Photo: Former City Manager and now new County Administrator Troy Schulte at his office at the downtown Jackson County Courthouse. Photo by John Caulfield
New Jackson County Administrator discusses his two-year goals for beleaguered county
By Kathy Feist
The Jackson County government has had its share of problems in 2019, if not the entire decade. Since Frank White, Jr. was appointed County Executive in 2016–after Mike Sanders stepped down due to wire fraud–the County legislature and the Executive office have been emeshed in gridlock, whether over the recent hike in property taxes or the running of day to day operations.
As both sides approach the new year and new decade, there is one thing they have agreed on: creating a new County Administrator position to bridge the two branches, and the hiring of former Kansas City MO City Manager Troy Schulte for that position.
Schulte retired on November 25 as City Manager and moved across the street into his role of County Administrator on December 9. His contract ends in two years. Schulte shared with The Telegraph where the County stands one month into his job and what he hopes to achieve by the end of 2021.
“We’ve got some things that have been stuck for awhile but are now moving forward,” he shares. “There is plenty of good stuff happening with the County.” Schulte’s job description includes 1) having day to day oversight over all county operations, 2) direct reporting responsibilities for all the field operations, including Parks + Rec, Public Works, Corrections, Sheriff, and Prosecutor offices. The Chief Administrative Officer, Ed Stoll, will have direct reporting responsibilities for Collection and Assessment departments, Human Resources and Finance and will report to Schulte.
Schulte says his first goal is to help build a new county jail. On December 9, the same day Schulte took office, the County Legislature awarded a contract for the development of a new jail to JCDC Partners, LLC of Kansas City, Missouri. JCDC’s responsibilities will include planning, site selection/acquisition, design, construction, commissioning and occupancy of the new jail. By the end of 2021 Schulte says he hopes to have the project under construction or a path moving forward.
After the county courthouse basement was flooded by 10 feet of water in January last year, the 14-floor building has been functioning with only two public elevators. On December 10, the Legislature approved the first two phases of reconstruction from the flood, which includes the six elevators, HVAC, electrical and water systems. Five courtrooms that sustained damage from a water line break in February were also approved for reconstruction by the Legislature on January 6. Schulte says it will take about a year for the elevators to be fully operable, but changes will be noticable in 60 days. By the end of 2021, Schulte says the renovations should be wrapped up.
The Legislature is set to officially approve a compensation plan for all county employees. “One of the problems the county had for a long time was that its compensation structure was significantly below what other public sector and private sector entitites were paying,” he says. The plan will rectify that gap over the next three years.
Rock Island Trail
After opening the first phase of the 17-mile Rock Island Trail corridor in June, the County was stripped of its rights to the property due to an ensuing legal battle. The suit maintains the County had agreed it would build the Rock Island trail next to the former Union Pacific train tracks, but instead ripped up the tracks which would have given surrounding landowners property rights. Construction ceased. Schulte says the county has now reached a tentative agreement with Union Pacific that will allow them to move forward.
Property assessments made headlines in 2019 due to inconsistent increases in property valuations, triggering protests and lawsuits. Schulte hopes to fix the inconsistencies over the next few assessment cycles. “It’s really a people, processes and systems issue,” he says. “The assessment office is significantly understaffed in order to do a reassesment project.” He plans to develop a staffing plan that will “immediately add experience and professionalism to the team.” He then plans on redesigning the notification process after incorporating public input. Finally, he plans to invest in automated systems that will replace outdated manual ones. By 2021, which is the next assessment cycle, Schulte admits much of these plans will not be done. “But you will start to see some changes in the fairly near future,” he says.
The County Administrator role was touted as the “highest paid employee in Jackson County.” But at an annual salary of $220,001, it actually puts him in second, behind a county medical examiner. The salary is also a cost savings. The position absorbs the former roles of Chief Operating Officer, Deputy Chief Operating Officer and Chief of Health Services, which together amounted to around $330,000.
Schulte retired after more than 20 years with the City, the last 10 years as City Manager. During his time, Schulte says he strengthened the fiscal health of the city. “We have $100 million in the bank,” he says. “I can remember a time back in 2004-5 that we used the last of our reserves to bail out the ambulance service.”
He is particularly proud that on his watch there is now money in place for infrastructure repair for the General Obligation Bond program, that the sales tax for capital improvements was renewed, and that the city invested in employees and their compensation. As City Manager, Schlulte was responsible for a $1.6 billion annual operating and capital budget and oversaw 18 departments with 7,100 full time employees.