The State of the County Address

Presented by The Honorable Ed Eilert, Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you, Jermaine Jamison, for that kind introduction. Thanks to all of you for joining us today for the 2022 State of the County Address.

I’d like to express my appreciation to the Johnson County Public Policy Council, as well as our host, the Northeast Johnson County Chamber of Commerce, for their support of today’s luncheon. 

I also want to thank the leadership and members of our various chamber organizations for the good work you all do every day. Your important partnerships support economic development activities and job creation that are so vital to our county’s collective future.

County Government leadership stands ready to cooperate in promoting the important work you do. It is a fact, beyond any doubt, that we are Stronger Together. Thank you all very much.

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

  • Shirley Allenbrand, Vice-Chair and representing the Sixth District
  • Becky Fast, First District
  • Jeff Meyers, Second District
  • Charlotte O’Hara, Third District
  • Janeé Hanzlick, Fourth District
  • Michael Ashcraft, Fifth District

Other county leaders in attendance include Sheriff Calvin Hayden … District Attorney Steve Howe … Chief Judge Charles Droege … and County Manager Penny Postoak Ferguson.

And saving the best for last, my wife, Jan. Thank you dear for being here today.

It’s my honor to present the 2022 State of the County Address. The past two addresses were done differently and at a distance because of COVID-19. It’s great to be back with a community gathering and online audience. Thank you for attending in-person or virtually watching this presentation.

We know the COVID-19 has been one of the biggest challenges we have ever faced as a community We are fortunate to live in a community that’s resilient and tough in every way. The State of Johnson County is strong because we are Stronger Together!

The pandemic has changed us in so many ways over the past two years. It has also taken a sad toll by claiming almost 1,200 lives of Johnson County residents. No death is just a statistic. At this time, I’d like to ask everyone to join me in a moment of silence to honor the lives that were lost.  

Thank you.  

As 2021 began, efforts to curtail the pandemic had one big positive change: vaccines were developed and available. Our Public Health Department administered more than 142,000 vaccinations last year to our residents as quickly as we were able to do so. When you look at the numbers of Johnson County residents who are now fully vaccinated, and compare it to our state and our country, it is impressive, and was accomplished because we are Stronger Together.

I thank the staff of the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment, under the leadership of Dr. Sanmi Areola and public health officer Dr. Joseph LeMaster, for their tireless work. Our health professionals have administered tests and vaccinations, completed disease investigations, provided guidance and kept us all informed. 

We know that working together and rolling up our sleeves together will make our community stronger and safer as explained in our first video ….

(COVID video)

Since day one of this health crisis, county government has an all-hands-on-deck approach in serving our residents and keeping them informed and safe. County employees stepped up in big ways and often in different ways. 

We worked together regularly with cities, hospitals, healthcare providers, retirement facilities, nursing homes and schools to cooperatively deal with this unprecedented pandemic.

To keep the public informed, we launched an aggressive information campaign, including articles, podcasts, videos and PSAs in English and Spanish. In 2021, we held 65 news conferences or town halls on Facebook Live.

The COVID-19 area of our website, jocogov.org, was updated daily to provide the latest information. The COVID-19 dashboard had more than 800,000 visits last year. These informative efforts continue to this day. 

Because of our resilience and our can-do determination, I’m pleased to report that the economic State of Johnson County is also strong. We are back to near normal since the pandemic began and better in some ways.

According to year-end statistics compiled by the County Economic Research Institute, or CERI, more than 340,000 Johnson County residents were employed when 2021 ended. That is an increase of approximately 4,500 when compared to the end of 2019 before the pandemic. From a statewide perspective, one in five employed Kansans reside in Johnson County!

Our unemployment rates over the past two years are very low. Johnson County’s unemployment rate ended last year at 1.7%. Our numbers also are low when you compare Johnson County’s jobless rates to the Kansas City Metro, the state of Kansas and the United States.

Our local economy had a good year in 2021 in other ways. According to CERI, strong demand for homes coupled with historically low inventory of homes available for sale have driven prices higher. Despite record-low inventory levels, the number of homes sold last year was the second-most on record.

Local home builders responded to the strong demand for new construction of single-family homes. The number of building permits issued last year for new single-family homes saw an increase of more than 30% of permits compared to the previous year and reached a 15-year high.

Johnson County Government’s fiscal standing also remained strong, well-managed and prudent. The county maintained excellent AAA bond ratings by all three national bond rating agencies. Johnson County’s taxing levy still remains the lowest mill levy among all 105 counties in Kansas. You can see how we compare to the other urban counties in the state.

The 2022 budget included a quarter of a mill levy reduction…the fourth reduction in five years…without impacting the county’s exceptional programs and services which are highly rated by Johnson County residents in our annual survey.

Johnson County continues to invest in community projects and infrastructure. This funding finances improvements to the county’s micro-transit system and transit projects. It supports the county’s Stormwater Management and County Assistance Road System programs.

We began 2021 by virtually celebrating the opening of a major project…the new Johnson County Courthouse. Thanks to our taxpayers, the state-of-the-art facility will serve the county’s justice system for 75 years or more.

The new courthouse had almost 136,000 visitors in its first year of operation and stayed busy with court activities, including couples wanting to get married. The courthouse received a 2021 Justice Facility Review Citation from the Academy of Architecture for Justice and won other professional recognitions.

Across the street, crews spent the next several months taking down the old courthouse piece by piece with more than 85% of the debris recycled. That left a green space dedicated as the Johnson County Square on Dec. 9, 2021.

The square represents the best-in-class partnerships, community participation, common interests and shared vision by many involved in the project, including a donation of 33 trees by 14 local Rotary Clubs. These are stellar examples of how we are Stronger Together.

Johnson County also funds projects at the county’s New Century AirCenter near Gardner and Executive Airport in Olathe. These two airports are important in landing new businesses, job creation and economic development, including plans for a new Commerce Center at New Century.

The next video offers additional details ….

(Airport video)

Johnson County continues to invest throughout our community in other ways. By the end of 2021, substantial progress was made on the rebuilding of Tomahawk Creek Wastewater Treatment Facility in Leawood. A ribbon-cutting event is scheduled on May 4 to celebrate completion of this important work. This was the county’s largest-ever capital project until the Nelson Wastewater Treatment Facility improvements in Mission recently received the green light.

The Nelson Complex is the county’s oldest wastewater treatment facility that serves northeast Johnson County. The complex is getting a major upgrade, replacing aging plant infrastructure, increasing its future capacity and modernizing its operations. The project is entering the design phase this year, pending long-term financing and the start of construction.

2021 also saw important progress with both the Johnson County Park and Recreation District and Johnson County Library multi-year master plans.

  • Cedar Niles Park in west Olathe opened in December of 2021. Dedication of the county’s 16th park is scheduled on April 9.
  • A little more than a month ago, Johnson County Library completed major renovations to the Central Resource Branch Library in Overland Park.
  • The design is being finalized for the new library on the Merriam Community Center Campus, to replace the existing Antioch Library. Construction should begin in 2023.
  • A location has been purchased for a new Med-Act facility in Lenexa. Additionally, a Med-Act station in Shawnee is in the design phase with plans to break ground later this year. 

Land, brick and mortar are necessary community investments, but equally important are that county resources have become beacons of hope year in and year out. The fact remains that in the toughest of times, people need these services the most. When we work to lift up our county’s vulnerable populations, we are Stronger Together.

A core function of county government is meeting the needs of our growing aging population. The Department of Aging and Human Services has served as a central safety net and lifeline for aging adults, children and low-income families.

Mental health is another critical component of community health. We know the pandemic has made this more difficult with increased demands at Johnson County Mental Health Center.

Another important human service is provided by Johnson County Developmental Supports, serving residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Our final video tells us more ….

(Johnson County Developmental Supports, Mental Health Center, and Aging and Human Services video)

Thank you, Max for delivering meals to those in need. He is just one example of how volunteers help us be Stronger Together.

In 2021, we had more than 11,000 people hold volunteer positions with the county. In addition, community volunteers filled 312 positions on a board or commission.

There’s so much good news to report in the State of the County over the past year and most recently such as:

  • Johnson County’s population grew by 12% to almost 610,000 in the past 10 years, according to the 2020 Census.
  • A special 2,977 flag exhibit and event observed the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
  • The county’s Veterans Day observance in November honored veterans of Desert Storm and the War on Terrorism.
  • Johnson County Museum won the National Award of Excellence from the American Association of State and Local Museums.
  • The final report from the Johnson County Charter Commission recently was released with no proposed amendments to the county’s Home Rule Charter and no recommendations to county government. We very much thank the 25 members of the Charter Commission for their hard work over the past year.
  • In June, Johnson County will celebrate Juneteenth with several activities being planned in our community. Juneteenth annually commemorates the abolition of slavery after the Civil War. It is a historic message, then and now, of freedom for all.
  • In September, another air show is being planned during Labor Day weekend with the Thunderbirds returning to the New Century AirCenter.
  • And, the following week, Grange Pups are back! The Johnson County Old Settlers celebration is returning to the Johnson County Square and downtown Olathe after a two-year absence. That’s two weekends of fun ahead for all of us.

There’s so much good going on in our county and so little time to talk about it during this presentation.

We have the finest schools, excellent libraries, a beautiful park system and open spaces, and safe communities and neighborhoods. We have strived to provide a vibrant quality of life for all and remain the ideal place to live, work, raise a family, receive an education and retire. We can achieve this because we are Stronger Together.

It has been said: "The responsibility of leadership is to provide opportunities for others.''

I learned the truth of that saying at an early age and in later years. I grew up a farm kid and attended a small four-year high school with about 100 students and a little over 20 members in my class.

Most of us never gave college a thought. It was farm work or working the assembly lines in Wichita after graduation for most of us. The mindset changed in our senior year when Kelso Deer, a Native American, was hired as the new superintendent. He also served as a Kansas state representative from the Augusta area.

Kelso Deer issued a challenge to the senior class. It was if anyone of us wanted to attend a state college or university, he would make sure we received financial assistance for the first year of school. It would then be our financial responsibility in the second year and beyond.

I decided to take his offer and found a college education opened doors of opportunity that I never knew existed.

As a new mayor of Overland Park, I had the opportunity to learn so much from City Manager Don Pipes. He was an outstanding leader in his profession.

We spent many hours sharing information about the issues that came before the city and I remember his advice which was: Listen to both sides of the issue, evaluate the information and then make the decision which presents the best opportunity for the community.

I also remember my good friend Ben Craig. Many of us knew Ben well as a community leader. He was one of a group who proposed that Johnson County have a community college. The successful leadership of that small group has given opportunities to many thousands of our young people and community members.

Our challenge as a community will continue to be to provide the leadership that creates opportunities for all to succeed.

With the start of 2023, I will once again retire in Johnson County. My final State of the County today also comes on the very day of my first address in 2011 as a newly elected chair.

My time as a public official in local government is coming to an end in nine months after 44 years. There is nothing more challenging and nothing more rewarding than public service. Thank you for choosing me for that opportunity.

At Overland Park City Hall and at the Johnson County Administration Building, I have been fortunate with the wonderful opportunity to work with community and local government leaders, past and present, to pursue our shared vision, ideals and opportunities for Johnson County. It has been my good fortune to work with outstanding staff, both at Overland Park and Johnson County, who have made such a positive impact on our community. Together, we try to do good things for our residents of all ages. We want to build and maintain a better, stronger, more vibrant community for generations to come.

There’s still much more work to do and a better tomorrow to envision together in our great home, Johnson County.

Come next year, a new chair will be presenting the next State of the County. Please register to vote in the upcoming elections to help elect who will be making that address in 2023 and beyond. Please also give her or him your support and guidance.

The State of the County is strong because of our combined commitment to work together and achieve excellence.

I believe we are a community that embraces collaboration and partnerships in good times and not so good.

We are a community that cares for our residents, schools, libraries and businesses.

We are a community that recognizes our frontline workers and first responders.

We are a community that appreciates our healthcare professionals, our teachers and our veterans.

Finally, we are a community that stands up to a challenge and comes back safer, wiser and stronger – together.

Johnson County is that community!

Thank you all and have a wonderful 2022!