In State of the County address, Eilert touts economic growth, highlights need to address aging population, mental health

Ed Eilert
County Chairman Ed Eilert gave the 2019 State of the County address Tuesday.

It takes multiple forces across Johnson County to build and maintain strong communities, and ensuring the county continues to be a great place to live, work and play is top priority, County Chairman Ed Eilert told his audience at the annual State of the County address.

The chairman’s address, which was hosted by the Leawood Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by the Johnson County Public Policy Council, was filled with optimism for the future of its residents and workforce, reflection on the county’s achievements over the past five decades, and emphasis on areas that need attention.

One of those areas is Johnson County’s aging residents, which make up an estimated 14 percent of the county’s total population. A study from Wichita State University predicts that by 2039, the senior population will double as baby boomers retire. Ensuring that the county continues to provide services to this population is a key focus for the future.

Parents gathered outside the school to show support for students following suicides by SM Northwest classmates early last year. Photo via SMNW Parents in Action on Facebook.

Another area is mental health and the growing number of suicides. Johnson County has the highest suicide rate in Kansas, Eilert said. Collaboration with law enforcement agencies and school districts on suicide prevention is critical, and building on the county’s Mental Health First Aid program is one major step the county has taken to address mental health issues.

“Suicide is tragic; it’s a community issue that requires a community response,” Eilert said. “Suicide prevention has to be our goal as a caring community.”

Meanwhile, Eilert championed the county’s other major areas of growth, including expansion of parks and library services as well as job growth and a vibrant economy. Some key highlights:

  • 89 percent of residents in a 2018 county survey were satisfied that Johnson County is a great place to work; 98 percent said Johnson County is a great place to live; 96 percent said the county is a great place to raise a family
  • Johnson County’s unemployment rate ended the year at 2.6 percent
  • More than one in five people employed in Kansas lives in Johnson County

“Our economic development also demands a robust transportation system permitting us to move people and goods effectively and safely, connecting people to jobs, connecting businesses to their markets and providing transportation choices,” Eilert said.

Springlike weather in February brought people out to the trails of the not-yet-opened Meadowbrook Park in Prairie Village.

The county also anticipates a number of other projects in the next several months. Meadowbrook Park in Prairie Village is opening in early summer, and a 45-foot observation tower will soon be built in Kill Creek Park south of DeSoto.

Johnson County Library opened the Monticello Library last year in western Shawnee and is also opening City Center Library after closing the Lackman branch in Lenexa. More library projects are on the way, including the Antioch branch (to be located next to the new Merriam community center in Vavra Park) and Corinth branch in Prairie Village.

Johnson County is also undertaking some major public construction, including a new courthouse and the county’s first ever Medical Examiner Facility in Olathe. The county is also rebuilding the Tomahawk Creek Wastewater Treatment Facility in Leawood, a sustainable project with an anticipated cost savings of $16 million.

Eilert said it requires many moving parts and multiple public and private groups working together to move Johnson County forward.

“We often do not know or fully understand what makes up Johnson County; it’s far more than local government and boundaries,” he said. “It’s about problem solving. It’s about meeting challenges and overcoming them. It’s about opening the doors to opportunity and success.”