County Commission Chair Ed Eilert on Tuesday implored the packed room on hand for his annual State of the County address to reach out to state officials and discourage them from accelerating the implementation of a Senate bill that restricts county and city governments from raising their property taxes without the consent of voters.
Pointing to the tens of millions of dollars in services that county government is required by state law to provide to its citizens — from courts and corrections facilities to environmental and human services — Eilert argued that the tax lid bill puts an onerous burden on county government as it seeks to not only deliver basic services but also attract new businesses.
With nearly 400,000 registered voters, conducting the special elections required by the tax lid bill would be a costly undertaking for the county. A mail-in election would cost around $800,000. A polling election would be closer to $1 million.
Eilert said that had the tax lid bill been in place earlier this decade, the county would likely not have been able to invest the $13 million in road improvements needed to bring the BNSF Intermodal facility and its 800 new jobs to the county.
“Why would legislative leaders want to put the brakes on economic growth and job creation by forcing cities and counties to make those economic development decisions with the restrictions of tax lids and special elections?” Eilert asked.
Eilert said he was more supportive a House version of the bill that included exemptions for certain critical services. He encouraged the more-than 600 attendees in the room to contact their state representatives and senators in the next 24 hours to make their voices heard. Eilert’s pleas appeared to have little impact on senate deliberations, however, as that chamber advanced a bill moving the tax lid implementation date from 2018 to 2017 on a 24-16 vote Tuesday.
It was the second year in a row that Eilert had used the address to draw attention to the potentially negative impact the legislature’s actions have on the state’s most populous and prosperous county. Last year, Eilert told the hundreds of community leaders gathered for the speech that the county’s K-12 schools must be permitted to continue to deliver top-notch education as the legislature wrestled with school finance.
This year, Eilert noted that a recent study projected Johnson County’s population will double over the next 50 years, making it home to fully one-third of the state’s population. Eilert said continued investment in education at all levels will be crucial to the county’s continued success.
“If we and the generations to follow are going to ensure our communities’ success, then it is our challenge to be responsible stewards of that which has been provided to us and to have the courage and the wisdom to build upon that which surrounds us,” he said.