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Wichita conservatives voice take on city’s future at Pachyderm Club

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013, at 7:23 a.m.

Wichita officials received the conservative take Friday on the city’s future at the weekly Pachyderm Club meeting downtown.

And the message from conservatives was clear: Limit government, no new taxes, cut spending and maintain what Wichita has rather than grow.

City Manager Robert Layton moderated an ACT ICT meeting at the Petroleum Club, one of a series of city meetings designed to hone in on the community’s vision for Wichita’s future.

Club members, generally staunch Republicans or Libertarians, gave Layton a decidedly different view of the city’s future than respondents to a community survey – a new water source, improved street maintenance and …

“Finish the beltway,” one member said loudly, referencing the ongoing Kellogg improvement project.

Water was the clear winner, even when the meeting took a bizarre turn as one member suggested the city needs to shrink, rather than grow, population to save water.

There was no mention of any community projects popular with other sectors of the city: Passenger train service, a war chest for economic development, improving low income neighborhoods and a variety of quality-of-life projects.

What they don’t want, the club members told Layton, is more public-private business partnerships. City tax incentives to lure and retain jobs have to stop, characterized angrily by one audience member as “bribes to lure companies to Wichita.”

The presentation focused on investment methods to create Wichita’s future. The four-option selection includes: reducing taxes and services; maintaining revenues but changing how they’re spent; raising the sales tax – an idea gaining some momentum with the City Council; and raising property taxes.

The first option was the only one drawing any interest Friday.

The meeting proposed three possible sales tax hikes: a full percent, costing Wichita residents an average of $127.22 each year; a half-cent, $63.61; and a quarter-cent, $31.81.

Also included were three possible property tax hikes: 1 percent, an additional $3.74 for a $100,000 home; 5 percent, an additional $18.70; and 10 percent, an additional $37.40.

One woman in the audience rejected the idea that taxes couldn’t be cut without reducing services. She told Layton that the city overpays its employees, including benefits.

“You need to get closer to the private sector,” she said.

The community survey that produced the factual basis of the meeting also came under fire. Several audience members criticized the survey for “leading questions,” along with the omission of “conservative options … including none of the above.”

Although Layton was faced throughout much of the meeting with pointed questions about City Council policies, the session came off without any overt disagreements.

Early in the presentation, as city officials urged citizens to remain engaged in the planning process for Wichita’s future, Layton injected a one-liner that drew some laughs from the crowd.

“You guys are engaged when you’re asleep,” he chuckled.

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or bwilson@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @bwilsoneagle.

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