Presiding Commissioner Jeff Cox gave his second State of the County address to members of the Cass County Coalition of Chambers at their monthly meeting July 10 at Sam’s Place in Pleasant Hill.
“I think the county is headed in the right direction,” Cox said. “We are focused on the basic services and clawing our way back from a lot of the mistakes that were made in the past.”
Cox has been in office since January 2013 after he was elected to finish the latter half of a four-year term that was left vacant after the previous officeholder was removed from office due to a past felony conviction in November 2012. District 1 (South) Commissioner Luke Scavuzzo and District 2 (North) Commissioner Jimmy Odom were also elected in the same year.
Cox said the county commission, now in their second year of working together, has been doing a good job of moving the county in a better direction after previous county leaders made decisions that became costly mistakes.
“The most important things the new commission has done is that we have refocused the county’s efforts toward essential services -- the things that county government is actually supposed to be doing -- such as road and bridge, law enforcement, codes, zoning, and things like that,” Cox said. “We had massive layoffs in all those departments back before the new commission came in during the budget crisis that happened in 2010 and 2011.”
Cox began his update by explaining the way county government is led and how it differs to municipal bodies, and then noted several areas in several ways the county is making strides, along with resolving the county’s financial challenges.
Debt: Cox said that in the past, the previous commission got itself into costly matters that county government has no business being involved in, such as green energy projects and cable television companies. He noted that the defunct Tri-Gen project is costing the county $175,000 annually in debt service for the next two decades.
“That’s just money that is going down a black hole over the next 20 years, and that creates a challenging situation for the budget,” he said. “We’ve gotten back to the basics (and) we’re clawing our way back from (the mistakes).”
Cox noted that in conjunction with the auditor’s office, he has outlined long-term plans to pay back the debt the county has established. In part, the commission has created debt set-aside funds to help tackle those issues.
Road and Bridge: Ground has been broken on Phase 1 of the School Road project that extends from Hubach Hill to 195th Street. The remaining two phases of road repair will continue to 211th Street in Peculiar.
“It’s one of the worst roads in the county and it has our least-experienced drivers driving it on a daily basis,” Cox said.
The road is narrow, hilly and without shoulders. Crashes are frequent, especially during school hours, and in the past, the road has been notorious for hill jumping.
“If you ever want to get your blood pressure up, drive School Road during rush hour,” Cox said.
Cox noted that upgrades to other county roads have been halted, focusing their efforts on maintaining what already exists.
IT: The county's decade-old website will be getting an overhaul this year.
“We’re just going to scrap the whole thing and start over,” Cox said.
The commission budgeted for the project last year, and have since secured Civic Plus to build a new county website. Cox said a new website was a big priority among county leaders.
Economic Development: Earlier this summer, the commission tapped Spectrum Strategies, a Lee’s Summit-agency, to provide economic development services for the county.
Spectrum Strategies, owned by Bill Brown, will also oversee the executive director duties of the Cass County Corporation for Economic Development.
In the past, the county and CCCED have always just had an individual person in the role. This year, leaders wanted to try something new by selecting a firm to handle the county’s economic needs.
“Bill’s the main contact guy, but it’s actually a company and he has a team,” Cox said. “It’s a way to bring more resources to the table instead of just an individual person.”
Cox said he feels that both the county and CCCED are excited about what Spectrum Strategies can bring to the table.
Tower clock restoration project: A grant agreement has been made with the state to provide a 70-30 percent match for the funding of restoring the county courthouse tower clock to it’s original operating condition.
The total cost of the project is about $110,000.
“It’s not just going to be good for the Square, and it’s just not for Harrisonville,” Cox said. “I consider the courthouse to be a real asset for our community and it really ties into our community, history. I think it’s important and something we can be proud of as Cass Countians.”
A groundbreaking ceremony has been scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday, July 31, at the courthouse.
Cox concluded that his time in office has been a challenge, but is seeing a lot of good things happening for the county’s future.
“We’re focusing on the nuts and bolts that may not be flashy, but they are the things that county government should actually be doing,” Cox said. “We’ve been focused on rebuilding those departments (but) it’s going to take a long time to do that.”
Cox is running for reelection this year, and will appear on the Aug. 5 primary ballot against Republican opponent Dave Morris.