Wichita city manager presents $533 million budget to council

07/17/2012 5:00 AM

07/18/2012 6:24 AM

Wichita City Manager Robert Layton formally presented his annual budget to the City Council on Tuesday, launching a monthlong process of hearings that will lead to adoption of the $533 million 2013 spending plan.

Although the public was invited to comment Tuesday, nobody took advantage of the opportunity. The public will have three more chances to address the council before final passage, scheduled for Aug. 14.

Layton walked the council through a series of cuts and fee increases that he proposes in order to balance the budget without raising general property taxes or laying off employees.

The biggest fee increase Layton proposed was $300,000 to be raised from a $1-per-transaction “convenience payment fee” levied on residents who use credit cards to pay bills and fines.

At present, the city does not have an extra charge for paying with plastic, although the credit card companies do charge the city a service fee, Layton said.

Council member Pete Meitzner said he thinks the proposed charge is reasonable.

“I think a dollar is a number everybody’s used to,” Meitzner said. “It is a convenience to be able to pay online with a credit card.”

People who wish to avoid the fee could still pay by check through the mail or in person at City Hall, officials noted.

Proposed fee increases

Other fee increases the city manager outlined include:

• $280,000 in fire inspection fees for bars and other high-hazard establishments.
• $150,000 in court program fees. The new fee proposes to replace income that used to be collected by the state from alcohol and drug defendants to pay for evaluation costs.
• $50,000 in parking charges at City Hall. The increase won’t bring the charge to parity with the nearby Sedgwick County Courthouse, which Layton originally wanted to do, but an increase will discourage neighboring businesses from using City Hall as cheap parking, he said.
• $35,000 from a 15 percent increase in planning application fees.
• $30,000 in increased fees charged when the city garnishes wages to collect on owed debts, which it usually does to fulfill court orders.

The manager is also proposing a number of cuts and adjustments, including the elimination of seven police officer positions that were primarily funded by federal grants that are now expiring.

The change in police positions will save $68,000 in city funds, Layton said.

No layoffs are expected and some of the employees will be transferred to open jobs elsewhere in city government, he said.

The grants helped the city pay police to compensate for the temporary loss of officers who were deployed overseas as military reserve and National Guard troops.

Those officers are expected to return to their city jobs soon, Layton said.

“The grants helped us over a hump and we will still be three (positions) better than we were before we applied for the grant funds,” Layton said.

One cut that may be noticeable to residents is a reduction in hours that libraries will be open to the public. Layton’s budget would save $150,000 by cutting 46 library hours a week, mostly during less-busy times at low-usage branches, he said.

Proposed cuts

Other proposed cuts include:

• $128,554 from cultural and arts funding.
• $100,000 each from the aquatics program and Old Cowtown Museum.
• $30,000 from marketing and the city’s cable TV channel.
• $20,000 in costs of leasing school district facilities for recreation programs. The programs will be relocated to city-owned facilities.
• $11,200 in travel costs for the sister-city program, reducing that expenditure by one-third. The program pays for city officials to travel to sister cities in China, France and Mexico to encourage business and cultural ties.

The public’s next opportunity to have input on the budget will come during a “Twitter town hall” at #wichitabudget, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today.

The council is scheduled to hold live public hearings at its Aug. 7 meeting and before the final approval on Aug. 14. Those meetings will be at 9 a.m. at City Hall, 455 N. Main, Wichita.

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