Lynne Hermansen
The Board of County Commissioners held a two hour public hearing Monday, August 22 to receive citizen feedback on the 2023 fiscal year budget.
The BOCC passed three separate motions 5 to 2 for exceeding the revenue neutral rate for the County, Parks and Rec and Library budgets with Commissioners Charlotte O’Hara and Michael Ashcraft dissenting.
Ashcraft said he had concerns about residents on fixed incomes.
“If you’re on a fixed income any increase costs,”he said. “I’m very sensitive to that.”
Almost every speaker voiced their opposition to the county’s decision to raise property taxes to meet budget shortfalls.
Property taxes for the average county resident will increase an additional estimated $80 per home owner for 2023.
Olathe Resident Mary Blake said her mortgage had increased to $8500 a month making her property tax $70 a month.
“It may seem insignificant to you,”she said. “I’m retired on a fixed income. A six percent increase feels like a tightening noose. Families are struggling to keep up. We can’t continue to be taxed. You need efficiency and spending restraints. If you have that much in Reserves what is the reason. The economy is on the brink of collapse. Inflation is at an all time high. Shortages are coming this winter. No taxation without representation. Our government has turned a deaf ear.”
Similar themes from residents who spoke during public comments included not understanding why the general fund reserves were not being used to make up the difference for budget shortfalls, wanting the Sheriff’s department to be properly funded and not wanting to support developments residents didn’t ask for resonated through the evening.
John Anderson, Prairie Village resident, said an understaffed and underfunded would create delayed response calls especially when 57 officers are already unpaid and the department has a $18 million a year deficit.
“Over the last two years of Covid the government received $32 million and the Board laundered money and put it into the Reserve Fund,”he said. “The Sheriff’s department is in a difficult position to be able to protect us while working mandatory overtime. They risk their lives for $49,000.”
Anderson said other cities were stealing officers away for a $20,000 salary increase or bonus.
“I don’t understand how you continue to hamper the Sheriff to do their job and hurt citizens,”he said. “People are angry as hell. The government doesn’t understand how to run law enforcement.”
Carol Donis, 27 year Olathe resident, said she was concerned the budget had doubled the last 10 years and the Reserve funds tripled.
“What are you putting it aside for,”she said. “Why are you not using some of the reserves. Why are you asking for $1.65 billion but only spending $1.1 million. We expect good things from you. Ever look at trying to reduce costs by looking at last years expenditures.”
Donis is said it was the highest inflation in 40 years.
“Why aren’t you looking out for taxpayers,”she said. “JoCo has a lot of money. We are a wealthy county. Cut public health. Public safety should be highest priority.”
Steven Snitts, Prairie Village resident, said the county trusts Sheriff Calvin Hayden to ensure safety for residents.
“The metroplex is under risk,”he said. “Why are staffing requests ignored. A budget review shows there are plenty in reserves. We need the Sheriff to manage the department and insure our safety. I don’t want to hear I’m on hold when calling.”
Snitts said it was an unacceptable threat to public safety and poor fiscal management.
“Local governments are using the technique of stashing cash,”he said. “Isn’t it time to reform the budget process. Start with zero and then justify. You’re the only government who doesn’t do that.”
Rebecca Shipley, Olathe business owner, said the county’s population had only increased by 11 percent.
“We have a spending and gifting problem—not income,”she said.

Shipley said bringing the Panasonic development into the county was taking away jobs from local county businesses struggling to find staff.
“They’re jobs you’re making us pay for while taking away from us,”she said. “You’re picking winners and losers and making losers fund these businesses.”
Shipley said the county needed to make decreases except for the Sheriff’s Department.
“It’s the only one you have aggressively defunded the last two years,”she said.
Michael Perry, Leawood resident, said he was astounded how quickly the county raises and spends taxes but can’t hire and retain deputies.
“It puts all residents at risk,”he said. “Should we call you if we have an emergency and can’t reach an officer. I wish I had a miscellaneous budget this high.”
Owen Frederick, Overland Park resident, said he had questions about the forward thinking transit approach.
“The busses are pretty empty,”he said. “This budget doubling in 10 years is not efficiency and effectiveness. This screams independent audit. It seems like a joke—we are on the paying end.”
Frederick said he was upset the county was looking to hire a social media coordinator for $84,000.
“You never ask about these grants and how to pay for positions after the grants run out,”he said. Because we’re paying the bill.”
Mark Wingrin, elected Olathe official and business owner, said it all came down to waste.
“I learned very fast the government is good at wasting money,” he said. “If the average citizen saw…”
Wingrin said the county needed to stop taking notes from the federal government.
“There is no reason to go over the RNR,”he said. “We should be much under it. Graphics sound good but here’s where I feel it.”
Wingrin raised his wallet to the commissioners.
Dave Traebert, Overland Park resident, said there are 6500 fewer people working now then prepandemic.
“You want to take $18 million more from citizens,”he said. “The personnel expense is up 19 percent over two years. The property tax is 290 percent higher since 1997. I would like to hear how you justify. Apparently you don’t have justification. That’s a shame.”
Traebert said nowhere in the county’s priorities did they have the taxpayer in mind.
“This is what government wants not what we can afford,” he said.
Rachel Hennessey, West Olathe resident, said she is a certified teacher and it is bad math.
“I have four children,”she said. “We don’t go over budget. One of my daughters got a job and decided not to spend.”
Hennessey said the problem was the county wasn’t being responsible.
“The rest of us can’t live like that,”she said. “If we operate in red we lose our house, business, car.”
Sharon Medina, Johnson County resident, said the government was out of control.
“People in this county can barely afford to live here,”she said. “Please stop it. We the people have had enough.”
Mark Kauffman, Olathe resident, said no one could continue to live in the county as they are forcing people out.
“You’re no longer a servant of the county, but a predator,”he said. “No official has common sense anymore.”

The Budget
Rachel Symes, budget director, presented the revenue neutral rate figures and budgets.
She said the county had a $1.651 billion budget for 2023 broken down into three taxing districts for levying through the county, parks and recreation and the library district.
Symes said the county was 16.841 mils, Parks and Rec 2.809 mils, and 3.535 mils for the Library.
The county has an assessed valuation increase of 10 percent. The county has $488.7 million in reserves and $1162.9 million in expenditures, she said.
Symes said property tax for a $362,000 home in 2022 was approximately $88.67 in property taxes. 30.6 percent of the county’s budgets are funded through property taxes at $315.6 million.
The county looks at three principles of maintaining a sufficient general fund resource, their ongoing expenditures and budgets shortfalls, she said. Strategic capital planning, forward public transit, vulnerable populations and community health and innovative initiatives are all looked at.
Symes said citizens said in the community survey their priorities were emergency services, public health and the election office. The county’s biggest priorities are aging and human services and mental and public health.
When it comes to how the sales tax percentages are collected, she said the county school districts receive the largest portions at 56 percent, followed by government services at 7.5 percent with the State at 70 percent and cities at 21 percent.
Symes said the Capital Improvement Project funds were divided between wastewater at the highest at 50 percent, public works at 20 percent and parks and libraries at 10 percent.
The mill levy had decreased by 1.4 mills since 2019, she said and the county has the lowest mill levy in the State by 11.6 mills and lower than Sedgwick County by .62 percent. The 2023 mill levy will be 17.725 mills for the county.
The State of Kansas is exempt from the revenue neutral rate.
“We are being more efficient by doing more with less,”she said.
Board Comments
Ed Eilert, board chair, said 49 percent of the CIP is for the county wastewater system to rebuild the Tomahawk and Nelson treatment plants.l and wastewater funding was important.
“No one wants to have to stop using the bathroom,”he said. “Johnson County Wastewater doesn’t get tax money. And the County didn’t defund the Sheriff’s Department. We are reviewing HR, staff and Sheriff’s staff to increase salaries for new hires and retainment. It’s not going to be a small matter to increase salaries. We will take the necessary steps to make it happen.”
Eilert said the reserve fund account is always questioned and Symes said she thinks it is in the high $100s but will have to look.
Eilert said federal funds coming into the county have to be accounted for.
Symes said some of the funds in the reserve fund are restricted and designated for specific uses.
O’Hara said she wanted to know where the $265 million in federal Covid funding the county had received had gone.
“$62 million went to the Sheriff’s Department for salaries and the excess went to the General Fund Reserve. We aren’t as flush in cash as it appears. We squandered the Covid funds. A tsunami of debt is headed to us with wastewater. The reserves are so high we were wanting to pad the increases with reserves instead of paying down debt.”
O’Hara said it was a multi-layered problem. She said she didn’t like how they didn’t have control over the emails they send out and empty busses and they needed to look at departments.
“It’s time to sharpen the pencils,”she said.
Ashcraft said there was a lot of mathematical manipulation and he had a lot of reservation on how the county does the budget system.
“New concept that we are blessed with Manna from Federal government heaven,”he said. “Millions helped with the pandemic and the benefit is scrambling to eventually spend. It should go to direct tax relief. We have to incentivize savings. We do for spending.”
Janee Hanzlick, commissioner, said much of the federal funding had specific prohibitions against lowering taxes.
O’Hara said the money sent to the Sheriff and back to the General Fund Reserve could be used.
“Another little stash of cash we have,”she said. “We need to remember to be cognizant of the community and taxpayers.”
Hanzlick said if they don’t have sustainable funding for something they will have to pay for it again.
O’Hara said she supports reducing the budget and using extra reserves to decrease taxes.
The final vote on the budget will be at the Thursday, Sept 1 Board of County Commissioners meeting.