Government & Politics

County commission passes $1 billion budget with barely a peep from residents

The Johnson County Commission approved a county budget topping $1 billion for the first time, including reserves for planned construction of the Tomahawk Creek Wastewater Treatment Facility in Leawood, shown here.
The Johnson County Commission approved a county budget topping $1 billion for the first time, including reserves for planned construction of the Tomahawk Creek Wastewater Treatment Facility in Leawood, shown here. The Kansas City Star

A county budget topping $1 billion for the first time approved Aug. 10, along with a roll-back in the taxing rate that limits how much the county can take in from the higher property values going into effect for next year.

Johnson County budgets in past years have been sometimes controversial, as commissioners asked for and gotten a tax rate increase and fought with state lawmakers over real estate fees. But this year’s budget was approved with barely a peep from the public.

Commissioners said they did get some constituent questions, but no one showed up for a recent public hearing on the budget, nor did anyone speak when Commission Chairman Ed Eilert offered the opportunity before the vote.

Commissioner Mike Brown said his first budget season on the dais has given him a different perspective.

“I still think $1 billion on the county budget is a staggering amount of money, but that’s what it costs to run the county government that people expect to have provided for them,” he said as the commission neared a vote.

He also noted the lack of citizen comments.

“We had two hearings and you just opened and closed the floor with not one comment from 600,000 people in the entire county,” he said. “People must be generally happy with it.”

The 2018 budget is $1.06 billion, with $819.6 million in expenses and $242 million in reserves. The reserve fund is substantially higher this year, due to the planned construction of the Tomahawk Creek Wastewater Treatment Facility in Leawood, said budget director Scott Neufeld.

The county is expanding and modernizing that plant, but will still have to send wastewater to Kansas City for treatment while construction is underway. The reserves set aside, which amount to $106 million, are planned to keep rates from spiking during that time, he said.

County wastewater is a utility paid for through rates, not property taxes.

The estimated taxing rate will be 26.276 mills, including 19.259 mills for the county taxing district, 3.915 mills for libraries and 3.102 mills for the park and recreation district. The rate is expected to end up as a quarter-mill reduction. The taxing rate won’t become final until appeals of property values are settled in the fall. A mill equals $1 of tax per each $1,000 of taxable value.

The expected property tax revenue will be $247.6 million, including $186.5 million for the county taxing district, $31.1 million for libraries and $30 million for parks.

Expansion of libraries and parks in previous budgets means the county will be on somewhat of a hiring spree next year. The county expects to add slightly over 62.7 full-time-equivalent positions next year, for a total workforce of 3,949.72. The library will add 38 new positions to staff the new Monticello branch in Shawnee opening next year, plus another six for the system in general. Parks will add 10 positions in order to meet demands of new park development, MED-ACT will add 12 paramedics and the district attorney’s office and emergency management will add two apiece.

The owner of the average $293,000 home in the county can expect to pay about $74 a month in property taxes.

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