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Wichita City Council to narrow community projects list to needs only

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, May 26, 2014, at 4:27 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, July 15, 2014, at 6:15 p.m.

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First up are Wichita’s needs.

City Council members on Tuesday will narrow a list of community projects to what the city needs, potentially the first step toward a November vote on a sales tax hike to pay for them.

Four remain on the table: a new water source, a $90 million jobs development fund, stabilizing the finances for Wichita Transit and additional money for street maintenance.

There are no firm plans for a sales tax vote, but council members may seek voter approval for a one-cent tax for five years.

Council members are unanimous in their support of a new water source: probably a $375 million plan to build a 50-acre reservoir near the city’s aquifer storage system to capture and use more water from the Little Arkansas River.

But only one council member, Lavonta Williams, has voiced public support for all four options.

“They’re all linked, and they’re all about economic development,” she said.

There are opponents to the other three – the jobs fund, transit and streets – on the council.

“I’m leaning toward the economic development fund, the water and transit,” said council member Janet Miller. “Those are some pretty core services.

“While I do believe streets are important, I believe we’ve made gains within the budget on that, and I believe we will continue to make gains on them.”

“I’ve gotten mixed feedback on the jobs fund, even from the business community,” Vice Mayor Jeff Blubaugh said. “Before I can support it, I want to see some definable, measurable action on how we would go forward.”

Originally, council members intended to finalize the project list Tuesday. But with talks ongoing with El Dorado officials on a water source and work continuing on the ASR plan, city officials say a final decision may not come until July.

No quality of life projects – such as Century II improvements, convention space improvements, renovations at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium or a new central library – made the cut with the council. However, several told The Eagle last week that they would consider asking voters to extend the sales tax after the original five-year period for such projects.

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

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