Mark Taylor
[email protected]
Johnson County commissioners approved a merger of the county’s health and environmental departments on March 1.
The new, consolidated department will be called the Department of Health and Environment.
The vote carried 5-1, with commissioner Edward Peterson dissenting. Commissioner Calvin Hayden was absent.
Penny Postoak Ferguson, assistant county manager, said the consolidation would make the best of shared resources without sacrificing the quality of services.
Over the past few months, the county has merged 10 departments in response to budget shortfalls.
The merger is expected to save between $511,384 to $556,007 through the restructuring of departments and elimination of vacant positions.
“We don’t feel that combining (the departments) provides any less focus for the organization on environmental,” Ferguson said.
More than a dozen citizens spoke out against the merger during the public hearing portion of the meeting.
Ellen Miller, Lenexa, spoke on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Johnson County.
“For decades we Johnson Countians have ranked environmental protection very high,” she said. “…Please continue your support of a stand alone environmental department.”
Virginia Johnson, Shawnee, said she moved to Johnson County in 2006 and was “amazed at what I found here.”
“You have a jewel,” she said. “I came from a state that did not take environmental issues very seriously.
“Look out for us in Johnson County.”
Chairman Ed Eilert said he didn’t consider the consolidation an “elimination” of services.
“My impression is that whether an organization’s structure is stand alone or part of another structure within the organization, the key to the success of that organization is the people placed in the area of responsibility,” he said.
Peterson voted against the merger.
“I think we are going to continue to have a series of these types of decisions, and it all stems from an unwillingness to consider options that might increase taxes or fees or costs that the public would have to pay,” he said.
Commissioner David Lindstrom said he supported the merger with a degree of reluctance because he respected the opinions of people on both sides of the issue.
“This board has asked our professional staff to come back with us with suggestions to make us more efficient,” he said. “I will be supporting staff on this decision, but it does not come easily for me.”