2008 State of the County

2008 State of the County Address


Mr. Chairman, members of the legislature, Mr. Kanatzar, Sheriff Phillips, Sheriff-elect Sharp, Presiding Judge Nixon, and distinguished guests, thank you for coming here today.  Today I have the honor of reporting to you the state of the County.

So, let’s review together the progress of 2008 and set our sights on our goals for the future for 2009 and beyond. 

As we meet here today, we must be mindful that it is one thing to govern during times of prosperity, when coffers are full and overflowing, and the economy is growing.  But Jackson County, as we know, like many organizations and businesses all throughout our state and our nation, has not been spared from the economic struggles that have swept across our nation.  We have, for better or worse, in less than 23 months in office and through three straight budget cycles—2007, 2008 and now 2009—struggled to balance a budget with declining revenues and equally increasing costs.

A man who once occupied these chambers, President Harry Truman, a man we are very familiar with, in his own equally historic times, during our nation’s Great Depression, said about that period, “A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities, and an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties…..America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.”

With the words of Truman in mind, we in Jackson County government went to work to balance our County’s budget:  To present a budget that was balanced not with quick fixes, but by hard work, tough choices, and by critically examining every program and every department within the County, measuring their performance and demanding more from ourselves with unfortunately less.   In short, like many people in this room, we had to begin to run the County like a business.  Furthermore, this was done with a commitment not to fall back on the old governmental quick fix of simply raising taxes to avoid the necessary, but difficult choices about how to become more efficient as an organization.  By going through the discipline of becoming more efficient today, we knew and we do know we are sowing the seeds of success of our future.  

Today, I therefore present to you and the members of the Legislature, a 2009 budget that is balanced.  A budget balanced by sound policies, tough choices and fiscal integrity, not by accounting slight-of-hand.  

In a County as diverse as Jackson County, a budget with three straight years of declining revenue is not balanced without the hard work of many, many people.  I want to recognize some of our partners here today: 

First, I want to recognize the members of the Jackson County Legislature.  Each of you has worked diligently with us over the past 12 months to help make County government more efficient and more responsive to the public we serve.  I thank each of you for your hard work in helping to present a budget that is fiscally sound and grounded in good public policy.

Second, I want to recognize Prosecutor Jim Kanatzar, Sheriff Tom Phillips and the Jackson County Circuit Court judges, once again all of whom worked together with us  under what has been for all of very challenging and very difficult circumstances.  Simply put, we would not have a balanced budget today without your hard work and commitment.  I thank all of you for your dedication and commitment to the people of this community and county. 

Third, it is great when you have a job like this, that you can stand at the microphone, and review the successes of 2008.  However, the driving force behind all of this and balancing the budget  has been my executive staff.  So, I want to public thank, Fred Seims, Shelley Kneuvan, Calvin Williford, Anita Maltbia and Miriam Hennosy for all of your hard work. Thank you for all your dedication and service.

Last, but most importantly, I want to make sure that I thank our other partners, our most important partners, and that is the employees of this County.  The two-year decline in revenues that we’ve had is not just measurable in accounting terms, in debits and in credits.  Through this entire process, the executive staff and the people of this County have never lost sight of the human impact that tough budgets have real people who have real families.  Through three straight budgets and two straight years, we are mindful of what it has meant to force our employees to continually do more with less—and, yet at the same time, to continue the same levels of service that the public has learned to depend and rely upon. Without their dedication, without their commitment, none of this would have been possible today. So, thank you to the employees of Jackson County for your service.

The challenges we were presented with also afford us some great opportunities. Within this very austere budget, we have also accomplished some very important objectives:

First, in just under two years, we will have reduced the County’s general fund expenditures by over $12 million. That accounts to 14.5% of our annual revenues.  Crucially, this reduction was accomplished without sacrificing the important service levels the public relies upon.

Second, for the second straight year, County government’s expenditures are in line with its revenues. We are spending less than we.  So, just like families all throughout this County, County government has finally learned to live within its means.

Third, we were able to negotiate the County’s MOU’s with its organized employees.  They—and I want to thank them for continuing to work with us as partners looking for ways to make the County more efficient and more effective in the years ahead.

Fourth, even during austere budget times, we have continued our policy of saving for the future today by continuing our voluntary set-aside of 5% in all County funds for cash flow reserves for the future. All of this is in addition to the mandated 3% set-aside that we currently have. 

Fifth, our staff in 2008 also created the first 5-year capital improvement plan that will help direct funding decisions both in this budget and in years ahead.  Thoughtful and well-planned investments in the infrastructure of our County will pay big dividends for all of us in the future.

Finally, oftentimes, it is easy to take for granted the important work that the men and women of this County do every day—that they are entrusted with do every single day.  

For example, we had our Assessment Review Task Force, and at one of those review hearings I was approached by a man, a senior citizen by the name of Jim who lives in Raytown. I told him I wouldn’t use his full name, but I think some of you know him. He told me that he and his family were afraid that, with his rising property taxes, with his fixed income, with the rise in the cost of his medication, the rise in the cost of food and, at the time, the rise in the cost of gas, that he was going to be unable to make his property tax payment in January. And that would obviously a problem. A home that his family has lived in for over 40 years. And he asked me at the hearing if he could just have until May, he thought if he could set aside just a little bit every single month, then he could make the payment and they wouldn’t lose their family home. 

So, with his words in mind, we asked the staff to go to work and see if we could find a fix. So for Jim and the hundreds of Jims just like him throughout all our County, we asked our Assessment and Collection departments to go to work to find an answer, and as you know, they did. Through creativity and a little hard work, they formulated the County’s new Senior Quad payment program that allows seniors to spread their tax payments over four payment periods and not just.  An example of how our employees, through brain power and through volunteering for a little extra hard work every single week, our employees have literally enabled people to stay in their family homes when otherwise they could not have been able to do so. 

I wanted everyone to know I spoke with Jim last night and he wanted to make sure everyone knew they were invited over to his house for the Chiefs game so long as someone brought pizza.  We wanted to make sure someone brings a sausage pizza.

As we look back, we can also look back at some of the other accomplishments of 2008—not just the budgetary accomplishments.

• We saw in 2008 the creation of the County’s TIF policy, which recognizes the delicate balance between the need for economic incentives and the public interest.

• We also conducted reviews of the County’s assessment process and pension board.  The Pension review has allowed us, through making smart decisions in the months past, through what I think we all know has been a very volatile market, to shave over $11 million off the County’s unfunded liability in our defined pension plan from July 2007 to July of 2008. It’s a sound investment in the employees of this County.

• On the issue of property tax assessment we also enacted recommendations that make our process more transparent and more accessible to the community through the appeals process. We are continuing to work with our other partners, the school district and library boards, to look at the additional recommendations of the task force and will bring them forward in the weeks ahead. 

• Also in 2008, we finalized the restructuring of the County’s anti-drug tax, COMBAT, which will see more money going to treatment programs than ever before in the history of this County by reducing the size and complexity of administration.

It is also my honor here… I also see present with us here today—and he did not expect me to do this—but we had one vacancy on the COMBAT commission. Mr. Brooks, if you would please stand, in that vacancy, I am announcing today that the chairman of our newly formed COMBAT commission is Mr. Alvin Brooks, a person who has been dedicated to service our community. Thank you Mr. Brooks.

We are very,very fortunate to have someone of Mr. Brooks caliber who is willing to serve.

• Also in 2008, we saw the continued oversight of the stadium construction at Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums, the largest construction project in the County’s history.  These renovations continue to be on time and under budget.

• In 2008, we also saw the National Association of Counties, for their annual conference, decide to come Jackson County and Kansas City. That brought with them over 3,500 people and $6.2 million invested into our local economy.  Our ability to land this annual conference was the direct result of the work of our regional partners all throughout Missouri and all throughout Kansas who helped us bring us this great convention.

As we look back at 2008, we must also take time out to honor someone who has given his professional life to the service of the people in this community.  After 30 years, after 30 years of service to the people of this County, Sheriff Tom Phillips is turning in his badge.  Now an important point about Tom: He typifies the American dream. Here is a person who rose through the ranks, through every level of the Sheriff’s Department, the first person in our County’s history, to go from an entry level position all the way to the office of elected sheriff.

Tom, last year, I know you announced that you would be not be seeking re-election and would be hanging up your badge.  On behalf of the citizens of our County, I want to thank you for your 30 years of dedicated and courageous service to the people of our community. Thank you so much for what you have done.

Now I believe we have aimed high, but we must continue to aim higher in County government. We must continue to raise the bar of public expectations about how our government operates and about what we and the County expect from ourselves.

The public expects, and should rightfully demand, that all of the County‘s business be conducted in the open and with the highest of ethical standards.  To this end, I asked Professor Bill Eckhardt, professor of ethics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, as well as Pat McInerney, an attorney with Husch Blackwell Sanders LLP, to chair an independent task force charged with drafting the first-ever comprehensive code of ethics for County government.  After countless hours of work, which went unpaid by the way, I want to make sure I point out… After countless hours of work, this document, which they presented, is a crucial step forward in preserving the public’s trust and faith in the work that goes on inside this building every single day throughout the year.  Therefore, today, I am announcing that I, by executive order, am adopting the first-ever comprehensive code of ethics, as presented by these gentlemen, that will govern all County business. 

Professor Eckhardt, Mr. McInerney, if would not mind standing. We ought them a great round of applause for their many hours of dedication and service and work for the people of this community.

Part of moving forward, as we are doing, must include preserving the treasures of our past.  The historic Truman Courthouse is a national treasure that brings people not only from all over this nation, but frankly from all over the world to visit our community.  We must work and we will work in the weeks ahead to find a way to preserve that which has been entrusted to us in 2009. 

We also must begin planning for the future today. 2010, by all estimates, is going to be as challenging as 2008 and as 2009.  Our work must not stop.  We must work with our partners to continue to move County government forward by working to become even more efficient than we are today.  

Two projects that have already begun with an eye toward 2010 are audits of both the Kansas City Election and the Jackson County Election Board. But additionally our work the Circuit Court is continuing to make sure we are ending the duplication of services in our organizations.

Our fiscal discipline today, the decisions we make today, give us unsurpassed opportunities to address new challenges and chart a new course for this community.  As we do, as we chart that new course, lets join with our nations new President-elect, Barak Obama, who asked us on the night of very his historic election to “summon a new spirit of patriotism—of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other.”

Thank you. Thank you for coming here today, and let us together work with the grace to serve our Country and our Country with honor, dignity and justice.