May 5, 2014

Wichita City Council to discuss jobs fund, transit, quality-of-life facilities

City Council members will get four staff reports Tuesday on long-term Wichita projects.

City Council members will get four staff reports Tuesday on long-term Wichita projects.

The projects are the subject of a workshop after the regular 9 a.m. meeting at City Hall. Key topics include a $90 million jobs fund, transit and quality-of-life facilities.

The reports are the first of several requested by council members as they weigh financing for an extensive list of community needs compiled during planning sessions this winter. They constitute a deeper financial analysis that will allow council members to determine whether the programs can be funded inside the annual city budget or in its capital improvements program or require new funding, such as revenue from a potential sales tax hike.

Council members have been considering a sales tax increase for about six months, and the issue could go before voters as soon as this fall.

The reports will focus on:

• Economic development: City officials on Thursday rolled out the idea of a $90 million jobs fund, saying the city and county need an economic development war chest to compete for new jobs and retain current Wichita jobs.

The city and county have a combined $1.6 million in that closing fund today, far below the millions available to Kansas cities like Topeka and Emporia, not to mention nearby states.

One method of potential financing cited by proponents last week is a quarter-cent sales tax from a broader 1-cent sales tax initiative.

• Transit: City officials need to find a dedicated funding source for Wichita Transit. A quarter-cent sales tax has been suggested by transit advisory board members.

Meanwhile, transit officials are busy fine-tuning routes and upgrading the city’s aging bus fleet. Ten new buses were unveiled on Friday, and last month two new routes along West Maple and West Central were put in place.

The two new routes are joined by a neighborhood feeder service on the west side, available by appointment.

• Quality-of-life facilities: The council has also targeted improvements to several city facilities that augment quality of life, including sports, conventions and the performing arts. At the most recent planning session late this winter, council members suggested that some of these projects could be incorporated into the city’s 10-year capital improvements plan, which is reviewed annually.

Among the targeted projects are Century II, a performing arts center and improvements to Lawrence-Dumont Stadium that would draw affiliated minor league baseball back to Wichita.

• Homelessness: The key issue is funding the Wichita Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team, a program that council members say has been a success.

Wichitans who took part in the ACT ICT community engagement process said the city’s homeless population needs attention.

“It’s back to us as part of the budget discussion,” council member Janet Miller said. “The question is if we make it permanent, what is the annual cost?”

Miller said the police program has become effective enough that the homeless are volunteering for shelter rather than facing arrest.

“We don’t want to arrest the homeless, write them citations,” she said. “But we can ... if they refuse shelter.”

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