Final Friday had a decidely political twang this week.
About 150 people gathered in Old Town Square in downtown Wichita on Friday to protest Sedgwick County’s proposed budget cuts.
Organizers hoped it would demonstrate public backlash against the cuts contained in the 2016 recommended budget and sway some commissioners before the final budget is adopted.
“This is not the direction we want the county to go,” said Wichita Arts Council president Arlen Hamilton.
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The $412.3 million recommended budget was based on some commissioners’ goals to focus on core government services and to shift to paying for road and bridge projects with cash instead of bonds.
The 2016 recommended budget includes about $800,000 in cuts to public health programs.
It also reduced expected county contributions to the Sedgwick County Zoo and to Exploration Place, and it cut all county funding to several cultural and recreation groups, including the Wichita Arts Council.
“You can’t have an attractive community without attractions,” said Melissa Gettinger, a local artist. “They’re going to be cut until we start bleeding.”
“(The cuts) don’t show faith in our community,” Gettinger said.
Dominic Canare, who spoke at the public hearing Wednesday, said the cuts would hurt attractions fundamental to the county’s identity.
“There’s tons of stuff to do, but it’s because we have support,” Canare said. “If you cut the support, there’s not going to be things to do.”
Mary Cole criticized commissioners for saying not all county residents benefit from recreation and cultural groups based in Wichita.
“I don’t want to spend my tax money that goes to the county on roads because I don’t use them,” Cole quipped. “I use roads in the city but not out in the county.”
Sedgwick County zookeepers also attended the rally.
The county’s contribution to the zoo would stay the same as 2015 levels at $5.6 million. The recommended budget excludes an expected $388,302 boost in funding that would primarily pay for zookeepers for the upcoming elephant exhibit.
While not a cut, they say the decision to keep funding level has its consequences.
“Those keepers are going to have to be shifted from elsewhere,” said Katie Kimble, a mammal keeper at the zoo.
“We use every single penny,” said Danielle Decker, also with the zoo. “We don’t waste anything.”
A mish-mash of business owners, nonprofit leaders and community residents spoke to the crowd at the beginning of the rally to denounce the cuts.
They were followed by live music performances and dances.
A large majority of about 45 speakers at the public hearing Wednesday spoke against the recommended cuts.
Organizers encouraged people to sign letters to commissioners and attend the second public hearing on Aug. 6.
The final budget will be adopted Aug. 12.