2007 State of the County


It truly is a new day for Jackson County government. This new day is upon us because, upon taking office, I promised the citizens of Jackson County that we would work hard to restore the fiscal integrity of our County and we would do that without quick fixes, without easy solutions and without compromising our core principles: that County government, just like any household, should learn to live within its means; that County government should first look inside itself to become more efficient as an organization; that government should reacquaint itself with the good old-fashioned notion that it shouldn’t spend every dollar it can, just because it can, but rather should begin saving for a better tomorrow.  Finally, I promised that we would do all this without going to voters and asking for new taxes—to tax our way out of the budget issues we inherited. We would not compromise the promise of tomorrow by putting off the problems of today. 

By sticking to our principles, we were able to present develop a truly balanced 2008 budget. It is a budget that has been balanced, not through slight of hand, but through sound fiscal policies. This budget presented to and approved by the County Legislature has begun the process of establishing financial stability for our great County. 

Our journey to a balanced budget has not been an easy one.  As 2007 began, we were confronted with one of the worst, if not the worst, budget crises in the history of Jackson County government, a crises where government continually spent more money than it made; the General Fund was over $10 million dollars in the red; and we had insufficient money on hand to make sure that the doors to the courthouse could remain open until the end of the year. 

It was clear to all of us that swift and bold steps had to be taken.  As 2007 concluded, we looked back on a year that posed significant financial challenges, but we can look back with pride, for we did not shy away from those challenges, but rather rose together to meet them head-on. 

First, within the first five weeks of 2007, we took actions that would start the process of moving this County forward.  We immediately began targeting inefficiencies within the County and were able to quickly reduce the County’s budget by $3 million.  As difficult as it was, we found and eliminated 45 positions, but still provided the same level of service to the citizens of our County. We called on all of Jackson County and its employees to raise the bar of expectations. Employees responded by working harder, even though it meant doing so without raises and with fewer resources. So, I thank the employees and people of Jackson County. 

Upon adopting the 2007 budget, we had to immediately turn our attention to the harder task, presenting this 2008 budget—a  budget that would be truly balanced for the first time in a number of years. As 2007 drew to a close, we continued to cut costs and explore every avenue to increase revenues—without increasing the tax burden on County citizens. We’ve kept the promise. It has taken an enormous effort on the part of the County’s dedicated staff,  who drove our systemic deficit down. 

I want to acknowledge our partners, the people who’ve worked with us to accomplish this goal. I thank the members of the Jackson County Legislature. They have been great partners and allies as we have worked together to confront and deal with the financial challenges we inherited.  

Additionally, I want to especially recognize Presiding Judge Peggy McGraw, her staff and her colleagues for working with the County Executive’s office through these difficult times. Judge McGraw, like the rest of us, was faced with many difficult decisions, and she made those decisions with integrity and honor. I thank her and the Jackson County Circuit Court for working with us to reduce costs and raise efficiencies.  

Sheriff Tom Phillips and Jackson County Prosecutor Jim Kanatzar both worked very hard to reduce their budgets, while insuring that our common goal, as a County, of protecting the public was preserved. I commend Mr. Kanatzar and Sheriff Phillips. 

Finally, I applaud my Division Managers, Fred Siems, Shelley Kneuvean and Calvin Williford, the department directors and our great employees who, throughout 2007, worked tirelessly to reduce budgets and bring greater efficiency to county government. Simply put, without them, none of this would have been possible. 

Through everyone’s hard work, we are able to balance the budget for the 2008 fiscal year. We are now out of the red and as a County are moving into the black. 

In order to provide for a brighter future, this budget contains significant changes in the way business is conducted in the County. 

• We have established practices to lower costs and raise efficiencies. We are encouraging more interaction among the various county departments, including the Courts, Sheriff and Prosecutor’s office, to foster further and continued cooperation—in an effort to keep costs down. 

• We’ve streamlined many processes, including receiving state approval to eliminate the antiquated three-day waiting period for marriage licenses. 

• We are now working to use the Internet as a more convenient and efficient tool for citizens to conduct business with Jackson County government. 

• We are now, as a matter of routine, pursuing every viable chance to forge partnerships with the state governments and with the counties in our area. 

We have our county pointed in a new direction. We are not there yet, but I am confident we are now on the right path to securing financial sustainability for Jackson County for several years to come. 

In order to achieve a balanced budget for 2008, these are among the steps we took: 

• First, all executive departments were directed and reached the goal I set for them of reducing their overall budgets by 11 percent. 

• We have adopted budget policies to move the County forward and continue moving it foreward. 

• We reconciled the COMBAT fund, which is very important for our communities.  All revenue generated through the County’s anti-drug sales tax fund will be used for its intended purpose. No longer will COMBAT funds be used to plug leaks in the County’s General Fund. 

• Furthermore, to assure our County government’s most valuable asset, it employees, are rewarded for their dedicated hard work in 2007 and beyond, we have established a 3 percent pool for merit pay increases in 2008 for Jackson County’s employees. 

• For the first time, we have established a 3 percent contingency fund and are working toward establishing a 5 percent cash reserve for all of the County’s major funds. As any family knows when you don’t set aside funds for emergencies or unexpected expenses, you are setting yourself up for financial failure. We are establishing these funds to insure our major funds all remain viable for years to come. 

And, while we have worked to reduce spending and increase efficiency, we have also worked to increase revenues. 

For example, working with our colleagues from throughout the state and the Missouri Legislature, we have successfully obtained an increase in state funding of $1.25 per day per county jail inmate. That alone will increase County revenues approximately $225,000 in 2008. 

When all the numbers are tallied, we will see new revenues in 2008 of over $2.5 million. 

The list of cost-saving measures and revenue-increasing proposals we have implemented is extensive—from consolidating some of the functions the county performs and eliminating  others, like partnering with the City of Kansas City, Missouri, to provide downtown parking in support of the new Sprint Center, while also raising revenue for the County. 

With an eye toward the future, we are developing a five-year capital improvement plan to budget long-term for the county’s roads, bridges, facilities, parks and other infrastructure that the public uses every day. 

Every step of the way in the budget process, the County Executive’s office is working with the County Legislature and insuring that legislators are more informed than ever before. We are providing legislators with quarterly financial updates. The Legislature has established a budget committee chaired Mr. Henry Rizzo to better monitor the public’s money, and I welcome the formation of that committee. 

I believe if we are to have government of the people, by the people and for the people, we can’t shut out the people. Keeping the people involved, wanting them watching over our shoulders and adopting the reforms they recommend, are,  I am convinced, essential elements to reforming local government. Along those lines, a citizen’s committee has drafted a comprehensive Code of Ethics for all county officials and employees. Once it is finalized and passed by the Legislature, we will, for the first time, have a real ethics code for Jackson County Government. 

We have also established the COMBAT Review Committee and provided for County oversight for the stadium improvements at the Truman Sports Complex, all to assure adequate accountability to Jackson County taxpayers. 

Our proposed budget for the 2008 is balanced, but many serious challenges lay ahead of us. 

• We have fully funded all of our other funds, except the County pension plan. The integrity and solvency of this plan is a critical promise we have made to the employees of and people of this County. Therefore, among my first acts of 2008 was the establishment of a Pension & Retirement Review Task Force to examine the current pension plan. The objective is to guarantee employees will never have to worry whether the money promised them and their families will be there in the future. 

• Our anticipated rate of revenue growth through all existing sources is minimal, roughly just 2 to 3 percent in the general fund. We must support our newly reconstituted Economic Development Office to encourage job development and responsible growth throughout our County. 

• Additionally, cash flow management remains a concern as demonstrated by our need to secure a line of credit and to liquidate investments to insure that the County continued to operate during the final months of 2007. 

• The courts represent 37 percent of the General Fund’s projected 2008 expenditures. Jackson County government and the courts must work to reduce costs and increase efficiencies. 

It is clear our hard, as a government, work must continue. We have to plan for the long-term. We have to look ahead to 2009, 2010 and beyond. 

As we move forward, we must budget and govern wisely, not wishfully. Our decisions must be grounded in reality, and we must act responsibly. We owe it to the citizens of Jackson County, and we also owe it to our children’s and grandchildren’s futures. 

When I took office as County Executive one year ago, I vowed that we—the County government—would be more accountable. We would demand more of ourselves, rather than repeatedly demand more from the citizens in the form of higher and additional taxes. We have a duty to those we serve to be good stewards of the county’s coffers—to spend sensibly and generate enough revenue to provide the services upon which citizens depend. 

We will move forward in 2008 purposefully. While these are challenging times for our county, we are energized to serve and accomplish our goals. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Energy and persistence conquer all things.” 

With God’s guidance, we will be ready to meet the challenges of the 2008 and of the years to come. 

2007 State of the County Address