County budget cuts are on the way.
The county is poised to reduce its planned spending to various local organizations, including the Sedgwick County Zoo, when it introduces a proposed budget early next week.
Mark DeVries, president of the Sedgwick County Zoological Society, said the zoo had received official notice from the county that its budget would be reduced from the amount listed in the zoo’s operating agreement with the county.
DeVries said the zoo was told its 2016 funding would remain flat with this year. That means it won’t get the additional money it was expecting through its funding agreement to hire zookeepers for its upcoming Elephants of the Zambezi River Valley exhibit, he said. The zoo was counting on an increase of about $388,000.
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“That number was specifically increased to accommodate the extra keepers for the elephants; as a result of that we moved forward with the elephant exhibit,” DeVries told The Eagle. “We would not have moved forward had we not had the funding from the county.”
The exhibit is under construction. DeVries said zoo officials were disappointed at the potential leveling of funding.
“We are surprised that a cut of that magnitude was made to the zoo funding agreement that was, quite frankly, agreed to a very short time ago by the commission,” he said.
DeVries said he hopes the final budget will include the money initially allocated to the zoo.
The zoo currently receives about $5.6 million from the county. Sedgwick County provides about 42 percent of the zoo’s budget and covers operating costs.
County commissioners disagree over whether the county should remain fully committed to increases in the zoo’s five-year funding agreement adopted in 2013, which would see funding increase to about $6.9 million by 2018.
Commissioner Jim Howell, the newest member of the County Commission, said the county’s commitment to the zoo should be reconsidered each year.
“From (the zoo’s) perspective, it’s a cut because they believe there was a promise that was made,” Howell said.
Howell said it would be easier to add money to the zoo’s budget going forward than take it away.
“We need to have a starting point that’s conservative and gives us options,” he said.
Commissioner Dave Unruh said he does not think the change is necessary.
“We were going to keep our word in those contracts that we’ve had previously. I’m disappointed that it looks like it’s heading this way,” Unruh said.
“All of a sudden, we’re going to present publicly that they’re going to receive substantial reductions,” Unruh said. “I’m saddened by that.”
Exploration Place also received a letter earlier in the month about a potential reduction in the $2.3 million it receives from the county, said Jason Cox, chair of the Exploration Place board of trustees.
Cox said a budget proposed by former county manager William Buchanan shortly before his retirement in early June kept Exploration Place funding level.
“Right now, we’re just trying to understand what happened to get us to where this letter came out,” Cox said.
The county manager’s office in May sent more than a dozen organizations letters saying they could potentially see funding cuts from the county.
Now, some of those groups and nonprofits are receiving letters confirming that their funding is slated to be cut on the recommended budget. The letters inform the organization of a planned reduction in funding and the opportunity to address the county commissioners at public hearings on July 29 and Aug. 6.
Some organizations, like the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum, received the May letter but did not receive a letter this month warning them of cuts.
Others were not as lucky.
Officials with the Kansas Junior Livestock Show, the Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission and the Arts Council told The Eagle on Tuesday that they received letters notifying them of county budget cuts.