You won’t find at least one Sedgwick County commissioner enjoying the shade of a “chalet tent” at the Wings Over McConnell air show this weekend.
Spending $10,000 on what he called a “party tent” is a frivolous use of taxpayer money, Commissioner Richard Ranzau said, and he’ll vote against it Wednesday.
Commissioners will vote about whether to spend the money out of their $533,000 contingency budget in return for receiving 75 tickets each day of the two-day festival to a tent where guests will enjoy a catered meal and non-alcoholic beverages. Alcoholic drinks will be available at a cash bar.
“We’ve said ‘no’ to a lot of people, and I think this is something that we need to say ‘no’ to, too,” Ranzau said. “There are a lot higher priorities than a $10,000 party. This is something private entities should be buying.”
Commissioner Dave Unruh said he’s concerned about spending, too, but that supporting McConnell is important as the Air Force considers where to locate its next refueling-tanker fleet.
And, he said, it’s a relatively small price to pay to support an Air Force base that brings in $500 million to the community.
“This is just part of the whole menu of ways we’re supportive of McConnell,” he said.
Ranzau said he couldn’t stomach spending the money when the county has reduced funding to the Sedgwick County Developmental Disabilities Organization, the Sedgwick County Zoo, Exploration Place and the Sedgwick County Extension Center.
He said he’d rather give $10,000 to the Wichita River Festival than to the air show, which used to take place at Jabara Airport. The county’s 2013 budget doesn’t include money for the River Festival.
The county has contributed to the air show in the past, said spokeswoman Kristi Zukovich.
This year, the county budgeted $343,256 for community programs and events, including $29,427 for the Sedgwick County Fair and $21,771 for the Kansas Junior Livestock Show. The county in the past has contributed $7,500 to the Wichita Open and $20,000 to the city’s flight festival. The county’s budget for next year for such contributions is $333,256.
An e-mail The Eagle obtained said that the county’s 75 tickets each day would be divided among commissioners, other elected officials, appointed officials and department heads. The board of commissioners would get 25 tickets.
The air show runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission to the show is free. McConnell is renting chalet tents to companies or groups that wish to provide hospitality to their guests.
Efforts to reach a spokesperson Friday at McConnell were unsuccessful.
Commissioners will consider the air show money at their meeting at 9 a.m. on Wednesday on the third floor of the courthouse, 525 N. Main.