For the first time in City Manager Robert Layton’s five-plus years of budgeting, the city has no looming deficits to surmount and no planned cuts in city services or staff.
“We’re in a better financial position this year than any since I arrived over the last five years,” Layton said.
“Sales tax revenues appear stronger, and property tax revenues should benefit from a small increase in valuation,” he said. “That’s not going to be much, but it’s better than a reduction.”
For 2015-16, “we’re looking at a status quo budget without service cuts,” Layton said. “Instead, maybe some strategic expenditures where we hear from residents we need to bolster services.”
At a Twitter Town Hall on Wednesday, city officials were prepared to discuss everything from animal control services to snow removal, street maintenance and technology.
Officials ranging from Mayor Carl Brewer to budget director Mark Manning to communications staff members Van Williams and Lauragail Locke manned the computers, poring through posts from city residents.
Residents can still comment on budget issues on the city’s Twitter and Facebook accounts.
The mayor’s community engagement plan, including surveys, meetings and Internet outreach, played a major role in crafting the $543 million budget in 2014, including projects like converting turf to wildflowers and native grasses, planning for the future of O.J. Watson Park and maintaining the Wichita Police Department mounted unit and air patrol.
During last year’s town halls, 671 social media comments were received.
“This gives us a chance to find out what’s on people’s mind and what priorities they have for the community,” Brewer said. “It helps us expand our reach, find out what other needs are out there in the community.”
Like beefing up the city’s snow removal arsenal with private contractors at the ready for big storms?
“We’re already on that,” Brewer said, chuckling.
“And so far, people think we did OK with snow removal.”
Layton will unveil the proposed 2015-16 budget to the council on July 15, although he will brief council members before then. Final action on the budget is set for Aug. 12.