Joco Opinion

Danedri Herbert: Johnson County commission needs to go on a spending diet

The Johnson County Commission is bellying up to a gargantuan buffet preparing to pass a tax increase on Aug. 13. Officials don’t need a rate increase to add to their bloated coffers — with average property values shooting higher, the county would have about 7 percent in extra revenues without raising rates.

But five commissioners apparently think a 7 percent jump in revenue isn’t enough to satisfy their craving for pork. Despite the claims that a large amount of the rate increase is necessary to simply maintain existing services, the proposed 2016 Johnson County budget is chops wrapped in ham wrapped in bacon. Oink. Oink.

County officials adopted an $870 million budget for 2015. The proposed 2016 budget is $928 million.

Like pigs at the trough, Johnson County department heads are fighting for table scraps from the commission smorgasbord.

The proposed budget includes an approximate 1.622 mill rate increase to maintain existing services. Somehow, the anticipated revenue windfalls from increased property values and sales taxes, aren’t enough to maintain 2015’s service level. I’m not buying it.

Commissioners also want to add services and projects to the tune of an almost extra $15 million. That means the rate increases will likely be permanent. If the county can’t live within its means while property values are skyrocketing there’s no chance officials can live within their means if those valuations flat line.

New spending would be devoted to implementing a Johnson County park and recreate strategic plan. An unelected board, with its own taxing authority, oversees county parks. The county parks system owns pockets of undeveloped land all over the county. The undeveloped land serves to drive up the cost of land, a limited, finite commodity. Driving up the value of land increases property values and property tax collections. It’s quite the racket.

The proposed 2016 county pork package also shuffles an additional $5.2 million to the Johnson County Library system. A news release from the county suggests the money will be used to assist in the library’s 20-year plan to build a new branch in western Shawnee, relocation of the Lackman branch in Lenexa and to modernize the library’s circulation efficiency.

Just what can the residents of Johnson County expect to get in return for their investment in our immediate future?

Not much. It’s a 20-year plan that involves more buildings.

Raise your hand if you think libraries in their current form will exist in 20 years? The majority of people carry computers in their pockets. Most reading material is readily available and easily accessible in digital form. The need for brick-and-mortar buildings for such endeavors is dwindling, but the buffet of spending never stops.

The smorgasbord will cost the average Johnson County homeowner an additional $100 annually. For the average commercial building owner, the costs will be even greater. For example, Joe’s Kansas City in Leawood paid more than $59,000 in state, county and local taxes in 2015. Of that, more than $10,000 went to Johnson County government, parks and the library. A 13 percent property tax increase is substantial, and that’s money restaurant owners and grocery store owners can’t pass on to their employees in the form of raises. It also limits how and when small businesses expand.

And we could use the expansion in wages. The average private sector employee will receive a raise of 3 percent next year. Most of that, it appears, will be eaten up by porkers at the government trough.

Every dollar government officials allow us to keep in our own pockets stimulates the economy, and the effects are felt almost immediately. A dollar saved helps the banks. A car purchased helps car companies. A dollar invested in the stock market will allow businesses to grow. In a stable tax environment, Johnson County residents will help the local economy expand in a way a 20-year library plan or parks program won’t.

Out-of-control spending has put us on a course to financial heart disease. These are increases the local economy can’t afford. The only question now is how much bacon will we allow our county to ingest before we demand commissioners cut out the fat?

Freelance columnist Danedri Herbert writes in this space once a month.