‘Without a doubt we will remember 2020’: Johnson County leaders deliver State of the County address

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OLATHE, Kan. — For the first time, the annual Johnson County State of the County address was held virtually Tuesday. 

Ed Eilert, chairman of the Board of Johnson County Commissioners, hosted the online event highlighting how the COVID-19 pandemic shaped county operations in 2020. 

“Without a doubt we will remember 2020 for a long, long time and the many challenges raised from the COVID-19 pandemic,”Eilert said in his opening remarks. 

Early in the year as COVID protocols began to change, county health leaders worked quickly to create the COVID-19 Dashboard and establish a contract tracing program. 

“Each transmission chain that we can break; Each one of those contacts that we can identify and get to stay home and do their quarantine and the proper public health mitigation, those are lives saved,” County Epidemiologist Elizabeth Holzschuh said.

Mental health services 

In response to increased demand at the Johnson County Mental Health Center, resources have been expanded to include: 

  • Staff to answer the 24-hour crisis hotline (913-268-0156)
  • Counseling via Zoom 
  • Curbside and phone refill options for prescriptions

The Olathe Police Department also established the Advanced Crisis Intervention Team (ACIT) to respond to behavior health calls. Other law enforcement agencies across the county have embedded trained mental health professionals as co-responders to respond when a person is in crisis.

“Co-responders are now embedded in 11 police departments plus the sheriff’s office. Providing coverage in most cities in Johnson County plus the unincorporated areas”Eilert said. 

Unemployment 

At the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak the state of Kansas reported a loss of approximately 155,000 jobs, including 42,500 in Johnson County. 

In April of 2020 Kansas reported an unemployment rate of 11.2 percent, later dropping to 3.8 percent in December. Johnson County reported a 10.5 percent unemployment rate in April of 2020, later dropping to 3.3 percent in December. 

County revenue 

County Manager Penny Postoak Ferguson said the county is still working to recover from a multi-million dollar revenue shortfall brought on by the pandemic. 

“Our departments, agencies and offices really came together to find ways to get through this period of time,” Postoak Ferguson said. 

Postoak Ferguson said the county has trimmed the budget by approximately $14 million through a hiring freeze, employee furloughs and postponing nonessential capital projects. 

2020 projects

Despite financial setbacks from COVID-19, county leaders made progress on several major projects including the opening of the Johnson County Medical Examiner Facility and the completion of the Johnson County Courthouse.

Jeff Stewart, Executive Director of Johnson County Parks and Recreation Department, said in 2020 the Parks Department completed several projects including: 

  • Construction of Arthur and Betty Verhaeghe Park
  • Russell and Helen Means Observation Tower
  • The John Barkley Plaza at Shawnee Mission Park 

Stewart said in 2021 the county will open four miles of trails inside Cedar Niles Park. 

Housing

Despite unemployment and financial shortfall brought on by the pandemic, the Johnson County housing market saw a boom in 2020, with the average sale price of a home increasing by nearly 10 percent. 

 “With historically low interest rates, housing demand in Johnson County remained quite strong, resulting in a record of almost 12,000 homes sold during the year,”Eilert said. 

In 2020 11,957 homes were sold in Johnson County. Eilert said building permits for single-family homes jumped 6.9 percent with more than 1,800 permits issued. Building permits for multi-family homes jumped 9.3 percent with more than 1,000 permits issued in 2020. 

In 2021 

Eilert said older adults are the fastest growing demographic within the county. The 2021 county budget will include a $250,000 increase to establish a program to provide in-home services to elderly residents. 

“Throughout the past 13 months, we have tackled many challenges. While we are not out of the woods just yet, we know that if we work together, we move forward together to embrace opportunity and to fortify our future,”Eilert said. 

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