January 4, 2014

Wichitans respond to city leaders’ call for community input

Wichitans have answered City Hall’s call for help shaping the future, city officials said.

Wichitans have answered City Hall’s call for help shaping the future, city officials said.

ACT ICT, this City Council’s first major foray into community engagement, has been more than successful, Mayor Carl Brewer and City Manager Robert Layton said last week: Wichitans have responded in good numbers, with as many as 100 people attending one of 90 community meetings since October to help set priorities for the city’s future.

And what they’re saying – with at least 10 January meetings to go – validates a community survey last year that targeted a long-term water source and job creation as key issues.

ACT ICT is a series of about 100 community meetings to gather input on future priorities. Some meetings are open to anyone; others are intended for specific groups, from church clubs to political organizations. The meetings will wrap up late this month with a report due in mid-February to the Wichita City Council.

Brewer, who led City Hall’s drive last year to craft a community engagement plan, said ACT ICT has drawn city staff closer to the public. ACT ICT’s goal is to bring City Hall to where citizens are, reaching deeper than the government wonks who frequent city council meetings, workshop and staff meetings.

“We still have another month, and my guess is we’ll pick up quite a few more things by the end of the month,” he said. “The positive thing is the people we talk to are telling us they were there at a meeting, and normally they don’t get engaged in these things.

“There are people talking to me who I know for a fact haven’t been to a meeting at City Hall, a DAB (district advisory board) but they’re showing up for these. It’s been positive.”

Layton, who has led 11 meetings, also said the process has connected staff with Wichitans beyond the usual people who frequent meetings and workshops.

One of the key topics at the meetings is how to invest in Wichita’s future. Among the four options presented: reducing taxes and services; maintaining revenues but changing how they’re spent; raising the sales tax – an idea gaining some momentum with the City Council; and raising property taxes.

Three possible sales tax increases are proposed: a full percent, costing Wichita residents an average of $127.22 each year; a half-cent, $63.61; and a quarter-cent, $31.81.

Also included are three possible property tax increases: 1 percent, an additional $3.74 for a $100,000 home; 5 percent, an additional $18.70; and 10 percent, an additional $37.40.

Layton wouldn’t comment on community investment input thus far, saying he didn’t want to color future ACT ICT meetings.

“For certain we remain open to any opinion from the people in the remaining meetings,” he said. “I’m even reluctant to talk about water and jobs, because any other priority is something we want to know about.”

Last year’s community survey hit on four basic conclusions:

• Securing jobs is important.
• Solid and strong basic services, including water, streets, bridges and transportation, are essential.
• Wichita must move beyond the basics with fun and cultural attractions.
• Wichitans care about the community and its future.

After the council receives the ACT ICT report, the meetings won’t stop, Layton said.

“Our office of community engagement will have to determine now what the next steps are, how we take what we’ve learned and put it in regular practice in the community,” the city manager said.

The future will definitely include more public appearances by city officials to take the community’s temperature on key issues, officials say. Currently, more than 10 city managers are trained in meeting facilitation to engage neighborhood leaders, go through neighborhood problem solving and talk about important neighborhood issues.

“We don’t want to become isolated in City Hall,” Layton said. “The idea is to get staff members out and available so when the community is looking for a program speaker, someone to talk about a specific issue, we’re there.”

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