked in collaboration with multiple community partners, invested in testing, contact tracing and PPE, managed millions of dollars in CARES Act funding disbursements and changed the way we serve our community and operate our organization.
At next year’s State of the County we also look forward to sharing some of the success from this year. We held a successful presidential primary and general election with record-breaking registration and turnout. The 2020 Election could not have gone more smoothly, and we have many people to thank for that, including the Election Office staff, volunteers and the voters. Participation was also high in Johnson County when it came to the 2020 Census. Johnson County had a nearly 80% self-response rate compared to a 76% response rate in 2010. Johnson County's self-response rate came in 1st place for Kansas Counties and 48th in the entire nation!
You can also expect to hear a financial update at next year’s State of the County. For now, I can tell you that we are in a very strong financial position. This year we were able to take advantage of low interest rates to refinance several bonds, saving our community millions of dollars. We continued to earn the coveted Triple AAA bond ratings this year. Our Board made several policy decisions that will pave the way for new economic development near the New Century Air Center. Next year’s budget has a .25 mill levy reduction. Again, you can anticipate hearing more about this in 2021.
I wish all of you a healthy and happy new year, and I thank all of you for the role you play in making Johnson County a place where people want to live, work and raise a family.
Chairman Ed Eilert