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Monday, April 21, 2014

Let’s begin to move forward together

By Tim Norton
Sedgwick County Commission chairman

According to Henry Ford, “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”

We know we must move forward; we cannot stand still. In Sedgwick County, I see a community full of movers, but the question remains, how do we move forward together and be confident that we are all moving in the right direction?

Well, you don’t get to where you’re headed without first knowing where you are. We must look at where we’ve been and where we are today. Then, we can begin to set goals and make plans to achieve them. That is what I see happening in 2012 — review of our new environment and movement toward collective goals. And, I think our community is primed to make moves that will have positive impacts.

Where we’ve been

The past few years have been challenging for the public and private sectors. We have watched the unemployment rate fluctuate and slowly move back to a different “normal,” but nearly 18,000 Sedgwick County residents are still out of work. Recent dim spots have included the announcements that Boeing will close its facilities, the Coleman executive team is heading for the mountains and Hawker Beechcraft is resorting to additional layoffs. All of this takes a toll on our residents and community.

But we’ve also seen bright spots. Bombardier announced 450 new jobs, Airbus is looking to hire 30 more engineers and Cessna is introducing two new jets. Our area is also known for a strong health care core. Adding to that reputation are changes within the pharmacy and four-year medical programs at the University of Kansas-School of Medicine, as well as a new general dentistry program at Wichita State University.

Where we are

While we celebrate those victories, we also remain realistic about challenges in the form of budget reductions that affect those most in need and those we serve at Sedgwick County — individuals with mental illness or disabilities, seniors and at-risk youth.

Sedgwick County planned many years ago for the day that revenues no longer exceeded expenditures. That foresight is allowing us to weather this financial storm. However, for government agencies, declining revenues have no relationship to declining customers. When business drops off in the private sector due to fewer customers, businesses reduce expenditures. When government revenues drop off, “business” actually increases, because in times of economic hardship, citizens turn more to government services. When we reduce expenditures, we directly affect citizens. So a difficult analysis of services, processes and delivery methods was conducted to determine efficiencies. We have to balance what we reduce or eliminate with services that are still important to the community.

Where we’re headed

Over the next several months, county commissioners will work to balance the budget. We will meet our goals of “zero deficit” and smaller government by 2013, yet maintain a strong understanding of what we do to serve citizens.

While we keep one foot in today, we have the other in tomorrow. So we ask: “What does this community want and expect? What will that look like in the future? How do we balance future needs with current services and our new financial reality? And, what are residents are willing to pay for?”

Is the public sector able to be a partner to make the Mid-Continent Regional Center for Health Care Simulation a reality? Do we continue investing in job growth and economic development? Do we value alternative programs to keep people out of jail and young, at-risk youth out of trouble? Do we care enough about children in need of safety and justice to invest in the Child Advocacy Center?

Answers to these questions will help the community move forward together. Several groups are working on focused efforts to determine what our community’s future needs and priorities might include, such as the Metropolitan Area Planning Department Comprehensive Plan, REAP’s Sustainable Communities project, Visioneering Wichita, Wichita Downtown Development Corp., and the QUAD Cities Plan with south Wichita, Derby, Haysville and Mulvane, just to name a few.

We are not short of great ideas nor capable individuals, but the challenge is how and when to energize and begin moving in the same direction. At Sedgwick County, we want to hear from residents — what you like, what you expect and what you value. It is not up to a vocal minority to decide how we see our community’s future. It is up to us. Get involved, use your voice and let’s begin to move forward together.

Reach Tim Norton at 316-660-9300 or tnorton@sedgwick.gov.

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