Taxpayers don't have to wonder much about where Richard Ranzau stands on spending.
Neither do his colleagues on the Sedgwick County Commission.
"We get it," chairman Dave Unruh told Ranzau recently after the new commissioner reiterated several times at a budget retreat that his financial priority was to reduce spending and debt.
Ranzau, a Republican and one of two new commissioners on the board, has voted against accepting every federal grant that's come before the board since he took office in January. During one meeting alone, he voted "no" three times. He also has questioned whether the county needs to replace fleet vehicles and has asked for additional information before approving even the smallest expenditures.
Federal grants play a big role in the county's budget. The county spent $21 million in federal grant money last year, including $6 million that came from direct federal grants.
Ranzau has made the argument that if a service is important, the county should be able to pay for it itself.
"The response I've gotten back from the public is overwhelmingly positive," Ranzau said.
But he said a few people have been critical of his voting "no" to accept federal grant money, arguing that it's taxpayer money that the county should take advantage of.
Ranzau doesn't buy that argument.
"Forty cents out of every dollar the federal government spends is borrowed money," the former physician assistant said. "This money that we are spending is not our money. It is our children's money. I want the public to know that my level of concern with respect to debt at every level of government rises above mere words. I sit here prepared to actually take action."
Ranzau has yet to face a situation where his vote would be the difference between the county getting grant money and not getting grant money. His "no" votes so far have been in the minority.
"We're talking about symbolism here rather than substance," said Ed Flentje, professor of public administration at Wichita State University's Hugo Wall School of Urban and Public Affairs and a former interim manager for the city of Wichita.
Flentje said he hasn't seen an example of someone being as adamant about federal grants as Ranzau. But he also said that since Ranzau has been in the minority, "the federal debt will not be reduced because of this."
"While the principle may be important to him and obviously folks he represents, substantively, somebody's going to lose," Flentje said. "Those funds are authorized, they're budgeted, they're appropriated, and (a) federal agency will commit the funds elsewhere."
Flentje said he agrees with Ranzau that some of the money for grants is "not federal revenue; it's most likely federal debt."
John Stevens, president of the Wichita Pachyderm Club, said Ranzau has shown he's concerned about fiscal responsibility. "He knows that the money comes from our pockets one place or another," Stevens said. "We've got to stop spending ourselves into bankruptcy."
Fellow Commissioner Karl Peterjohn, also a Republican, said while he often agrees with Ranzau and shares the same philosophy, "tactically we come at it a bit differently. I haven't taken the stand on grants he's taken."
Peterjohn said his job is to ensure Sedgwick County taxpayers get the most bang for their tax buck. He is focused on protecting property tax dollars, he said.
Sometimes, that will mean taking advantage of money the state or federal government can offer, Peterjohn said.
Jim Skelton, the other new commissioner, said he has discussed Ranzau's votes with him privately. Voting against federal grants won't reduce the federal debt, Skelton said.
"I think the way I work, everything I'm going to do, I'm trying to make a difference," Skelton said. "I'm not going to make a difference voting no."
Ranzau said it's been difficult at times to say no. He said his stance doesn't mean that he doesn't believe in some of the programs he's voted against getting grant money for.
Ranzau said that while his stance may seem unreasonable to some, "I have a very deep-seated concern about debt."
"It's not easy to fight by yourself, I can assure you that," Ranzau said. "There's a lot of pressure from people to spend money."