August 6, 2012

Wichita residents have one last chance to comment on city’s proposed budget

The city’s $533 million budget for 2013 goes before the public one more time Tuesday, prior to its anticipated approval next week by the Wichita City Council.

The city’s $533 million budget for 2013 goes before the public one more time Tuesday, prior to its anticipated approval next week by the Wichita City Council.

A public hearing on the budget, where residents can comment, is scheduled during Tuesday’s 9 a.m. council meeting at City Hall, 455 N. Main.

City Manager Robert Layton’s proposed $533 million budget eliminates projected deficits of $5.4 million in 2013 and $6.7 million in 2014 while avoiding for now layoffs that city officials had feared earlier were inevitable.

The budget, including $214 million in the city’s general fund, targets the city’s mission, officials said: Protecting life, protecting property, investing in infrastructure and ensuring a growing and sustainable community.

Vice Mayor Janet Miller said she’s looking forward to public input.

“I am in a listening mode,” the vice mayor said, “to find out if there’s anything we’ve overlooked or should reconsider.”

Layton said the city’s belt tightening has about reached its limit.

“It was difficult, in that this is our fourth year of cutbacks,” Layton said. “It gets more difficult each year because we get so concerned about service erosion, while at the same time we’re balancing the revenue concerns of the council so we’re on a fixed income, basically. The council, to their credit, has ever since I’ve been here insisted we live within our means. If we do anything with revenue enhancements, such as fees, have to be tied to a service that benefits our population.”

Layton credited council policy — smaller government focusing on basic core services — with enabling staff to eliminate the deficits without significant service reductions or layoffs.

“I’m proud of what we’ve done over the years,” he said. “The hard decisions the council made in 2009 and 2010 regarding the size of government, the core services we provide and better defining what we do, especially during the tough times, allowed significant changes in the organization going forward. If they hadn’t done that, we’d be facing bigger deficits.”

Still, the budget is vulnerable to economic fluctuations, Layton said. If the economy slows again, Wichita taxpayers could be looking at another round of tough choices.

“My biggest fear would be significant changes in uncontrolled expenditures, such as a spike in gas or fuel costs,” the city manager said. “We’re pretty well fixed with personnel expenses, which is 70 percent of the general fund budget. If the economy stays down, though, and there’s an unanticipated downturn or the trough gets deeper, there could be issues. But I’m not that worried about it. There are signs of recovery.” The budget for salaries and benefits is budgeted at $156.6 million from the general fund.

Some budget highlights include:

• Maintaining a general fund balance of $23 million, or slightly more than 10 percent of expenditures.
• 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.

“It’s in a funded holding pattern,” Miller said, “but we’ve got to keep that issue top of mind for the community, staff and riders because we’ve yet to permanently solve the problem.

“And over the course of the next year, we’ve got to reach some decision points about whether we can continue to have a transit system, the level it should be funded and at what level we can fund it.”

• Cutting fuel use by 3 percent in 2013 and 5 percent in 2014, saving an estimated $120,000 in 2013 and $270,000 in 2014.
• Setting forth a strategic review of all vacant city positions with an eye toward leaving many unfilled.

Miller said she’s concerned about city staffing levels.

“I think we’re at a pretty bare bones level, frankly, and as the economy improves, I think there are positions and departments that may need some staff added back because they’re having trouble keeping up with the workload,” the vice mayor said.

• Increasing fire inspection, parking and electronic transaction convenience fees.

City officials also recently learned that they’ll save about $600,000 in worker’s compensation costs.

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