Worry sets tone at public forum on Wichita’s proposed budget cuts

06/27/2012 5:00 AM

08/06/2014 1:09 AM

Elena Ingle came worried to Wednesday night’s presentation on the 2013 Wichita city budget.

“The same thing as everyone else — how are we going to pay for everything?” asked Ingle, a 55-year Wichita resident who serves on the District 3 advisory board. “How are we going to pay for everything in these tough times?”

Worry was the tone as members of district advisory boards and Wichita Independent Neighborhoods got their first look at how City Manager Robert Layton and his staff plan to balance the 2013 and 2014 budgets.

The city faces minimal revenue growth because of a flat housing market. Initial staff projections called for a $5.4 million budget deficit in 2013 and a $6.7 million deficit in 2014 — along with a $1.3 million deficit this year. Layoffs and service cuts were deemed inevitable by some council members.

Those attending wondered how the city can maintain and enhance services in a tight economy while burdened by volatile fuel and health insurance costs.

They showed no shortage of passion for projects they valued: Transit topped the list as a service that must be saved and enhanced even at the cost of a tax increase. Library services must be maintained, and key infrastructure and community development projects must progress without delay, the board members said.

“My concerns are pretty typical of everybody else’s,” said Danny Johnson, another District 3 advisory board member. “Are we going to lose some services because of how tight things are? I’m really concerned about transit and about some of the projects that have been put on hold that are in some impoverished neighborhoods like Planeview.”

Johnson said he was happy with Layton’s proposal to financially stabilize the transit program for two years with cash reserves while a community discussion begins about its long-term future.

“I really think the city’s way behind in how we handle our transit system,” he said. “We’ve got to get rid of the hub system. I think it keeps a lot of people who would use the bus system more from using it.”

“We need a grid system on the transit,” said Deborah Sanders, a District 6 advisory board member. “I encourage you to do what’s necessary to get that. We need people to come to our city.”

Some of the keynotes in Layton’s plan to balance the city’s budget include $2 million in street maintenance savings through improvements in sealing and repairing methods and technology, a strategic plan to hold 80 positions vacant through 2014 and a $600,000 reduction in worker’s compensation costs because of the city’s performance on worker safety.

More budget details

City Budget Officer Mark Manning’s presentation included additional details about some of the fee increases included in the proposed budget.

They include:

• Fire inspection cost recovery: The Wichita Fire Department is proposing a $65 fee for drinking establishments, in addition to a $250 licensing fee. High-hazard occupancies would also be charged a $65 fee.
• City Hall parking rate hike: Rates would be raised to Sedgwick County levels, with a maximum rate of 75 cents per half-hour and a daily maximum rate of $5.
• Convenience payment fees: Based on the approximately 300,000 annual electronic transactions occurring at city hall, a proposed $1 fee per transaction would increase revenues by an estimated $300,000.
• Pre-sentence investigation fees for drug court defendants: No estimates are available for these fees, which had been funded by the state.

Some highlights from the proposed expense cuts include:

• Resetting the transit subsidy: City staff proposes using the remaining $1.2 million in the contingency reserve fund to supplement transit spending through 2014, thus reducing the need for general fund tax support. West-side bus routes would be reconfigured without eliminating any services, Manning said.
• Cutting fuel use by 3 percent in 2013 and 5 percent in 2014, generating $120,000 in 2013 and $270,000 in 2014.
• Eliminating Sister Cities travel to reduce the travel budget by $11,200.
• No funding increase for economic development: The budgeted amount for the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition would remain at $300,000, reducing budget projections for 2013 and 2014 by a total of $75,000.

The proposed budget unveiled Wednesday will be tweaked for two more months before the Wichita City Council is set to adopt a budget Aug. 14.

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