Board of County Commissioners candidates on the issues: Investing in areas of public service

Volunteers with Johnson County Area Agency on Aging manage the agency's Meals on Wheels program during summer 2020. Photo courtesy Johnson County Area Agency on Aging.

Last month, we asked our readers what issues they wanted to hear the candidates running for office address ahead of November’s general election. Based on the input we received, we developed a five-item questionnaire for candidates running for seats on the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners.

We’ll be publishing the candidates’ responses to one item per day each day this week. Today we’re publishing the candidates’ responses to item #4:

Are there any areas of public service where you believe the county is currently not investing enough, or is at risk of underinvesting for the future?

District 2 (Parts of Shawnee and Lenexa and all of Lake Quivira)

Rob Patterson

As long as current levels of service are maintained properly, surveys indicate a high degree of satisfaction with the level of service the country is providing. We should certainly always look to ensure the quality of service is matching the taxpayer dollars invested. To that end, I believe Johnson County has reached the tipping point where it is now overburdening its residents with high taxes and should be look for ways to reduce that burden, so our county remains an attractive place to live and own a business.

Jeff Meyers

One area I think could have a positive effect in helping safety services across the county and it also deals with mental health is expanding the Johnson County mental health agency teaming with the police that allows a mental health professional available to respond with police officers. This program is called the Co-Responder program. This is a great example of collaborating with our surrounding communities and an opportunity to consolidate services to reduce costs. A statement from the Assistant County Manager reads “Not only does the co-responder program save local officers time that they can dedicate to law enforcement activity, but the person with a mental illness receives the assessment and treatment they need”. The program began in 2010 but I think everyone knows there is a growing need for this type of engagement because of the growing mental health concerns and the number of police calls that are being received with mental health issues. This is a win/win scenario for the police and the Johnson County mental health department.

This is an example of how I would look for cost saving measures, consolidate services and explain decisions that I would make as a commissioner.

District 3 (Southern Leawood and Overland Park plus Stilwell and Spring Hill)

Charlotte O’Hara

Many of our senior citizens wish to age in place, but with the ever increasing burden of property taxes, their desires to remain in their homes is put into jeopardy. The county must get property taxes under control. A nearly 74% increase in property taxes since 2013 is inexcusable.

Stacy Obringer-Varhall

As discussed previously, mental health is an area that could use even more resources and focus in the near future. Another area of concern is the rapidly growing aging community. As that population continues to grow, we need to increase access to services and provide affordable living options that will help them stay and live in Johnson County. With the recent restructuring of Aging Services there will be more focus and opportunities for growth of services for this population.

District 6 (Much of Olathe and western Johnson County)

Shirley Allenbrand

Yes, Mental Health! We have a great staff but need to offer more assistance.

Mike Brown

The Area Agency on Aging has been shorted over the years and decades. This iniquity was fixed several weeks ago by the BOCC where I seconded the motion made by Commissioner Steve Klika to fortify this important service lane with funding and resources. Taking care of our elderly citizens is a common goal of all Commissioners and it is good government.

Tomorrow we’ll publish the candidates’ responses to the final item on our questionnaire:

Johnson County Government has the authority to veto applications for tax-increment financing (TIF) districts developers submit to cities — but has not exercised that power in recent years. Critics of TIF suggest it diverts tax dollars that governments could use on services to private entities. Proponents say TIF is a net benefit to communities by increasing tax revenues in the long run. Do you think the board of county commissioners should consider using its TIF veto power more frequently? Why or why not?