After years of too much benign neglect, some of Johnson County’s prime assets are closer to receiving an infusion of tax revenue that will produce plenty of public benefits.
Remember Big Bull Creek Park? Voters in 1998 approved funds to buy the land for a nearly 1,400-acre park. Finally, years later than promised, the Park and Recreation District soon could have enough money to really start developing it. With an extra $6.3 million a year, the district also should be able to begin work at several other undeveloped parks, while extending the county’s trails to serve the growing number of people who enjoy them.
The Johnson County Library system expects to get $5.2 million a year in new funds that would pay for long-delayed renovations at some facilities. Upgrades include new or rebuilt libraries for Corinth, Monticello, Lenexa and Blue Valley.
And transit officials — after years of patching together makeshift budgets in car-centric Johnson County — are ready to use an extra $1.5 million a year to expand routes and take other steps to bolster public transportation.
All of these are positive possibilities because a majority of Johnson County Commissioners made a significant decision last month: They approved a tentative mill levy increase that would be the first one for the county since 2006.
County officials behind this progressive move have taken a bold stand, especially just a year after conservative Kansas legislators marched into a county budget hearing and essentially killed a proposed levy increase for better basic services.
This time around, commissioners appear strong-willed enough to ignore any hypocritical lobbying that might come their way from Kansas lawmakers, who just passed the biggest tax increase in state history.
Plus, county officials are betting that Johnson Countians are ready to spend more on services and facilities that will provide a higher quality of life for 575,000 residents.
Commission chairman Ed Eilert and the four others commissioners who backed the tentative new levy have a good argument to make in persuading people that county government is not going overboard with taxes.
Currently, the county’s general operating levy is the lowest in Kansas, and by a lot. The next lowest, in Pottawatomie County, is almost 45 percent higher than Johnson County’s.
If the Johnson County Commission approves a requested increase in the general operating levy — and adds in requested funds for parks, libraries and transit — the new burden on homeowners would be far from shocking.
County property taxes would go up $99 a year for the owner of a house valued at the county average of $261,000; in Olathe, the increase would be almost $77 annually. Olathe has its own library system and would not be affected by the Johnson County Library mill levy boost.
The public gets a chance to speak out on the proposed budget on July 27 at the county’s administration building. The final step of approving a needed increase in public funds is scheduled for Aug. 13. That should demonstrate Johnson County’s willingness to invest aggressively in a more vibrant community.