County Commission candidates on the issues: The role of county government in Johnson County residents’ lives


Today the County Commission candidates discuss their views on how government should relate to people’s lives. Here’s today’s reader questionnaire item:

What is your view of the role of government at the county level? Is government’s top priority to provide services and amenities that make an area attractive to live? Or is it to stay out of people’s way — and pocketbooks — as much as possible?

Patricia_LightnerPatricia Lightner, Commission Chair candidate
The role of Johnson County Government is to provide a quality community with the services that people request at the lowest possible costs.

The county is responsible for creating community infrastructure, of roads, and wastewater, and to provide for the courts, public safety, libraries, parks and essential services to our neediest citizens.

Our residents are taxed through their property taxes and sales tax and other revenue sources such as fees for county services. The described taxes should support the entire infrastructure, services and all quality of life amenities we have come to expect in Johnson County.

Additionally, voters can be given initiatives to vote on like an increased or additional tax for a particular amenity or other community need which they can support through the ballot box.

I believe that the community should decide what additional amenities are important to them and allowed to vote their pocketbook accordingly while County Government should stay within their role.

Ed Eilert lead the primary field with 41 percent of the vote.

Ed Eilert, Commission Chair incumbent
There are two broad responsibilities of County government. First are the responsibilities mandated by the State of Kansas that county government is required to provide, such as county treasurer’s office, public health department, partial funding for the courts, appraisers office, mental health services and motor vehicle department, to name a few. Much of the county property taxes collected go to fund those state mandated activities.

Second are the needed services such as sheriff and district attorney offices, emergency medical services(MED-ACT) and fire districts, waste water systems and public works department. Important community assets like libraries and parks & recreation programs that help make Johnson County a great place to live must be maintained or enhanced. The county also provides support to cities for their economic development efforts through the County Assisted Road Program. The Enterprise Center of Johnson County and the County Economic Research Institute help bring new business and jobs to our communities.

Whether state mandated or community initiated, providing those services in an efficient and cost effective way is always a top priority. Whether homeowner or business owner, county government can provide a supportive role in encouraging private sector investment in our communities. Being able to attract that private sector investment is a key to any community’s success.

ShafferRon Shaffer, District 1 Commissioner candidate
County government’s role is to be good stewards of the taxpayer’s money. Johnson County must provide high quality services, maintain infrastructure, support our cities, balance our wants versus our needs, keep our current residents satisfied, attract new residents and become a destination for potential home buyers, new businesses and the relocation of businesses from outside the County. Johnson County manages the needs of its 23 communities, dozens of taxing authorities, utilities and public services. Large service programs like Johnson County Airport, Mental Health, Developmental Services, the Library system and Johnson County Parks & Recreation District all fall under the County Commission.

Johnson County government prides itself in providing services and amenities that make our County a “Community of Choice.” We partner with local cities and provide matching funding for County Assistance Road System (CARS) and Stormwater Management Advisory Council (SMAC). In comparison to the services we provide, Johnson County taxes are one of the lowest in the state. As your County Commissioner, I will continue to look for savings, duplication of services and partnerships in the community to stretch taxpayer’s dollars. During the 15 years I’ve been the Mayor of Prairie Village, our city indebtedness only increased by $130 per resident in comparison to Mission, whose debt rose by $3,909 per resident to $4,566, a 595 percent increase. Prairie Village is one of five governmental agencies in the State of Kansas who received the highest Moody’s rating of Triple A (Aaa) along with Johnson County Government. I know how important it is to have reserve funds and to be eligible for the lowest interest rates for bond financed projects as well as be prepared to weather any emergency.

As your representative as First District County Commissioner, I will bring my years of experience and prudent financial oversight to the position.

McConwell_25Laura McConwell, District 1 Commissioner candidate
If we want to remain a community of choice, we must maintain our amenities and efficiently deliver of our services. Our population is increasing, we are aging and poverty is increasing; therefore, it is important that we do long range planning so we strategically allocate our dollars. In addition to planning we must continue to challenge ourselves to improve service delivery. Deferring maintenance or spending millions on band-aid type fixes creates unfunded liabilities that only increase over time. Eliminating services leave our most fragile residents even further at risk.

As I have gone door to door through the district, the most frequent question I am asked is: what does the County do? Many people do not know what the County does because the County has done a good job being a partner in the community. The County is responsible for our amenities like libraries and parks; for our services like mental health, senior assistance, low income assistance, transportation system, the health clinic; and for many of our assets like the jail, courthouse and airport. The County licenses contractors, keeps track of our real estate records, collects our taxes and assesses our property. The Sheriff and District Attorney’s budgets are part of the County’s budget. Our wastewater system is part of County government. The County collects funds to assist cities with storm water mitigation and major street renovations. The County affects each of us everyday whether we know it or not.

As we prioritize, I am committed to being open and transparent, having a community conversation and including all voices. I have experience working with residents and businesses in planning processes, making a decision and then implementing the plan.