The people spoke. City Manager Robert Layton listened. Though some things will have to go to close a $4.8 million gap and balance the 2012 budget, and other things will cost citizens more, Saturday bus service will continue. That was a great save on Layton’s part.
The solution — raising fares 50 cents, to $1.75 a ride, and drawing down $700,000 in reserves — cannot be considered sustainable and will burden riders, including many who are poor. But it allows the city more time to seek other ways to reduce costs, boost ridership and fund the system, including with federal money. The feedback via a public meeting and other forums made it clear that people favored higher fares over ending Saturday service.
Layton’s $549 million budget proposal, to be presented to the Wichita City Council today, also will make it 18th consecutive years since the city increased property taxes. Especially given the turmoil in the economy in recent years and the churn at City Hall before that, the city’s ability to hold the mill levy flat is quite a feat.
Layton’s proposed early retirement program and fuel conservation efforts sound worthy. So does the idea of exercising more discretion in how many inmates the city books on municipal charges into the Sedgwick County Jail — the very idea behind the county’s decision to start charging cities to house such inmates a few years ago.
The bigger questions in Layton’s budget blueprint concern which of five municipal golf courses would be closed or privatized later this year, and when construction might begin on the long-discussed new downtown library.
Some may wonder why the city needs to shed any of the golf courses, considering that they’re all profitable at the moment — even the costly newcomer to the system, 10-year-old Auburn Hills, which has had trouble covering its debt service in the past. And could a course be saved, at least temporarily, by deferring or forgoing some of the new clubhouses and other items in the city’s golf course improvement plan? Still, the 20 percent decrease in rounds played citywide since 2001 spells trouble for the system long term. Especially if a private business stands ready to take one over, the City Council may need to make the tough call and move on.
Though many still see the existing Central Library as serviceable, it falls short of current needs for space, technology and parking, and the new one, scheduled to start construction next year, is integral to the downtown plan and the city’s increased focus on the riverfront. But economic and budget realities may necessitate further delay.
Before Mayor Carl Brewer and the City Council approve the 2012 budget, the public can comment on it in hearings at the council meetings at 9 a.m. July 19 and Aug. 2.
But at least the question of Saturday bus service seems settled for now. Wichita is too big, with too many people who lack alternate transportation, for its bus service to take weekends off.