Last summer, former Fairway Mayor and then-District One County Commissioner Ed Peterson found his days packed with campaign events as he pursued a bid to unseat Ed Eilert from commission chair’s seat. The county, Peterson argued, had neglected important community assets that contributed significantly to Johnson County’s quality of life. The central argument of his campaign was that if Johnson County were to remain an attractive place to live and raise a family, it was high time to put some money into the library, parks and transportation systems.
Peterson lost the primary, finishing a distant third behind Eilert and cost-cutting evangelist Patricia Lightner. At the time, it appeared the county’s appetite for any kind of tax increase to pay for maintaining and improving services was meager.
But with a 4-3 vote last week, the commission passed a county budget that included a significant tax increase to pay for just the things Peterson had lobbied so strongly for. Eilert, who painted himself as a disciplined steward of the county’s finances who had held the line on taxes for years during his reelection campaign, voted in favor of the tax increase.
For his part, Peterson says he doesn’t know what changed Eilert’s mind about the idea that the county needed to infuse its libraries and parks with money for improvements. But he’s happy to see the ideas he touted coming to fruition.
“I wish a majority of residents or voters had agreed with me a year ago,” he said. “Sometimes it takes ideas a while to catch on. I don’t have any sour grapes about it or hard feelings. In some ways it’s good to know that all those comments and positions [I took during the campaign ]are resonating in the community as opposed to falling flat or going away.”
Peterson said that based on his conversations with a number of people involved with county government, he believes the legislature’s move to limit local governments’ abilities to raise taxes likely contributed to the county’s move. The tax lid bill passed the past session goes into effect in 2018. City and county governments are concerned that if they don’t make moves to invest in their communities now, they might not be able to do so in the coming years.
“I know that it’s a concern,” he said. “If they don’t act quickly, they won’t have the flexibility to act in the future.”
Peterson took some time from work after the election loss, saying that having a few months off from juggling politics, a career and his family was beneficial. His father also passed away this summer, which took its toll. But, he says, now he’s exploring a couple of options that would allow him to combine his legal experience with his desire to be involved in community service.
But even after a difficult summer, he says he’s been able to appreciate the county’s move toward the vision he tried to paint last year.
“I think it’s a sign that people are beginning to realize that it’s important to invest in the things we have,” he said. “For elected officials to raise the mill level in face of all the noise from state about cutting, it takes some courage to do that. I think that’s a significant achievement.”