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Observer Corps Report

Eileen Marshall | Published on 5/2/2023

Johnson County Board of Commissioners

March 16 through April 6, 2023 (most recent listed first)

Observers: Rebecca James, Jerry Gilson, Joan Gilson, Kathleen Morrow, Lee Rowe

To access information about BOCC meetings including live broadcasts, the calendar and how to contact commissioners, visit the BOCC meetings page. For detailed information on registering for public comments and submitting written public comments, go to the BOCC public comment page.

April 6, 2023

Public comments lasted about 15 minutes.

Noted for the record: Johnson County Community Development is partnering with local homeless assistance agencies to apply to the State for Emergency Solutions Grant funding. The County will also submit settlement participation forms in the nationwide opioid litigation settlements for Teva, Allergen, Walgreens, CVS and Walmart.

The Board approved the following reappointments and appointments: Brian L. Roby, Second District Representative to the Housing and Community Development Advisory Committee; Jonathan Birkel, Seventh District Representative to the Transportation Council; Scott Sayers, Chairman Representative to the Transportation Council; Haile Sims, Seventh District representative to the Tenth Judicial District Nominating Commission.

The Board approved salary increases for Correctional Officers, Correctional Supervisors, Case Management Supervisors and Support Providers in order to address market equity.

The Board authorized an exception to competition with the official County newspaper, The Legal Record, to purchase legal publications. Currently the County publishes information in several other newspapers also.

The Board recessed to meet as the Public Building Commission.

The County and the Public Building Commission (PBC) will issue revenue bonds to provide $9,892,008 from County General Fund reserves for the Med-Act Olathe Facility capital project. This measure will best serve the emergency needs for this portion of the County. The PBC approved a contract with Henderson Building Solutions, LLC, for the County Administration Building (111 S. Cherry St. Olathe) Elevator Modernization.

The Board reconvened for the Management Report, the Legislative Update, and several other items.

The Major Projects Update reported on the construction of Merriam Plaza Library, park hiking trails, water quality improvements in the forebay at Heritage Lake, the Shawnee Mission Park Marina, the Courthouse Square, Med-Act and Emergency facilities, and more.

Commissioner Hanzlick reported on the work of the BOCC Housing Subcommittee (which also includes Commissioners Allenbrand and Fast). The County will work with other entities to address solutions for unhoused people. Work will include plans to address homelessness, preserve existing housing through home repair and rental assistance, and to develop attainable housing and homeownership opportunities. Megan Foreman has been hired as the Housing Coordinator and will update the Board quarterly.

Today is First Adjournment for the Kansas legislature, when bills must be out of conference committee.  The legislature overrode the governor’s veto of a bill banning transgender athletes from girls' and women's sports from kindergarten through college. 

House Bill 226 creates a civil cause of action against a physician and revokes a physician’s license who performs a “childhood reassignment service.”

Senate Bill 209, as amended, would change the deadline for all advance voting ballots to be received by the county election officer from the third day following the date of the election to 7:00 p.m. on the date of the election. This would apply to advance voting ballots by mail or in the office of the county election officer, the satellite election office, any polling place, or a county-maintained election drop box.

March 30, 2023

Public Comments lasted about ten minutes.

Commissioner Hanzlick requested that an item be added to a future agenda granting property tax assistance to low income property owners. The item passed unanimously.

Ben Harber was appointed as Fifth District representative to the Commission on Aging.

The Board granted a conditional use permit for an oversized accessory building, 19740 Clearview Rd, to Kevin Trug. Regulations for accessory buildings are in the process of modification.

Commissioners O’Hara and Ashcraft cast the only votes against ending the declaration of the COVID-19 disaster emergency on May 11, complaining about transparency, inflation, and mental health, among other items.

Despite Commissioner O’Hara’s groundless charges of conflict of interest against Chairperson Kelly, the Board approved a contract change order with Infrastructure Solutions, LLC for sewer stream crossing repair work across Indian Creek, near 103rd Street and Metcalf Avenue, for $222,667, and additional construction phase engineering services with Burns & McDonnell for $204,900.

Ian Hughes, Water Quality Specialist, reported on the Johnson County “Contain the Rain” program, which offers financial incentives for small projects to manage stormwater, including rain gardens, floating wetlands, rain barrels, native trees and more.

The Mid-America Regional Council report states that the Kansas City economy proved more resilient during the recovery from COVID-19 recession than previously thought. Instead of growing at rates near the bottom of its benchmark metros, it is now near the middle. Specifically in Johnson County, the CERI report states that the labor market remains tight, causing continued wage inflation, which will impede federal efforts to reduce inflation. Strong development activity was reported, but rising interest rates and possible tightening of bank lending may slow development and general business growth in 2023. Higher mortgage interest rates have dampened demand for single-family homes and has softened home-price inflation.

Strong consumer spending growth slowed somewhat in 2022 but remained well above historic growth rates through year-end and into early 2023. More than four million square feet of nonresidential space has been permitted in Johnson County each year since 2015. Retail and other sales subject to sales and use taxes increased dramatically in 2021. Sales growth slowed during 2022 but remained well above historic averages. Sales tax revenue since the first of this year is up 9.3%.

In the state legislature, a gut-and-go maneuver affected the House Substitute for SB208. This bill, originally created to prohibit remote ballot boxes for advance ballots, was eviscerated, and the contents replaced with a bill modifying the power of the state governmental ethics commission. The bill will now likely go to conference. The 7:00 p.m. cutoff for all ballots (absentee, military, etc.) is going through to the Senate. SB 40, expanding the Homestead property tax program for senior citizens and disabled veterans from $350,000 to $529,000 passed unanimously. Update: The school voucher bill providing tax dollars to private, unaccredited schools failed.

Johnson County Committee of the Whole

March 23, 2023

Observer: Rebecca James

JOCO 2023 Resident Survey:  A total of 1,380 surveys were completed. At least 200 were completed in each commission district. Overall results have a precision of at least +/- 2.6% at the 95% level of confidence, with good representation by age, race, and location (corresponds to the census). To see the report of results, click here.

JOCO Compensation Survey & Med-Act Pay Plan  Low unemployment & under-market pay scales have led to critical labor shortages with the potential for sacrificing service quality. The issue of "quiet quitting" is prevalent. Each department is putting together an action plan. The Employee Engagement Survey was put on hold until next year in order to address the current shortage. JOCO follows the national trend:  

• Increased turnover - significant employee replacement costs and loss of institutional knowledge 

• Increased work hours to cover vacancies - potential burn out and OT cost 

• Difficulty attracting applicants - longer vacancy times and lost productivity 

• Potential decline in the quality of applicants 

• Decreased employee engagement (“quiet quitting”)

Commissioner Meyers noted that JOCO has a policy of being in the middle of the salary range & we have fallen below it.

Med-Act Pay Plan:  Based on study results, the current Med-Act (ES) pay structure is below the local market and not consistent with prevalent pay structure designs. The current merit pay structure is frequently cited as a recruitment and retention weakness.

Applicants want a step plan structure with known increase amounts (competitive and consistent with other local organizations). Regarding the 24-hour schedule, there is little downtime. Units are engaged 50% of the time, and doing reports, stocking, etc., the rest of the time.

Chairperson Kelly recognized the work of Med-Act during the pandemic & the resulting fatigue.  #1 of the services on the survey was the ambulance emergency services. Commissioner Allenbrand noted that this pay scale is embarrassing considering all of the comments that she gets praising the services. We are the only ones with a merit structure, rather than a step plan. Chairperson Kelly addressed the importance of longevity in these positions & understanding plans for dealing with fatigue. Commissioner Hanzlick asked for striving for parity with other first responders (i.e., Sheriff's Dept v Med-Act). The addition of EMTs helps with the workload and also creates a pipeline for professional development. The County is currently looking at alternative scheduling as a recruitment tool.


April 2023 - Move Training Captain from JC pay table to ES pay table (4 employees) – No budget impact.

July 2023 - Adjust current ES Pay table 2% (impacts new hires) • Implement 2% Range Movement Adjustment (RMA) (impacts current employees) • Estimated cost $170K (one-half year).

January 2024 - Implement step pay plan.* Estimated total employer cost is $2.6M (includes OT and benefits.

These recommendations will go through a series of discussions before being implemented.  

Johnson County Board of Commissioners

March 23, 2023


Public comments lasted about 10 minutes.

The 2020 Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report for Operations and Emissions described the County’s progress in reducing these emissions, a 30% decrease since 2013. In response to Commissioner Fast’s request, future reports will provide comparisons with other counties. Commissioner O’Hara doubted that carbon actually impacts the environment. Commissioner Hanzlick reminded us that using less energy is a cost savings. The Chairperson asked for reports to include costs, including long term ramifications of green efforts.

County Economic Research Institute (CERI) Indicators state that as of January of this year the average price of homes sold is down -5.9%, to $477,240. The number of single family homes sold is down 19%. The unemployment rate is 2.5%. 

The Johnson County Emergency Communications Center, which serves an area of about 1,070 square miles in Johnson and Miami Counties, has been re-accredited and recognized by The International Academies of Emergency Dispatch® as an Accredited Center of Excellence (ACE).

Joe Connor, Assistant County Manager, reported that the bill eliminating the local and state food sales tax has died for the session as a result of “overwhelming opposition from local municipalities.” The bill exempting all Social Security income from state income tax is still viable. The bill expanding rural incentive districts for housing to every district is also still viable.

March 16, 2023

Public comments lasted about five minutes.

The Board approved the acquisition by condemnation of the rights-of-way and easements for the 103rd Street, Evening Star Road to K-10 road improvement project. The Board also authorized the Chairperson to sign an agreement with De Soto to reimburse the County for all expenses related to the acquisitions. A spokesperson for the mayor of De Soto thanked the County for moving quickly to approve this measure, a partial preparation for the Panasonic plant. Commissioner O’Hara objected to the speed, but the timeline complies with state and federal guidelines. Commissioner Ashcraft struggled with condemning property. Commissioner Allenbrand noted that the work is badly needed for the businesses there. Yes Votes: Meyers, Hanzlick, Allenbrand, Kelly, Fast. No Votes: O’Hara, Ashcraft.

Commissioners approved a contract amendment with McCarthy Building Companies, Inc., for equipment purchase and initial facility demolition and modifications for construction manager at risk services for the Nelson Wastewater Treatment Facility Improvements project for $52,898,607, for a total construction phase services authorization of $76,540,815. An additional contract amendment with Black & Veatch Corporation for engineering construction phase services for $3,052,500, for a total engineering authorization for $42,819,100, was also approved. This project is part of the previously approved and budgeted financial plan that was presented to the Board last year. The current plant is at the end of its life, but Commissioner O’Hara offered objections to the cost, falsely asserting a conflict of interest for Chairperson Kelly, even though she has been instructed by County legal counsel that no such conflict exists. Chairperson Kelly requested that she stop making personal attacks and stay on topic.

The Board of County Commissioners amended the official meeting calendar and will not meet September 21, 2023, in addition to previously scheduled holidays.

As a special 50th Anniversary project, the Johnson County Genealogical Society has established a Do-It-Yourself Memory Lab with equipment for the public to use to digitize photos, documents and other media. The equipment will be housed in the genealogy area of the Johnson County Central Resource Library with time to be reserved through the JCGS website. This project is in cooperation with the Johnson County Library and funded by the Johnson County Library Foundation.

A Public Information Workshop about changes to the County's Rural Comprehensive Plan, Sunflower Area will be held March 21, 2023 at the Timber Ridge Adventure Center, 12300 S Homestead Lane, Olathe, KS. The study area surrounds but does not include De Soto (and the former Army Ammunition site).

Johnson County Library Board

April 13, 2023

Observer: Karen Wulfkuhle


The Library Board approved a $57.7 million budget for 2024.  The increase is $9.6 million over the current year; $6.5 million of the increase is capital projects which will be paid from reserves.


Highlights for FY 2024 Proposed Budget

• Funding for implementation of the Salary and Benefits recommendation – full implementation is estimated at $1.9m


• 5% Merit/Market Adjustment Funding for 2024


• New position for Information Technology (IT) Project Manager (1.0 FTE)


• Increased Operational funding for IT maintenance/replacement


• Increased the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Dispersals Set-Aside


• Funding for Library Capital Replacement Program (CRP) and Comprehensive

Library Master Plan (CLMP) Future Projects Funding


• Funding for De Soto and Spring Hill Library Renewal Projects and  Corinth Library Replacement Project Study


The library will stop collecting fines on overdue books effective April 14, 2023. The annual loss of revenue is expected to be less than $80,000. Analysis of the issue, including other libraries’ experiences, have shown that patrons are likely to return overdue items within a few days of being overdue, regardless of charging a fine. Additionally, hold queues in other library systems have not been affected by the removal of overdue fines. The Library will send additional overdue notices. If an item is not returned 30 days after its due date, the account would be charged a fee for the replacement cost of the item. An item returned after a fee was assessed, would not incur fines and the assessed fee would be removed.   

To learn more, click here.

Johnson County Mental Health Center (MHC) Advisory Board Meeting

March 27, 2023, in-person at the Mission Office.

Observers: Harry and Mary Bognich

Since MHC financial reports have not been the subject of the Advisory Board meetings for a long time, most of the meeting was spent reviewing the financial report handouts to show how things were going. In the not-too-distant past, finances were a major topic of each and every meeting since money (namely, “severe shortages of income”) was a huge issue for many years, so one good thing is that the MHC and the Advisory Board have been able in recent years to concentrate more on Mental Health Service, rather than money issues. The other excellent news is that the MHC Budget has increased (including services and staff) even though the County’s tax support has basically stayed the same (and in fact the County’s tax money has decreased from about 60% of MHC’s budget to about 40%) because MHC has increased its income from CCHD and Pay Per Service, and from grants and other funding sources, so that the MHC budget is more healthy and is getting more done with its services.

Kansas does a lot for kids with autism and with Down Syndrome, etc., much more than other states. However, parents need to know that they must check a box saying that their child is disabled or has intellectual difficulties in order to get the help they need. Some parents may not realize this; other parents might be hesitant to admit it. Generally, the schools try to make this requirement known to the parents of kids in school.

Judge Robert Wonnell on the Advisory Board reported that County Judges, Prosecutors, Defenders, and others in the legal or prison system have been successfully working together in the last couple years to do what they can to improve Mental Health. They have implemented some good changes/programs already. He announced that their joint work has created a new program which will “go live” on October 1, 2023, to provide special assistance to persons who have been placed on probation and who have severe mental illness. More details about this program will be announced later this year.

Next meeting will be May 22, 2023.

To learn more, click here.

Blue Valley School Board Meeting

Observer: Ann Schuster

April 10, 2023

Notable items:

KS Governor Laura Kelly visited the Blue Valley Food Pantry located at the Hilltop Campus, managed by BV Special education students.

Blue Valley Recreation center has almost regained the membership lost during the pandemic and has added several class offerings for residents who wish to join.

Options were presented to relieve crowding at Valley Park and Overland Trail Elementary Schools which both feed into Blue Valley North HS. Boundary changes are being considered to reduce the populations at these buildings. The new Aspen Grove Elementary is on target to open in August in the southwest area of the District.

Although not as serious as in some neighboring districts, Blue Valley continues to experience difficulties with bus service due to a lack of available drivers. It is proposed that Middle and High Schoolers who live within 2.5 miles of their respective schools would no longer have bus services.

Following a legislative update by Dr. Merrigan, the meeting was adjourned.

To learn more, click here.

Prairie Village City Council 

March 20, 2023

Observer: Eileen Marshall

The Council met in person at 6:00 p.m., with public viewing in person or via Facebook Live.

PUBLIC COMMENTS – Three residents made public comments in opposition to zoning changes.

Members of the Teen Council presented a suggestion regarding bike lanes on city streets.

The 2020 census data shows that population in the six wards is no longer approximately equal, so redistricting is needed. In a future meeting, the Council will be discussing proposed ward boundary changes. City business was conducted, and the meeting ended at 6:48 p.m.

Prairie Village City Council 

April 3, 2023

Observer: Eileen Marshall

The Council met in person at 6:00 p.m., with public viewing in person or via Facebook Live. All members were present.

Council heard presentations from the Teen Council regarding public transport in PV and from the Johnson County Crime Lab regarding fentanyl. Council also heard a presentation about and adopted a standard definition of antisemitism, as well as a proclamation of support for the Seven Days initiative.

PUBLIC COMMENTS – Ten residents made public comments in opposition to zoning changes. One also mentioned suspicion about the redrawing of ward lines, an issue on the agenda for later in the meeting.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING - Council agreed to add $5,000 to the property tax rebate program in order to serve all applicants. This is a program that rebates the city’s portion of property tax to lower-income homeowners, with 47 applicants served so far this year.

REDISTRICTING - Council approved the adjustment of some ward boundaries, as recommended by staff. “Wards” are analogous to state or federal legislative “districts”, in that the voters in each ward elect two members to the council. Kansas courts have held that the population of each ward must be approximately equal. The 2020 census data shows that population in the six wards is no longer approximately equal, so redistricting is needed. The Kansas Constitution stipulates the timing of any adjustments to the boundaries in order to prevent disruption to the electoral processes. Staff has been working with the Johnson County Election office to coordinate county precincts and timing of changes, and Fred Sherman (top election official in JOCO) was on hand to answer any questions. The result is the plan that was before the council tonight, and it passed unanimously. The map of changes can be viewed in the Council packet for this meeting, available on the City website. To summarize the changes, a small area was moved from Ward 1 to Ward 2, and a small area was moved from Ward 5 to Ward 4. Wards 3 and 6 were not affected. No City elected officials were involved in any aspect of the plan.

Council went into Executive session at 9:05 p.m., at which time the public part of the meeting ended.

To learn more, click here.