OPINION: Charlotte O’Hara wants to save Johnson County Taxpayers….but will they let her?

JOHNSON COUNTY, Ks. – On June 23 the Johnson County, Kansas Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) announced its intent to exceed the Revenue Neutral Rate – a.k.a. raising taxes. 

During the weekly public meetings between the June 23 budget announcement and the approval of the tax increase on Aug. 25, only two members of the BOCC – Charlotte O’Hara and Michael Ashcraft – argued for a comprehensive review of the budget. These attempts failed, and the FY 2023 budget with a mill levy tax increase passed by a vote of 5-2.

The five commissioners who approved the tax increase were Becky Fast, Janeé Hanzlick, Shirley Allenbrand, Jeff Meyers and Chairman Ed Eilert.

O’Hara repeatedly mentioned two problems with the current BOCC budget and expense processes:

1). Revenue-based budgets: The county budget process simply carries forward the prior year’s budget. Increases are added and the new expenditure level gets matched to the existing “revenue base.” If the revenue falls short, a tax increase is levied. 

O’Hara argues the budget process should start with a “blank sheet.” This would require each department to review what is being carried forward and explain why the money is still needed and what avenues are being pursued to economize spending.

2). Isolated spending reviews: On a weekly basis, the BOCC discusses individual spending resolutions in isolation with little regard to the impact of the aggregate of that spending.    

O’Hara points out that each individual spending resolution always “sounds good,” but when viewed in aggregate, they cost more than JoCo taxpayers can afford.

O’Hara is running in the Nov. 8 general election to replace the retiring Eilert as chairman. Charlotte says her decision to run for the board was triggered in large part because of the ever-increasing spending and increased tax burden on suburban Kansas City’s Johnson County residents. 

Lowering the property tax burden is the first of three items on her campaign literature, with the other two being public safety and transparency on how tax money gets spent.

Based on the current economy, it seems local tax rates would be a top issue in the upcoming elections, but there are indications that at least some JoCo Kansas voters may not be paying a lot of attention to what is going on locally.

During the Oct. 4  Shawnee Mission Post candidate forum, candidates for the JoCo BOCC chair and candidates for three BOCC district seats answered the “most requested questions” from SM Post readers. Several of the main questions asked were clearly national in nature, including one seeking candidates’ views of the 2020 election.

In an era where national issues and big politics dominate news and social media, it is unclear how much time voters are spending on the details of local politics. It is also unclear to what degree they will allow national issues to dominate their view of local candidates.

Charlotte O’Hara is running for the BOCC chair position to set boundaries on ever-increasing Johnson County spending. On Nov. 8, we will find out if JoCo voters will let her do so.

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