Groups ask Sedgwick County not to cut funding

08/02/2011 12:00 AM

08/03/2011 6:21 AM

Raising issues that ranged from the River Festival to illegal immigration, a dozen Sedgwick County residents expressed their views on how the county should spend its money Tuesday night.

Some came before the County Commission to protest cuts to popular programs such as the Wichita River Festival and the Extension Center.

Others came to applaud the commission for holding the line on taxes and urged deeper reductions than the $9.8 million and 112 jobs the county proposes to cut in its $411.8 million spending plan for 2012.

Two Riverfest representatives pleaded with the commissioners to restore the $25,000 in support the county plans to cut in 2012.

Chris Goebel, who served as this year's Admiral Windwagon Smith, said the cutback would make it harder to put on a festival of the same scope.

He also said commissioners should be cautious about cutting because 200,000 people, mostly county constituents, participate in the event each year.

Jo Hillman, a Kansas State University master gardener, objected to the county's plan to cut the Extension Center's funding by 15 percent while cutting other county departments by only 6.6 percent. She said the center provides valuable programs including an excellent 4-H program for youth.

Cutting it by twice as much as other programs is "not fair and it's not warranted by the facts," she said.

County Manager William Buchanan has said the larger cut is proposed because the center's budget has grown faster than other departments' in recent years.

The only applause line of the night went to Brent Backus, who objected to county services being provided to illegal immigrants and what he called their "anchor babies," U.S.-born citizen children whose parents are here illegally.

"I'm not here to say I want to belly up to the public trough," he said. "I'm here to say there's too many bellies at the trough."

He said the county should deny illegal immigrants access to transit, health services, rental assistance and education.

"There is a cost. It has to stop," he said,

When people applauded, commission Chairman Dave Unruh cautioned the audience "please not to applaud or show any kind of emotions. We don't allow it, so I'd appreciate if you'd abide by that."

But later, Commissioner Richard Ranzau said the applause was OK with him.

Directly addressing the crowd, he added: "I for one do not expect you to sit there and be a bump on a log. I appreciate that feedback I want to hear.... I'm not going to silence you or your emotions."

When Unruh's turn to speak came, he replied to Ranzau, "This is a public hearing. It's not a pep rally, it's not a political rally."

Republican activist John Todd and Susan Estes, the local leader of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, both objected to the budget's inclusion of about $83,000 to hire a lobbyist to represent the county at the state Capitol and elsewhere.

"It is clear to me that lobbying with taxpayer money promotes government influence and growth," Todd said.

Estes also called on commissioners to explore selling the Kansas Pavilions, and to cut economic development to developers and return the money to taxpayers.

"Let's help everybody out, not just a few, she said.

The commission is expected to vote on the budget today.

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