County Update: County Chair Eilert discusses role of county commissioners

County Chair Ed Eilert.

Each week we provide members of the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners the opportunity to share an update on what issues are catching their attention. This week, we have a column from County Commission Chair Ed Eilert.

Frequently I am asked the question, what are the responsibilities of a county commissioner? Following is a broad overview which I hope helps answer some questions.

There are two different responsibility areas: state-mandated activities and basic community services. Some responsibilities might fall in both of those categories. For instance: sheriff’s office, jails, community corrections, district attorney office and district court services are state mandated but are also public safety services we cannot function without.

County treasurer, records and tax administration, appraiser’s office, department of motor vehicle, public health department, election office are other examples of state required services. The state government does provide funding for some of those services but in most areas, it requires significant local tax dollars.

The County Charter identifies the following as county agencies: Mental Health agency, Johnson County Developmental Supports (JCDS), Park and Recreation District, Library District and Airports (2) as county agencies. JCDS and Mental Health receive state support but both services require significant local funding. For instance, this past year the Mental Health Center provided approximately $7 million of uncompensated services to residents. Those costs and others were paid for with local tax dollars. The Human Services Department, also supported by local tax dollars, provides a range of programs for our senior population and residents who need special assistance.

The Johnson County Executive Airport in Olathe and New Century Air Center near Gardner are currently self-funded from fees and business development that occurs at both locations.

Johnson County Library, with 14 facilities in 13 cities, and the county’s Park and Recreation District are funded by local tax dollars. Parks & Rec does have specific programs that are fully fee supported.

Johnson County Wastewater is a major component of our county budget and is a service we could not do without. Our wastewater system is not supported by tax dollars but is operated like a utility. Users of the system pay for the service like we do for electric and natural gas service. Spring Hill, Gardner-Edgerton, De Soto and parts of Olathe are served by city wastewater systems. Johnson County Wastewater serves all other parts of the county.

Med-Act, Emergency Management and Emergency Communication systems are part of the county budget of local tax dollars. The county cooperates with our cities in providing funding for road systems as well as providing public work programs for the unincorporated part of our county. Public transit options are provided in cooperation with the KCATA.

All the programs mentioned and more, are under the day-to-day management of the county manager and staff. Commissioners have liaison responsibilities to those departments that are directed by appointed citizen boards and commissioners direct the county manager in developing policies impacting all county operations.

The commissioners are directly responsible for reviewing and approving the county budget each year. Following review of the county manager’s budget recommendation, department and agency budget requests are reviewed by the commission. The commission makes final budget decisions and recommends a maximum budget for a public hearing. Following the public hearing the commission sets the final budget for the coming year. Johnson County has a population of more than 600,000. The county 2020 expenditure budget is $937 million with a workforce of 4,065.

Budget details can be found on the county website.

Commission meetings are held on Thursdays at 9:30 a.m. where formal action is taken on county business. Commissioners also have responsibilities with inter-governmental organizations as well as interacting with community and business groups.

The county website lists the commissioners and their various assignments.

As noted earlier, there are many county agencies that also depend on volunteers to advise commissioners as well as working to support important county operations. Appointments to those boards are made by commissioners. If you would like to help in that effort go to jocogov.org, check out the many possibilities to volunteer and contact your district commissioner and let them know of your interest.

The commission activities I’ve mentioned are not all inclusive, but I hope will help in answering the question: What are the commission responsibilities?