Jim Skelton: Sedgwick County ensures essential services are provided

02/28/2013 10:48 AM

02/28/2013 4:09 PM

The past few years have been challenging for businesses and citizens, and local governments have had their share of challenges as well. Sedgwick County has faced declining revenue, and the state funding for mandated services has fallen 20 percent since 2008.

A couple of years ago, financial indicators showed that we were headed for a $16.3 million deficit. At that time, the Board of County Commissioners set goals for the county manager and staff members to address this financial imbalance:

• Zero deficit by 2013
• Less debt
• Focused, smaller government

Our employees and managers worked hard to meet these goals. Sedgwick County cut $17.5 million over the past two years. We reduced 210 positions over the past three years. We identified and prioritized more than 900 programs and services. And we are changing the way we do business.

Local governments rely on property taxes as a means to deliver the range of services residents expect. In 2012, Sedgwick County spent less in property tax supported funds than in 2008. Today, the typical homeowner pays $1.14 a day in property taxes for county services; 62 cents of that is for public safety. But our work is not finished and we must continue to provide quality public services efficiently.

One of the most basic roles of county government is providing services for those who are most vulnerable. Sedgwick County provides services in partnership with a number of community agencies and the state to help seniors, those with mental illnesses and individuals with developmental disabilities. We provide health services and we assess our community for health threats.

Public safety makes up the largest percentage of our county budget, 34 percent, and includes: 911, corrections and juvenile corrections, alternative correctional programs and youth crime prevention programs, emergency management, emergency medical service, fire service for residents of Fire District 1, Regional Forensic Science Center, sheriff’s office and adult detention facility

We also have the role of creating an environment that is attractive for businesses and people who live and work in our community. We need to have strong infrastructure and a business-friendly environment to attract and retain businesses. We want them to grow and add more jobs. But we know that businesses need tools to attract a skilled workforce, and that includes workforce training, like the National Center for Aviation Training, and quality-of-life experiences that make living in our community great.

We have worked hard in partnership with the private sector to build a world-class Sedgwick County Zoo and to provide learning opportunities at Exploration Place. And, Intrust Bank Arena is part of a bigger plan to continue to revitalize this community’s downtown.

These are just a few examples of specific services we provide:

• Through Comcare, we answer more than 60,000 calls to a mental health crisis line each year.
• We provide services to more than 14,000 people with mental illnesses, including 2,000 children, each year.
• We link more than 2,400 individuals with disabilities to the services they need to help them be as productive as possible.
• Of our 2,700 county employees, nearly 1,600 serve in a public safety capacity.
• We respond to more than half a million calls to 911 each year – and dispatch 155 calls for EMS every single day.
• The sheriff has more than 1,400 individuals in custody each day, but we also help deliver more than $3.5 million in alternative correctional programs to reduce the jail population.
• Our Household Hazardous Waste Facility collects more than 1.5 million pounds of waste every year.
• Our Sedgwick County Zoo welcomes more than half a million visitors every year and is the state’s top outdoor tourist attraction.

We know that our community expects us to meet certain needs. We know citizens expect to have quality infrastructure, to be secure and healthy, to have jobs and innovation, and to have options for recreation. They are curious about how our community’s needs may change in the future. And, they expect us to do things efficiently.

Going forward, we will have conversations about transportation planning, flood control, additional service consolidation and opportunities for economic development. We will watch our fellow elected partners to see what changes might affect our services, and we will work with our local, regional and statewide partners to make the best decisions for our citizens.

I hope you will stay tuned in to what we are doing at Sedgwick County; we need to continue to work together and we want to hear from you.

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