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City, county unveil survey seeking advice on spending

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, at 6:54 a.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013, at 9:39 a.m.

Future priorities?

Wichita and Sedgwick County officials want to know voters’ spending priorities in these areas:

Transportation

Half of the city’s streets are ranked below national quality benchmarks; 20 percent of bridges are in need of work; $21 million is needed for a new city bus fleet; other issues are parking facilities, Mid-Continent Airport and possible passenger rail.

Water, sewer and stormwater

$2.1 billion is needed over three decades in improvements and repairs to water and sewer pipes; other key issues are securing a long-term water supply and minimizing stormwater and flooding.

Economic and community development

Among the possibilities: job creation and retention; downtown redevelopment; workforce training; youth programs; programs to limit chronic homelessness.

Culture, recreation and parks

On the wish list: a new $30 million central library downtown, culture and entertainment venues, parks, bicycle paths.

More information

Goals of the Community Investments Plan

•  Identify future spending priorities for essential infrastructure.

•  Identify citizen willingness to pay for those priorities.

•  Develop a new Wichita-Sedgwick County comprehensive plan.

City and county officials, with less money coming in and expenses rising, want public guidance on how best to spend public tax dollars.

That’s the point of a $65,000 survey unveiled Wednesday that will seek citizen input to set priorities for future spending on public transportation; water, sewer and stormwater improvements; cultural, recreational and parks amenities; and economic development.

The survey, called “CommunityInvestmentsPlan … a Framework for the Future,” was developed by Wichita State University.

It will be mailed in the next few days to 25,000 randomly selected Wichita and Sedgwick County registered voters. It will be used to put together the legally required Wichita-Sedgwick County comprehensive plan, which will set priorities through 2035.

“Together, we must make important decisions,” said Mayor Carl Brewer. “What do you want Wichita to look like over the next 20 years?”

“It’s important that we get input from our stakeholders — the citizens — as we define our future,” said Dave Unruh, vice-chair of the Sedgwick County Commission.

The survey is not available to citizens not selected for the random mailing. But anyone can provide input by contacting council and commission members, or by contacting Dave Barber at dbarber@wichita.gov or 316-268-4490.

The city and county face growing bills for deteriorating infrastructure — the most glaring the $2.1 billion in city sewer and water line repair and replacements that Brewer referenced in Tuesday’s State of the City address.

Meanwhile, revenue sources like property and sales taxes have been hit hard by the economic downturn, creating what officials called an imbalance between revenues and the rising costs of operating and maintaining infrastructure and developing quality of life projects.

Officials hope about 6,000 residents out of the random sampling will respond, said Mark Glaser, a Wichita State professor who designed the survey.

“That will tell us what we need to know,” he said.

One of the project partners at a Wednesday news conference on the survey grilled Glaser about what he called a “biased survey … missing an appropriate price element.”

Sedgwick County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn raised questions about why some phrases in the survey are underlined, suggesting the underlining would skew the survey’s results.

“Why isn’t there a question about support for a 5-mill tax hike?” Peterjohn said. “Are there any questions about voter approval for any tax increases?”

After the media briefing, Peterjohn ramped up his criticism of the survey in an interview with The Eagle, dismissing the survey’s questions as “ignoring the private marketplace.”

“They have a lot of questions on that like, ‘Do you want a Cadillac?’ ” Peterjohn said. “There’s no price involved and there’s no tradeoff that you’re going to have to pay cash.”

Peterjohn said he went after Glaser in the meeting to make a point: The survey is pro-government spending.

“They don’t ask those questions because they don’t fit into their paradigm, and their paradigm is ‘We want government to do more,’ ” he said.

After the meeting, Brewer said Peterjohn’s questions surprised him.

“I’m not sure how he came about with that,” Brewer said. “He’s certainly entitled to see anything he wants to see, but I hope citizens send these in and give us the input we’re looking for.”

“We hope we get a real strong return to gauge what the community wants to do,” Unruh said. “I realize some people think the survey isn’t valid, but I trust the work and expertise of Dr. Glaser.”

For more information, visit www.communityinvestmentsplan.org.

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or bwilson@wichitaeagle.com.

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