Sedgwick County leaders are debating whether to take as much as $2.6 million from the arena sales tax reserve fund to reimburse the county for staff time spent on Intrust Bank Arena.
County management strongly recommends against the move, saying that "doing so could be construed as a violation of the trust voters placed in the county when they approved the tax and the arena project.
"Trust is hard to earn but easy to lose," a memo to commissioners said.
Trust is exactly why the county should reimburse the general fund, Commissioner Kelly Parks said.
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The county promised voters "that not a dime" of property taxes would be used for the arena, Parks said.
"The money's there, and I think we need to keep that promise."
Numbers for last year aren't available yet, but the county estimates that the total cost of staff time from when the arena was approved until when it opened this year will be about $2.6 million.
Charging the money back to the sales tax would reduce the operating and maintenance reserves for the arena — and pavilions at the Kansas Coliseum complex — by $2.6 million. Last month, the reserve fund was at $13.9 million.
The operating reserve is to be used for:
* Major repairs
* Cost of suites and event tickets for naming rights partners
* The cost, up to $93,000 annually, of deficits incurred by Wichita to provide bus service to the arena
* The cost, up to $225,000 annually, of deficits incurred by Wichita to manage parking
* Any operating deficits at the Kansas Coliseum
* Any operating deficits incurred by the county to operate the arena.
Under its contract with SMG, which manages the arena, the county doesn't have to fund any operating deficits for at least five years.
The memo to commissioners said that "there is not a hole in the general fund requiring added revenues.. . . On the other hand, removing $2.6 million from the (operating) reserve would create a hole in the arena/pavilion enterprise years sooner than expected."
Commissioner Gwen Welshimer said she wants to move the money.
"The voters did not vote to put property taxes into the arena," Welshimer said.
"If the public would have wanted to put property taxes into the arena, they would have not voted to use the sales tax."
Board Chairman Karl Peterjohn said he wants to get more information from staff and from the oversight committee before making a decision.
The county's arena tax oversight committee is split on the issue.
Commissioner Dave Unruh said he wants the money to stay put.
"I think people understood that county staff would continue to execute oversight," he said. "In my opinion, this would be a shift of money that is just an exercise that doesn't correspond to what the ballot question implied. We didn't hire anybody new. We didn't change staffing. In my opinion, this is not a justified transaction. It's all public money."