Today we publish the last of the responses from our questionnaire for the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners candidates.
The fifth questionnaire item is as follows:
Much has been made in recent years about the “economic border war” between Kansas and Missouri — but Johnson County and Jackson County are integral parts of a unified metropolitan area. Are there steps Johnson County should be taking to better collaborate with Jackson County for the benefit of the entire Kansas City area?
Patricia Lightner (County Commission Chair challenger)
I am a product of both sides of the state line between Missouri and Kansas. I am a Kansas City native with my father’s side of the family settling in Kansas City in the 1870s. But while I was still in high school, my father moved our family to Overland Park.
So technically, I have grown up on both sides of the state line with experience living in both Johnson and Jackson County. I have always believed that both counties complimented each other in their “cultural” differences and enjoy (like everyone else) the immediate access we have to such a diverse area.
However, I do not believe that Johnson County needs to collaborate with any other county in the Kansas City area because each county needs to take care of themselves. The main problem I see with collaboration is the eventual erosion of authority or tax money or both that a governing body (including the residents of the county) may possibly be giving up in the name of a “unified metropolitan area.”
Our county tax dollars should be used for the betterment and to provide the core essential services to the residents and businesses of our own county. Residents and businesses that live here and contribute to this county deserve to have the full return of their efforts – and not be compromised by a collaboration agreement across county and state lines.
Each county government (and city) in the Kansas City area needs to take charge of and manage their own economic, social, infrastructure and education needs. The saying that “charity begins at home and let everyone else takes care of themselves” is a truth that applies even to governing bodies.
The “economic border war” will always be there. It should be looked at as a challenge on our side of the state line to keep working to continually improve county services, our educational system and overall quality of life.
It is responsible government that will benefit the entire Kansas City area.
Ed Peterson (County Commission Chair challenger)
Some building blocks for greater regional cooperation are already in place, but there are steps to be taken in Johnson County to foster successful efforts. Local governments currently participate in planning regional roads through cooperative efforts at the Mid America Regional Council. We can build upon this model to tackle several common problems.
The State of Missouri has taken a step toward calling truce in the economic border war by promising to reduce incentives for business relocation if Kansas will follow suit. Johnson County should work with Kansas officials to find a way to reciprocate.
All communities face the common need for expanded public transportation, and like roadways, the regional system will only work when the services line up with one another. This can be achieved through joint planning.
Homeless families are a regional concern as these individuals have an essentially nomadic existence. Many organizations are working on aspects of this issue, but only a coordinated effort will reach those needing services as they move across state lines.
I would support a third regional initiative: establishing a premier institution of higher learning for the region. Working with our respective boards of regents and business and civic leaders, we should strive to bring together the many campuses of higher education that are already here to form an opportunity for higher learning and research that is second to none.
It is most important that Johnson County become a regional leader. Regional leadership requires more than discussion and attending meetings. It requires commitment to addressing our shared concerns and doing the hard work of persuading citizens to support the initiatives. The County Chairman should lead the way.
Ed Eilert (County Commission Chair incumbent)
Since 2012 the chief elected officers of Wyandotte, Jackson and Johnson County, and Kansas City, Mo., have been meeting to discuss issues of mutual concern. Key staff members from each jurisdiction has also been involved in those discussions. Those meeting topics have included most of the issues discussed in the broader community including economic development, public transit, intergovernmental relations and areas of cooperation which accrue to the metro areas benefit. Added conversations are ongoing at the staff level of each jurisdiction to identify areas of cooperation which can make a positive difference in governmental operations. Most recently, this Core4 approach resulted in a meeting of more than 100 department staff from those four jurisdictions with a panel of Mike Sanders County Executive, Doug Bach, County Administrator, Troy Schulte City Manager, and Ed Eilert, County Chairman, speaking to the importance of looking for areas of cooperation which enhance the Metro area and benefit local government. In breakout sessions staff members worked to identify cooperative opportunities in operational areas that could increase efficiencies and save taxpayer dollars. These efforts, both at the elected and staff level are important in building community and need to continue. As Commission Chair, I serve as a board member of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, Kansas City Area Economic Development Council and MARC board of directors. Conversations need to continue, ideas need to be explored and when possible actions taken which will benefit our metro area.
Ron Shaffer (District 1 Commissioner candidate)
I currently serve as a member of the Kansas Border Challenge Advisory Committee with other local mayors, various Johnson County Chamber officials, state legislators and state officials. The committee is aware that much has been said and written about unifying the metropolitan area to eliminate the relocation of businesses from one side of the State Line to the other, which has been occurring for more than 20 years. Factors that play a role in the decision to move a business are site location and amenities, workforce availability, business climate, infrastructure, quality education, crime and tax rates in addition to state and city financial incentives.
With both states legislatures creating different types of incentives programs, it is difficult to create a level playing field. The incentive program in Kansas is called “Promoting Employment Across Kansas” or PEAK. In Missouri, the plan is called “Missouri Quality Job/MO Works,” which operates as an entitlement program. The creation of the Kansas Border Challenge Advisory Committee is the first step to open a dialogue between the cities, counties and legislatures of both states.
We must be careful not to jeopardize either states ability to compete with areas outside of the metro. Financial incentives can be a useful tool in attracting new businesses, but it must be balanced with the local cities to keep our tax base strong. Because this is primarily a state legislature issue that directly affect the cities of our communities, I support continued dialogue by working with the State of Kansas and my counterparts in Missouri, in good faith, to create a solution that will contribute to the overall economic growth of the Kansas City region in order to benefit our corporations, families, jobs and vibrant communities.
Alex DiCarlo (District 1 Commissioner candidate)
We must operate in a cooperative fashion with our neighbors across state line. Current incentive programs have relocated more than 6,000 jobs back and forth across state line at a cost to taxpayers of $212 million, yet Kansas’ only gain was 465 jobs (net). Our local competition is Dallas and Denver; With that in mind we must focus on establishing Kansas City’s presence in the global market to ensure sustained growth and prosperity.
Laura McConwell (District 1 Commissioner candidate)
Because the counties are not typically involved in the incentive packages put together for new businesses to either state, Johnson County’s effect on incentives is limited. What Johnson County can do (and many times does already) is to have regular and ongoing communication with Jackson County; pay attention to Jackson County’s planning processing; share our planning processes with Jackson County. Much of this collaboration is already happening through the Mid-America Regional Council and our Chambers. Because we collaborate, our region has been successful in receiving many grants or other assistance that have provided funding to projects in Johnson County.
This does not mean that the region is superior to a commissioner’s responsibility to Johnson County. The first responsibility is to Johnson County but the flow of roads, sidewalks, water or fields does not stop at the boundary of our county. Our residents, businesses and visitors freely travel from our county to neighboring counties. By working together, we can ease tax burdens on citizens and businesses, stretch our tax dollars further and maintain our quality of life. It makes sense to know your neighbors.
Mark Nauser (District 1 Commissioner candidate)
I believe Johnson County should continue our involvement through MARC in order to collaborate with Jackson County for the benefit of the entire Kansas City area on a number of issues such as public transit, poverty and forming a business development strategy to lure businesses from outside the area.
While these efforts should help lessen the tension, they won’t end the war. I believe we also need to direct our efforts toward Topeka.
The State Legislatures in both Missouri and Kansas continue to pass business tax credits that fuel the underlying conflict. While there appear to be temporary gains on one side or the other, the net effect is both states tax bases are diminished.
I believe the Commission should collaborate more with the 38 Kansas senators and representatives that live in our county. We all need to be more aware of their positions on issues that directly affect Johnson County. Examples of these issues are the elimination of the Mortgage Registration Tax, reduced funding for the Enterprise Center of Johnson County and the 2 percent reduction in the interest charges on tax delinquencies.
Finally, the issue of suburban poverty needs to come to the attention of these same legislators. An earlier question mentioned that a United Community Services summit report revealed that poverty in Johnson County has more than doubled in the last decade. I attended that summit and found none of these 38 legislators were registered. We need to get our issues in front of the legislators that can have an impact and I intend to stand up for Johnson County.
Rachel Sciolaro (District 1 Commissioner candidate)
We should encourage true economic activity that stimulates job grow and economic prosperity on both sides of the state line, but with special emphasis for Johnson County residents. We should encourage fiscally conservative incentives that encourage true out of the metropolitan area relocation deals. These deals should help stimulate a robust improvement in infrastructure with home buying which generate tax revenue.
Johnson County offers the suburban lifestyle contrast that of the urban life of Jackson County. We used to live in Arizona, Louisiana and California and I believe this is the best place to live.
Thank you to all of the candidates for their participation this week!