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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Longwell, Peterjohn spar over federal planning grant

By Deb Gruver
The Wichita Eagle

A federal sustainable communities planning grant is emerging as a key issue in the Sedgwick County District 3 commission race.

Wichita City Council member Jeff Longwell, who is challenging incumbent and fellow Republican Karl Peterjohn for the seat, supported city involvement in the $1.5 million grant to the Regional Area Economic Partnership from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Peterjohn noted at a Pachyderm Club candidate debate Friday that he has voted three times against the county participating in the grant. He said the region doesn’t need the federal government telling it what to do.

“We have at the moment a tremendous number of planning organizations,” Peterjohn said. He said he considers the grant wasteful government spending.

But Longwell said the grant will help the five counties involved — Sedgwick, Butler, Harvey, Reno and Sumner — approach planning in a more collective way. He used stormwater management as an example.

“You can’t address it in a parochial way,” he said. “You have to do it in a regional way.”

The candidates also discussed their viewpoints on financial incentives by government to businesses.

Although he has supported some incentives, Peterjohn said he is “much more comfortable with a market-down approach.”

He noted that a grocery store in Planeview was built without a tax-increment financing district, something sought for a previous store project in the neighborhood.

“What is the optimal amount of subsidy to provide and who makes the decisions?” Peterjohn asked. “I want this community to grow and prosper, but I want equal opportunity for each and every one of you out there.”

Other communities and states are providing incentives for businesses to locate or expand, Longwell said. He also said provisions that guarantee a return on investment help protect taxpayers.

Longwell said it comes down to a simple truth: “At the end of the day, we’ve got to compete.”

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com.

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